If there ever was an American success story, it is agriculture.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is fond of talking about how today’s farmers and ranchers make it possible for people like him to be a lawyer, or for any of us to pursue any career, because we don’t have to worry about the production of our own food. Just think about that for a minute. The progress of civilization has meant that less and less people have to produce their own food. But there are some people who look at farmers as “Old McDonalds” who have become “Big Ag” and care nothing for the environment or the people they feed.
A video published recently to YouTube by a group called Only Organic attacks the good farmers and ranchers of this country in a most repugnant way, using children to basically accuse them of crimes against nature. Singing the Old McDonald kids song with lyrics about pesticides and GMOs and hormones and antibiotics, these children were fed a diet of fear and hate by agenda-driven adults. It’s scary and sad.
In response to the video, a diverse group of farmers representing all types of production practices responded with one voice during an Only Organic Twitter party last week to “celebrate the video”. According to U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance CEO Randy Krotz, what happened was that both conventional and organic producers criticized the video for being misleading and unfair. And they used dialogue to share what happens on their individual farms and called for an end of “farmer bashing”.
“We have farmers that grow both organic and conventional crops,” said Krotz. “It’s concerning to see people trying to demonize today’s agriculture and promote only their type of food production.”
Krotz says they are reaching out to Only Organic and food companies that support the organization to engage in dialogue rather than attacks. “Farmers and ranchers have the tools to tell their stories, even in hostile environments,” he said. “And organic and conventional farmers who respect each other are beginning to work together to make sure that truthful information gets to consumers.”
It’s hard to believe that such a successful American industry which literally feeds the world can be so constantly and relentlessly attacked by critics who think they can do it better. Ironically, it is because of the success of our food production system that they have the time to sit around and complain about how their food is produced.
National Ag Day and everyday we should sing the praises of farmers and ranchers to drown out the noise of those attacking them with mouths full of hate and fear.
The latest screening of the feature length film documentary Farmland was a star-studded event this week in Washington D.C. While the movie has been previewed at several events this year, including the Commodity Classic, this one not only helped celebrate National Agriculture Day, it also marked the official announcement of its upcoming theatrical release.
On the red carpet here at the Ronald Reagan Amphitheater are Randy Krotz, CEO of the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), one of the film’s major supporters; director James Moll, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman, chairman of the USFRA.
The movie provides an up close and personal look into the lives of six very different types of young farmers who talk about the challenges of becoming farm owners/managers. The story is told completely by the farmers and the imagery of them at work with no narration. “I don’t use a narrator,” said director Moll. “I’m delving into a world that I know nothing about … they can tell the story better than I can.”
Farmland has a deal with D&E Entertainment for the film to first be distributed to 60 major market theaters beginning May 1. “I hope that people watch it, relate to it, come away from it wanting to learn more about farming and ranching, and feeling like they actually had an opportunity to meet and get to know some of them,” said Moll.
Between now and May 1, Farmland will be competing in several film festivals during the month of April. After the theatrical release, Moll says they plan on the film being released on DVD and through the usual channels for home viewing. Interview with James Moll
The farmer stars of the film are Leighton Cooley of Georgia, Brad Bellah from Texas, David Loberg of Nebraska, Sutton Morgan of California, Margaret Schlass from Pennsylvania, and Ryan Veldhuizen of Minnesota. A couple were at the premier last night and four of the six were at Commodity Classic where they participated in a press conference with USFRA.
The four pictured here, from left to right (around Randy from USFRA again in the middle) are Loberg, Veldhuizen, Cooley and Bellah. Listen to them talk about themselves and their experiences in making the movie here: Farmland Movie Press Conference
It can seem like everyone has a “day.” From margaritas to ravioli, calendars could become a dizzying disaster trying to keep on top of what is being “celebrated” every day of the year. Today is different though. Today, America celebrates the American icons that provide abundant food, feed and fuel. Today, we celebrate farmers.
