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Commentary: Farmers engaging consumers in new ways

Seventy, 60, even 50 years ago, many Americans had a direct relationship with agriculture. Chances are, if they did not farm, they likely grew up on a farm or ranch, or they had a relative involved in agriculture in some way.

Today, the average consumer is three generations removed from farming. Because of this, engaging the public in discussion about agriculture has become a major priority of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Today, communicating with consumers means that farmers and ranchers must be active in a wide range of conversations. No longer can we only reach out to traditional media such as print and broadcast outlets to help us tell the story of American agriculture.

We must go to where today's consumers hang out - the places where they gather the bits of information they use to set the course of their lives. I'm not only talking about their food choices, but how they gather information that helps determine their opinions on topics such as agriculture's relation to the environment and how farmers care for their animals.

Today we need to dig a little deeper. As farmers and ranchers, we need to engage consumers in a two-way conversation that includes us listening to their concerns, as well as sharing our personal stories about the ethics that drive us as caretakers and food producers. Simply educating consumers might have worked in simpler times, but not today.

If someone would have told me three years ago that Farm Bureau would soon be communicating via blogs, Facebook, YouTube or through podcasts, I would have said, "What kind of pod?" But, as the social and technological environment changes, farmers and ranchers must be able to reach out to the public directly using tools consumers themselves use, and most importantly engage our nation's youth who get the majority of their information from the Internet.

Most recently, the American Farm Bureau launched a Web site for consumers. The site, Your Agriculture, at, aims to talk with the non-farming public about agriculture issues, farmers and ranchers and the food, fiber and fuel they grow.

On the site, consumers have the opportunity to meet a farmer and take a tour and ask questions about his or her operation. There is also an entertaining quiz to test your farm I.Q. on points such as the nutritional value of white versus brown eggs. There is even a consumer guide to farm policy, which makes understanding the farm bill a bit more digestible.

The Your Agriculture Web site is the most recent effort taken by Farm Bureau to reach out to consumers. Other tools we're using include several blogs: the FBlog at allows farmers and consumers to engage in direct dialogue with one another, while the Foodie blog at is a forum for the public to discuss the latest in food trends and the food industry.

The next time you are on Facebook, check out the American Farm Bureau Federation's page for all the latest happenings, news and conversations about agriculture and food-related topics, such as dairy prices, food safety and stretching your food budget. And stay tuned for upcoming audio podcasts from Farm Bureau on timely issues that can be downloaded onto your mp3 player with just a click of your mouse. And if I've lost you at this point, ask your grandkids or kids (like I did mine). They'll explain.

If we keep at it and stay on the same wavelength with consumers through direct dialogue, rather than monologues, more people will come to understand that we care about the same things they do: safe, healthy food produced by dedicated professionals.

Bob Stallman is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.