Need a friend? Find a farmer
Several farmers in California soon may have more friends than they can keep up with as nonfarm folks are persuaded to get acquainted with farm practices and those who make them happen.
Encouraging city dwellers to learn how their food is produced and to know those who produce it is the culmination of a study by many of the state's farm groups to improve agriculture's connection with those who use its products. That effort has led to formation of the California Agricultural Communication Coalition.
Timing of the effort couldn't be better. Many consumers are seemingly more curious about the way their food is produced and those who produce it than they ever have been.
Many of those curious consumers are tuned to Facebook, MySpace¸Twitter and other social networks. Apparently they are eager to get acquainted or stay in touch with folks they need to know, and farmers now are more than happy to communicate with them. At least, that's what the organizers and supporters of the new communic-ations package hope for.
While the study of agriculture's connection with its customers has been a grass-roots effort, the California Department of Food and Agriculture has backed it up with its own push to steer consumers to explore farms and farming in their areas. It capitalizes on the slogan: "Know your food, know a farmer." This is an outgrowth of the effort launched a few years ago promoting products grown in California.
Separate, but parallel to these efforts has been the California dairy industry's promotion of a get-acquainted program featuring dairymen. Agricultural magazines, especially those serving the dairy industry, have featured the day-to-day activities of several dairymen who have responded eagerly and are enjoying their regular social chats with new friends.
The dairy industry's promotion of the happy cows in TV and other commercials and advertisements has attracted a lot of favorable attention, and a few critics. Perhaps the industry is thinking that consumers will make the connection that happy California cows must be tended by happy dairymen. Seems logical.
Farm wives as well as other family members are enthusiastically involved in these people-to-people conversations. Their friendly messages give new emphasis to the existence and importance of family farming.
If all this has a familiar ring it might be because the U. S. Department of Agriculture has made $50 million available to promote just such friendliness between farmer-producers and their consuming friends. The so-called social media make it a whole lot easier than it used to be.
Even now some lonely city dweller may be reaching out through a computer to learn more about how his or her artichokes are being produced in Castroville or the status of the Brussels sprouts crop in Santa Cruz County. Some California egg producer might be taking advantage of the electronic opportunity to explain why his hens laid eggs free of salmonella.
Mixed in to all of this is the locavore movement which encourages consumers to trade with suppliers within a certain distance, 100 miles, 200 miles; the distance fluctuates from one locavore enclave to another. Allowing folks to get acquainted by computer might expand the locavore territory significantly.
Most farmers I know are not likely to dodge any questions they receive from their potential customers, once they get the hang of two-way electronic communication. Some consumer types might learn more than they expected about plant and animal diseases for example, irrigation and weed control practices or those forbidden pesticides.
We can wait with anticipation to see if this newest two-way street becomes a crowded freeway, and if so, how many turnouts and exits can be constructed to allow access to the roadside fruit and vegetable stands.
CONTACT Don Curlee at firstname.lastname@example.org.