Editor’s note: The following article was written by Phil Durst, Michigan State University extension dairy educator.

We started with a premise – that consumers want to trust the sources of their food and will do so if we make it personal.

And so we invited them to Breakfast on the Farm at Circle K Farms in West Branch on July 9 and they came; 1,800 of them. By the comments we have received, they developed greater trust in, and appreciation for, the farmers who produce their food. Their trust and their thanks were not just for our hosts, the Kartes family, but for all farmers.

The most encouraging comments were written in response to the survey question: “What was the biggest surprise to you?”

  • “How safe milk production is. Thank you.”
  • “How clean the farm was and how well cared for the cows are.”
  • “The health care taken to keep germs down”
  • “I am so thankful to farmers, (and the) Kartes family, for quality food, milk and this event.”

Even in rural West Branch, Mich., 45 percent of those who filled out the post-tour survey said they (159) were on a dairy farm for the first time in the past 20 years. These are the people who drive by day-after-day and yet don’t know what goes on in the barns and parlors that they see from the road.

We wanted them to see and understand better what steps are taken to ensure the care and health of the cattle, wholeness of the product and the safety of the environment. But even more than that, we wanted people to meet and understand the farm families who produce their food and why they do it.

In preparation for the event with the many volunteers –148 on the day of the event – we stressed with the producers and industry people to share their heart and passion for agriculture. And they did – on the hay wagon rides from the parking area, at each educational station and in every interaction with the attendees.

Survey comments reflected all the effort the volunteers put in to make the day, and the visitor’s experience successful:

  • “Wonderful experience for everyone. Keep doing the great job everyone does for all the rest of us!”
  • “Farming is not simple – a lot of expertise is involved. This isn’t a job for someone who doesn’t want to work.”
  • “Overall, this was a great experience. I had no idea how a farm was managed. I am now aware of how much work is required to operate a farm. It was evident that farmers take great pride in their work.”

The unity of the agricultural community was tremendous. A committee of 20 committed producers worked faithfully with Phil Durst, Michigan State University Extension Dairy educator, for seven months to prepare for the event. Their ideas and drive made this event great. They raised funds from over 70 donors and they recruited the many volunteers to work. At the end of the day on Saturday, they sat back with a satisfied grin, knowing that what they do – on a day-in, day-out basis – was appreciated by the consumers on whom they depend for sales.

Breakfast on the Farm gave producers the opportunity to talk directly with the consumer and tell them with pride what they do. On the flipside, it gave consumers the opportunity to talk directly with the producers and say “Thanks for all your hard work.” Or, as someone put it on the survey, “Our hats are off to farmers. Thank you!”

We know the job of consumer education is not finished with a one-day event, and that there is more work to be done, but for now, we’ll stand a little taller, and feel more confident in our work of producing food for Michigan families.

Source: Michigan State University