Officially, Ag Day was created to recognize and celebrate the abundance produced by agriculture. Every year, agricultural associations, universities, companies, government agencies and many others across the country join in a wide variety of activities designed to bring the story of farmers and ranchers to the forefront. In 2014, the achievements of America’s family farmers certainly warrant a celebration.
America’s corn farmers recovered from a massive drought in 2012 to produce a record corn crop in 2013. Growing more than 13.9 billion bushels of corn, they showed the resilience and resolve indicative of our national character.
To learn more about the 2013 corn crop, click here.
In Washington, the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, of which NCGA is a founding member, is taking a leadership role in bringing these and other accomplishments to light. This afternoon, USFRA held a panel discussion focusing on the next generation of American farmers and ranchers. Discussing what it means to be a farmer or rancher taking over responsibility for their family business in today’s environment, the participants brought the challenges and opportunities facing the future of ag to light.
On Wednesday evening, USFRA brings this discussion to life by hosting a preview of the new feature-length documentary, Farmland. The film, directed by Oscar and Emmy winner James Moll, takes an intimate look at the lives of six farmers and ranchers in their 20s. These young farmers have all taken responsibility for running their farming operations. Following the film, an intimate Q&A session will allow attendees to dig more deeply into their unique and fascinating situations.
Ag Day celebrates agriculture and, in doing so, it celebrates the American traditions of individualism and excellence that made our nation what it is today. So, maybe take a moment to hug a farmer as many may suggest. Just ask them first, they will still be hard at work and may need to wash up first.
The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) is nearing its official third birthday and one of the original founding fathers is pleased with the accomplishments of the alliance, which now includes over 80 agricultural organizations and companies.
“I don’t know if you ever really reach your goals but think we’re seeing some real strides in the right direction,” says board member Doug Wolf, a pork producer from Wisconsin. “When we sat down to start, we were trying to sit down everybody in one room and get them all to work together and that’s a tough thing to do – but it’s come to fruition and we’re seeing some real progress.”
Among the new endeavors for USFRA is taking its highly successful national Food Dialogues effort down to a more regional level with their affiliates so they can do more of them. USFRA has identified biotechnology and antibiotic use in livestock as two major issues that they are addressing with the non-farm audience. “Those are always controversial issues,” Doug says. “We’re still going to back the science … but we’re up against some really strong emotional responses … but we sit down and debate and discuss how it works.”
There’s also been some recent changes to the USFRA fooddialogues.com website, one of which helps to address some of those hot-button issues, including a new section called FoodSource. They have also incorporated some search engine optimization to the website which brings up USFRA information for certain key words relating to agriculture.
Listen to an interview with Doug and USFRA staffer Lisa Cassady at the Ag Media Summit: USFRA update
For years now, the National Corn Growers Association, along with a broad array of other agricultural groups, has stressed the need for farmers to tell their own stories about food and farming. Time and time again, they have tried to direct attention to the growing public desire to understand what happens to the food on their tables prior to its arrival at their grocery stores. Through programs like CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, they have created pathways for farmers to reach broad audiences and offered training tools that help increase the effectiveness of their efforts.
The everyday business of farming and ranching often saps the time and energy of the men and women who grow our food though. With so many demands already placed upon them, the task of volunteering these precious resources for something so seemingly apparent to those involved in agriculture seems daunting, if not impossible.
Last week, the attendees at BlogHer Food 2013 had the opportunity to meet real life farmers and have honest, open discussions about food. Their incredible interest and insightful questions served as a strong reminder that this need for dialogue is not only real, but it is actually growing.
CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross and Morgan Kontz, who farm in Iowa and South Dakota respectively, saw firsthand how great this need for an open dialogue with consumers is. As bloggers, many of whom have thousands of avid followers, stopped at the booth, they warmly received these real-life farmers. Many expressed gratitude for the chance to talk about what happens on modern farms and ranches. Even those who disagreed with some practices came to these conversations with an open, respectful spirit and an honest desire to not only express their own viewpoints but to also truly listen to what these women had to say.
