Maybe it’s just cabin fever; after all, it is only mid-February. But I’m getting anxious for spring. Very anxious. I page through the seed catalogs and drool, my imagination working overtime on how beautiful my yard is going to look this summer — provided I can thwart the deer that think my plants are as tasty as they are pretty.

But better weather brings much more than blooms and battles with flower thieves. It’ll soon be high season for ag promotion events, like the long-standing tradition of Breakfast on the Farm.

But just how much good do events like that do in building goodwill with consumers? I mean, can opening the doors to a dairy once a year in this day and age actually help inform our non-farm neighbors of what we’re all about?

In a word, yes. Especially if it’s part of a larger communication effort.

Michigan State University researchers recently unveiled results from an exit survey taken from three Breakfast on the Farm (BOTF) events last year to find out more about attendees and their familiarity with farms.

Over the three locations, 37 percent grew up in an urban area; 14 percent grew up in an urban area not near a farm; 11 percent grew up in a rural area not near a farm; 23 percent grew up on a farm, and, 18 percent grew up in a rural area near a farm. (Click here for more results)

But perhaps more interesting was the fact that they didn’t have much experience with farms. At the three locations, 46 percent had not been on a farm before and 25 percent had been on a farm one to five times. Yet, they were willing to drive an average of 32 miles to attend a BOTF event.

The researchers theorize that it seems that these events provide another mechanism to educate the public. It’s likely there will be a greater impact with events located near large metropolitan areas, they note, “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.” 

Of course, any success depends on how well we present ourselves. Information from the Center for Food Integrity suggests that “early adopting” consumers — those who drive social change — are key to our future. When it comes to the areas of nutrition, food safety and humane treatment of farm animals, this critical segment has a higher level of concern than other societal segments, according to the Center’s research. However, these individual are also information seekers who are willing to consider credible sources.

And that means you, because dairy farmers live these principles every day. Consumer events like BOTF are just one way to open that dialogue.

“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,” say the Michigan State University researchers. “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. Perhaps BOTF along with a number of other industry efforts will help make this happen.”

Let’s work to make sure the odds of success are more than “perhaps.”