|Free Groceries Bring Consumers to Sheep
By BECKY TALLEY
Sheep Industry News Associate Editor
(January 1, 2010) It is no secret in the agriculture industry that average consumers are far removed from those who produce food for their tables.
Gone are the days when kids go visit their grandparents on the farm, because their grandparents simply aren’t there. An ever-increasing urban population has left farmers and ranchers as only around 2 percent of the population of the United States. While it’s impressive to note that the nation’s farmers and ranchers who are producing more per capita than ever before with less land to do it on, it is an alarming statistic for the overall agriculture industry.
Bridging the urban and rural gap when it comes to food production and understanding is key to the continuation of the industry, and one unique program is doing just that.
The Farmers Feed US campaign, a national program started by the Center for Food Integrity, recently completed in Ohio and currently running in Michigan, brings together agriculture producers and consumers together on one Web site. The site focuses on teaching the value and importance of agriculture in the featured state.
What makes this different than other ag-promotion campaigns is that consumers visit and enter to win free groceries for a year on the Web site, but this is only after they view short film clips of a farmer or rancher giving an insight into their way of life and product. While the consumer may come to the site for free groceries, they will leave with a vast knowledge of what is grown in their state and how it makes it to their table.
“A lot of general consumers don’t understand where food comes from, and this helps answer how we can get people to understand and like the product,” says Sandy Kuhn, Ohio Farm Bureau, who has been heading up the campaign.
Ohio was the first state to participate in Farmers Feed US. To match the funding of $150,000 the United Soybean Board pitched in to fund the campaign, the Ohio Farm Bureau and Ohio Livestock Coalition provided a combine $50,000 for the project, while seven commodity groups each kicked in a lesser amount.
One of those groups was the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association (OSIA), with a grant from the American Lamb Board.
“There is a gap between the actual producer and consumer, so we jumped at the chance,” says Roger High, executive director of the association. According to High, the association chose a producer to appear on the web video that would represent the vitality of the American sheep industry.
The board chose Curt Cline, a past recipient of the American Sheep Industry Association’s Environmental Stewardship Award, to be the face of the state’s sheep industry.
“We really felt as a board that it was important to use a good person. Cline and his family are young, progressive and interesting. We felt that if consumers see the young, vital industry we could bridge the gap,” High adds.
For Cline, shooting the video that explained sheep and his sustainable production methods was a no brainer.
“We want to build consumer confidence. We want to get into homes of people who have never been on a farm in their whole life – we brought them to a farm through their computers,” he says.
Cline has been raising sheep for about 14 years, and in that time has turned the farm that has been in his family for generations, into a conservationist’s dream.
“It didn’t take long to realize that the cheapest way to raise sheep is to let them harvest grass,” he says. Through work with various agencies and his own ingenuity, Cline has reseeded many fields previously overtilled and overgrazed, added water lines and implemented a rotational grazing system for his property.
The result has been a naturally raised product, with limited impact to the land and a profitable bottom line.
“As long as my grasses are growing here, we are putting on pounds for pennies. I just think it is more profitable to be environmentally friendly,” he says, though quick to add that it’s not only the economics that drive his philosophy, “I do it to give the next generation an opportunity. Something has to be done to save the family farm.”
Cline brought this attitude to the filming of the web video for the Farmer’s Feed US campaign, using the minute and a half clip to discuss the importance of three generations of his family thriving on the farm, the sustainable raising of his sheep and the nutritious, safe product that his flock produces. It includes clips of him and his family, as well as the sheep grazing in knee deep, green pastures.
“When we talk about sheep being environmentally friendly, this video shows that,” High says. In addition, there are links to OSIA’s Web site, which in turn provides a link to the American Lamb Board for recipes, etc.
We’ve got them thinking about lamb to start with, so they are more likely to click through,” he says.
Equally as important, is that the web videos and accompanying photos, information, etc., are also being provided to teachers to bring agriculture to the classroom, among other uses.
“They are being used way beyond what we thought they would be used for. We’ve used them with teachers and burned a CD of the virtual tour,” she says.
In all, the program saw more than 207,000 registrations for free groceries on the site. The site is still up and consumers, though they can no longer register for groceries in Ohio, can still access all the videos and facts. In addition, Kuhn is hoping that the groups on the site will be able to continue to do promotions on their own using the material.
“We want to keep this conversation going on,” she adds.
Michigan launched their grocery give away in November through the campaign, which is partially sponsored by the Michigan Sheep Breeders Association, and the Web site includes a video featuring sheep producer Scott Oswalt, of Vicksburg, Mich. The campaign is also slated to be hosted in other states in the future.
To see the videos on the Ohio and Michigan sheep producers and learn more about the campaign, visit www.farmersfeedus.org.
Ohio Family Wins Groceries for a Year
By JAMES STEVEN
Reprinted from the Marion Star
One Marion, Ohio, family knows where food comes from and praises those who produce what we put on our tables every day. But for the next year, Ohio farmers also are picking up the bill for their groceries. The family of four was presented gift cards totaling $5,000 in November as winners of the “Free Groceries for a Year” contest.
“We feel very blessed to have received this. It’s hard to explain what all this means,” Bob Chidester says.
After a 90-day online sweepstakes sponsored by the Farmers Feed US campaign, three names were drawn at random from more than 207,000 registrations. The other two winners are from the Dayton and Cincinnati areas.
“I entered every day. I was very faithful about that,” says Chidester, a teacher at Marion Technical College. He and his wife, Joyce, a secretary, chose Kroger as the place to redeem their winnings.
The contest started in July, and residents from across the state who visited www.FarmersFeedUS.org could register for a chance to win. In registering, they also got the chance to meet seven Ohio farmers and take a video tour of their farms. Each video explains how they produce safe, nutritious food, according to a news release that announced the contest winners.
“Throughout the sweepstakes, it was great to see the support consumers showed for the farmers who raise their food,” says Jim Heimerl, a hog farmer from Johnstown who is featured on the site. “And as Ohio farmers, we’re proud to showcase our farms, sharing how we raise the food that Ohio consumers eat, while also introducing them to our families.”
The contest is over, but the Web site is still up. It features information about agriculture in the state and farmer videos, plus a database of holiday recipes. Groups participating in the Farmers Feed US contest include Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Ohio Livestock Coalition, Ohio Beef Council, Ohio Pork Producers Council, Ohio Lamb Marketing Board, American Lamb Board, Ohio Soybean Council, Ohio Poultry Association, and American Dairy Association-Mideast.
“Everyone in our county owes a big debt of gratitude to our farmers. It’s not an easy job,” Chidester says. “I think the farmers are the backbone of our country and everything they produce goes to provide what we use every day of our lives.”