Ross and Kontz met with a steady stream of interested bloggers over the course of the two-day event.
Friday night, Ross and Kontz joined USFRA Faces of Farming and Ranching winners Chris Chin and Will Gilmer, along with other hog and cattle ranchers, to share a meal with a group of approximately 40 bloggers who took time away from the conference, foregoing a night of fun on Austin’s Sixth Street, to visit an urban farm and learn more about how the foods about which they write are grown and raised. The incredible variety of bloggers who attended was astounding. The interest that they brought was genuine.
The USFRA-hosted dinner allowed farmers and bloggers to share a dialogue along with a delicious dinner.
From Google Glass-wearing hipsters to DC policy wonks, the dinner attendees illustrated how diverse the demand for dialogue about agriculture has become. While these women and men brought a myriad of interests and perspectives, they shared two main commonalities. They wield significant influence on broader consumer opinion through their work, and they want to know more about what happens on America’s farms.
Volunteers like Ross and Kontz have taken on the challenge, giving of themselves to become a part of that conversation. As the demand from consumers for a greater understanding of farming grows, so to must the supply of farmers and ranchers willing to become a part of that conversation.
CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross (left) and Morgan Kontz (right) share their story of farming. Do you?
Today, less than 2 percent of the population is directly involved in agriculture, but 99.999 percent of the population eats. Learn what you can do to help make the math work by visiting the websites for CommonGround or USFRA.
Conversations about food and farming will happen regardless of farmer involvement. Show consumers that you care about their concerns and want to share with them the amazing story of today’s American farmer.
The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance helped celebrate 40 years of National Agriculture Day this week with a breakfast on Capitol Hill and educational briefing on “The New Language of Food and Modern Agriculture.” More than 150 people — including Ag Day participants, members of the food industry, and Congressional staff — attended the event.
Illinois corn farmer and USFRA “Face of Farming and Ranching” Katie Pratt shared her farm story and the need for others to share their personal stories. “This Ag Day – and every day – I encourage farmers and ranchers from across the country to be active, share their personal stories, and answer questions from their community about how food is grown and raised,” she said. Katie also live tweeted the event @USFRA.
Also on the program was Erika Bowser-Poppelreiter, a Midwest farmer and farming/ranching expert with Ketchum, who presented a briefing on consumer messaging research and how the agriculture industry can work to restore relevance. The event featured a new perspective on food culture today led by farmers and ranchers.
Farmers and ranchers are celebrating the 40th National Agriculture Day this week in Washington DC and hopefully letting those running the country know that as long as we need to eat, agriculture will still be “relevant.”
U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) Chairman Bob Stallman says they are encouraging farmers and ranchers across the country to use National Ag Day this week as a springboard to share their stories and answer consumer questions. “That includes talking about the new technologies we have, an emphasis on sustainability, and talking about that new, next generation of farmers and ranchers coming on board,” said Stallman.
The celebration of agriculture on Capitol Hill this week includes a briefing for congressional staffers on Tuesday, March 19 – which is the official National Ag Day. “The whole purpose is to talk about what our research has shown that consumers want to know about ag, how they want to relate, how they want to communicate,” Stallman said.
National Ag Day is celebrated during National Ag Week, which is always the week of the first day of spring, celebrating the start of planting season. If you would like to participate in USFRA’s event on Capitol Hill during Ag Day through Twitter – follow @USFRA or tweet with hashtag Ag Day (#AgDay) or hashtag food D (#foodD).
The four represent a range of agricultural commodities including corn and soybeans, hogs, cattle, and dairy and they were chosen through on-line voting and a panel of judges from nine finalists announced last month at the New York Food Dialogues. The winners will act as national spokespeople, and will share stories and experiences on a national stage to help answer consumers’ questions about how food is grown and raised to feed our nation.
