Tis the season to talk to your city cousins about how you produce their food

Even though your relatives and friends have a relationship to the farm, don’t assume that they understand what you do on a daily basis to ensure quality, safety, good animal care and environmental protection.

Do you have city cousins or friends coming for Christmas or a holiday meal? From our Breakfast on the Farm surveys, we have learned that approximately a quarter to a third of participants have friends or family members who owned a beef or dairy farm in the past 20 years. This provides an opportunity to educate them about what you do to produce food in a safe and sustainable manner. Breakfast on the Farm (BOTF) is an industry-wide program coordinated by Michigan State University Extension to help local producers and ag industry professionals educate consumers about modern agricultural practices. 

Even though your relatives and friends have a relationship to the farm, don’t assume that they understand what you do on a daily basis to ensure quality, safety, good animal care and environmental protection. In fact, their level of knowledge of what, to you, is commonplace, is often abysmally low. This is your chance to change that. And get them to speak for you to their friends. 

Breakfast on the Farm participants are invited to complete a follow-up survey a couple of months after the events. Of the participants who indicated they had increased their purchases of dairy products, about 46 percent rated their understanding of how milk is handled to prevent milk from cows treated with antibiotics from being sold to the consumer as ‘A major factor’ for their increase. As a result of what they saw and heard on the tour, they were also influenced to increase dairy purchases by their belief that farmers care about their animals and their comfort with how animals are housed and managed. These are very easy observations to make for people who visit farms. These visits tend to help people sort through some of the misconceptions in the media about food safety and animal care. The third area mentioned by participants was their belief that farmers care about the environment. So this is another area that you can provide them insight. In general, the public has higher concern about issues that affect them directly as with food safety. 

We measured participants’ change in trust in our 2015 BOTF exit surveys by asking them to rate their level of trust in farmers before and after their Breakfast on the Farm tour regarding five areas of management: animal housing, animal care, milk safety (antibiotic free, etc.), protecting the environment and water quality. Of those who felt their trust increased for at least one of these management areas, 43 percent rated ‘The openness of the tour to see how things are done on a modern farm’ as a major factor for increasing their trust. Similar numbers of participants said it was ‘How farmers prevent milk from cows treated with antibiotics from being sold to the consumer’, ‘My comfort with how animals are housed and managed’, ‘My understanding of how the environment is being protected’, and ‘Reading the educational signs and displays’ that were major factors. 

So with these thoughts in mind, talk to those close to you about what you do, how you do it, and why. Take the opportunity to speak to them as a farmer, steward of the earth, and a part of the foundation of our food production system in the U.S.; the safest food system in the world. Maybe they will learn to appreciate your efforts more and consider the food they purchase as safe. Happy holidays!