Guess Who Came to 2010 Breakfast on the Farm
Ted Ferris, Faith Cullens, Marilyn Thelen, Dean Ross, Nancy Thelen, Mary Dunckel, and Phil Durst
A number of agriculture organizations have been increasing their efforts to educate the public and to reconnect the consumer with the food system to inform and build public trust. In 2009, the first Breakfast on the Farm (BOTF) event was held in Fowler, Michigan (Clinton County). Over 1,500 people attended this free event aimed at educating the public about modern agriculture. Four BOTF events were held in 2010 with over 7,000 in total attendance. Host farms were Steenblik Dairy in Pewamo (Clinton County), Horning Dairy Farm in Manchester (Washtenaw County), Bryant Farm (Isabella County), and Tolan Family Farm in Ossineke (Alpena County). These BOTF events were a collaborative effort between MSU Extension and county Farm Bureau with significant personnel and financial support from various agri-businesses.
Why Are Efforts to Engage the Public Increasing?
In the 2008 Michigan Dairy Industry survey (1,2) high ratings were given to the need to communicate with the public, consumers and legislators about animal agriculture; how animals and the environment are managed; and, the safety of farm produce. Underlying these comments was the concern that consumers receive messages about nutrient value, food safety and how products are produced with regard to the environment and animal management (social conscience) without the background to evaluate the information presented. This is, in part, because they are not familiar with modern farming practices and how food is produced today.
Further, marketing strategies used to differentiate some food products results in food labeling that can be misleading as many consumers may not understand the information or have access to all the facts. As a result, the dairy industry and other food animal industries have been working diligently to increase consumer education efforts. BOTF is one such effort to improve agriculture literacy. It provides the public with an opportunity to learn first-hand about current farming practices, a chance to connect faces to the farm owners, and an occasion to talk with farmers. BOTF has the potential to impact the visitors’ knowledge of how food is produced and inform their impressions about modern farming practices and correct misconceptions.
Purpose of Exit Survey
Exit surveys were conducted on the 3 dairy farms that hosted BOTF in 2010 (Alpena, Clinton and Washtenaw counties). The exit survey was developed to help determine who came to BOTF events, what their impressions were, and what they learned from their visit.
At the exit point of each BOTF event, individuals were invited to complete a survey to provide some feedback on their experience. Table 1 below shows the number of participants estimated by tickets turned-in, meals served and sign-ins along with the number of surveys completed at the 3 locations. Financial support for survey data entry was provided by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.
Are We Reaching People Who Have Not Been on a Farm?
Respondents were asked about the number of times they had previously been on a dairy farm. At the 3 locations, 46% percent had not been on a farm before and 25% percent had been on a farm 1 to 5 times. To determine how connected or familiar visitors may be with modern farming we asked two questions: Where did they grow up? and, Did they have relatives, friends who own/owned a farm? Over the 3 locations, 37% percent grew up in an urban area; 14% grew up in an urban area not near a farm; 11% grew up in a rural area not near a farm; 23% grew up on a farm, and, 18% grew up in a rural area near a farm. Keep in mind that for this question, respondents could check more than one response. For instance, they could check “grew up in urban area” and “on a farm”. When asked if they had relatives or friends who own/owned a farm, 26 % indicated they had/have parents who owned/own a farm; 35% grandparents; 19% great-grandparents; 37% percent relatives; 20% no relatives; and 39% friends that own/owned a farm. The distributions by location are similar for Alpena and Washtenaw. A greater percentage (41%) of attendees in Clinton County checked parents own/owned a farm compared with Alpena County at 22% and Washtenaw County at 23%.
Age and Gender
For the 3 locations combined, one-third of the respondents were 36 to 50 years old, one-fourth were 21 to 35, and one-fourth were 51 to 65 years old, leaving 14% over 65. The gender of overall respondents was 36% male and 64% female and was not different by location.
Who Did They Bring to BOTF?
Overall 58% brought their kids, 16% brought grand-kids, 26% brought friends, 6% brought neighbors, 0.8% brought members of youth organizations, and 0.5 % brought students. These percentages were similar for all 3 locations. For this question, respondents could check more than one response.
Where Do They Live and Work?