When the four were introduced by USFRA this week, they were asked what they believe is the most important story for agriculture to share.
Chris Chinn of Clarence, Missouri is a 5th generation farmer with her husband Kevin, his parents and brother raising hogs, cattle, hay and row crops. “I think it’s more important for us to listen to the concerns that people have about how food is produced so we can have a more open dialogue,” Chris said.
Will Gilmer and his father own/operate a dairy farm in Lamar County, Alabama that has been in continuous operation since the early 1950s. “It’s important that we help people understand what the new things we’re doing are, why we’re doing them and how it’s beneficial to them in giving them great choices at the grocery store,” said Will.
Katie Pratt and her husband Andy (7th generation farmer) and their two children raise corn, soybeans and seed corn in Dixon, Illinois in partnership with Andy’s family. “One of the stories that needs to be told is that we are families operating businesses,” said Katie.
Bo Stone jointly owns P & S Farms in Rowland, NC with his wife Missy and his parents where they grow corn, wheat and soybeans, hogs and cattle, as well as strawberries and sweet corn that are sold at their own roadside market. “We are all consumers of our products and I’d like for everyone to know that we’re in this together,” he said.
Stallman says USFRA just started with some of its initial programd 14 months ago. “We’ve made great progress considering we started from scratch,” he said. “We’re making great progress in engaging with consumer influencers … we’ve established a really robust social media platform for consumers and farmers and ranchers to have direct conversations.” USFRA has also set up training for farmers and ranchers to learn how to interact with consumers on social media.
Moving forward, Stallman says they want to continue the successful efforts they have begun, including the Food Dialogues that have been held throughout the past year in major urban areas like Hollywood and New York City.
In conjunction with the Food Dialogues held in New York City, USFRA held its annual meeting and elected new executive committee members:
Chairman – Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation
Vice Chairman – Weldon Wynn, Cattlemen’s Beef Board
Secretary – Bernard Leonard, U.S. Poultry & Egg Association
Treasurer – Dale Norton, National Pork Board
At-Large – Mike Geske, National Corn Growers Association
At-Large – Nancy Kavazanjian, United Soybean Board
Going off the executive committee is former NCGA president Bart Schott of North Dakota, who says it has been a great two years. “We’re really reaching an audience through social media that we’ve never really dreamed of,” Schott said.
He was especially impressed with the Food Dialogues in New York and said he has learned a lot himself during the panels. “Having a Food Dialogue with panelists that balance each other out and talk about their side, whether it’s right or wrong, just to talk about the issues and get them out there … for me it was a home run again,” said Schott who adds that it is a great way to connect farmers and consumers.
The USFRA Food Dialogues hit the Big Apple last week with three sessions of panelists on a variety of pretty hot topics related to food and agriculture: Media, Marketing and Healthy Choices; Your Toughest Questions Answered on Antibiotics in Your Food; Your Toughest Questions Answered on Biotechnology (GMOs) in Your Food.
Among the panelists on the GMO session was Greg Jaffe, director of biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “There’s a lot of misinformation about this technology, about these products and that was clear from questions from the audience,” said Jaffe. “This kind of discussion is a good first step.”
Jaffe said this is a topic that brings out a lot of emotion. “I wish that wasn’t the case,” he said. “But I think for now it is going to continue to remain controversial.”
The moderator for the New York Food Dialogues was Ali Velshi, CNN chief business correspondent, which he says includes the food industry.
Ali thought the event today was remarkable. “This is an area of which I have cursory understanding of,” he said. “I understand commodities and I understand economic impacts of droughts and storms, but I don’t have this degree of detail and granularity that we got today.”
He said it was great to get that and hear from the farmers who are really connected to the food and he was intrigued to hear all the differences of opinion on the controversial topics covered in the sessions. “People have very strong beliefs when it comes to food and that’s understandable,” he said.