When asked where they currently live, 29% checked urban area, 16% checked urban area near a farm, 12% checked rural area not near a farm, 30% checked rural area near a farm and 14% checked on a farm. Alpena County had a greater percentage from a rural area for both near and not near a farm, while Clinton and Washtenaw Counties had a greater percentage from an urban area near a farm.
Currently, 39% work in a non-ag-related job; 7.9% work in ag-related jobs and a surprising 40% checked the job category “Did not apply.” It is likely many are retired, however, only 14% indicated they were over 65 years. Some may be unemployed and a number are possibly stay-at-home mothers. A category for stay-at-home mothers could be added in future surveys. We also asked if they were currently a family member of a farm owner or a farm employee to which 15% indicated yes. Washtenaw County had over 40% working in non-ag-related jobs, Clinton County had a higher percentage that were either family member of farm owner or farm employee, a farm owner/operator, a dairy farm employee or worked in ag-related jobs with the fewest in non-ag-related jobs. The Clinton County location was a larger farming operation that perhaps attracted farmers and farm employees. Alpena had the greatest number who checked “Did not apply” for the job categories.
How Far Is the Farm from Their Home?
Overall, the farms were on average 32 miles from the respondents’ homes. Alpena County had almost 10% respondents greater than 100 miles from their home. The majority, 57%, that attended in Washtenaw County (approximately 10 miles from Ann Arbor) were within 15 miles, 47% of those visiting Clinton County (approximately 20 miles from Lansing) were within 15 miles, and 19% within 5 miles.
Are the BOFT events attracting the desired audience? Probably, the best indicator is that 46% percent of respondents had not been on a farm before and 25% percent had been on a farm only 1 to 5 times. In addition, only 23% grew up on a farm while 51% grew up in an urban area. However, we might conclude that they are somewhat “connected” as 37% percent had/have relatives who own/owned a farm and 39% had/have friends that own/owned a farm, while only 20% had/have no relatives that own/owned a farm. It is likely some had both friends and relatives who own/owned a farm. With this in mind, individual producers might consider inviting friends and relatives to their farm. Also, 39% of respondents currently work in non-ag-related job and stay-at-home-mothers may be part of the largest group who indicated that a job “Did not apply.” In addition, 45% live in an urban area and 42% live in a rural area, while only 14% live on a farm. BOTF attracted a greater number of first-time visitors in Washtenaw County and it is likely there will be a greater impact with events located near large metropolitan areas, but we also can have significant impact in rural regions where the population is also unconnected with modern farming but may encounter it more often in their daily lives.
It seems that BOTF events provide another mechanism to educate the public. Obviously, part of the attraction is as a family event. Individuals brought their kids (58%) and grand-kids (16%), while 21% brought their friends. But we can also use this effort to learn more about what the public thinks before and after a farm visit, especially from their first visit. We will attempt to address this in a future article as we cover more of our survey results.
We need to keep in mind that our agriculture literacy efforts should involve a dialogue (3,4) with our visitors, not a lecture. Our understanding of what the consumer/public really thinks, wants and why will lead us to better communication about how we manage animals and produce healthy food. Now more than ever we all need to be involved in “telling our story” but not just in supporting media marketing of our products, we need to market ourselves. To do this we need to reconnect with our consumers and the public to rebuild trust in our industry (3,4). Perhaps BOTF along with a number of other industry efforts will help make this happen.
Bitsch, Vera 2009. 2008 Michigan Dairy Industry Survey. Agricultural Economics Report 637, Michigan State University, East Lansing/MI (July 1, 2009, 59 pages), available at http://purl.umn.edu/51842.
Bitsch, Vera, Kathy Lee, Dean Ross, Ted Ferris, Mike McFadden. 2008. Dairy Farmers’ Priorities— 2008 Michigan Dairy Industry Survey. Michigan Dairy Review. Vol 13, Issue 4. October.
Covey, Steven, M.R. The Speed of Trust. The One Thing That Changes Everything. 2006. Free Press.
Stephen G. Sapp, Charlie Arnot, James Fallon, Terry Fleck, David Soorholtz, Matt Sutton-Vermeulen, Jannette J.H. Wilson. 2009. Consumer Trust in the U.S. Food System: An Examination of the Recreancy Theorem. Rural Sociology 74(4), 2009, pp. 525–545.
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