Communicating Confidence in the Food Supply by Sharing Farm Stories
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
Consumers are often confused and skeptical about the way many foods are grown. Retail dietitians, however, can communicate confidence in the food supply by partnering with farmers to translate food production stories and help consumers understand the journey from farm to supermarket.
Leah McGrath, RD, LDN, Corporate Dietitian for Ingles Markets, made it a point to learn more about farming practices when she started receiving consumer questions. Over the past few years Leah has visited several farms in her area and takes advantage of agricultural learning opportunities so she can share her findings with shoppers through articles, blogs and presentations. She is not afraid to ask the farmers direct questions on safety and ethical practices and states the farmers are typically anxious to discuss the facts about the care that goes into their particular products.
Jennie Schmidt, MS RD, Dietitian and Family Farmer, is also passionate about connecting people with food and farming. Jennie suggests that RDNs tour and visit all types and sizes of farms to understand the depth and breadth of U.S. agriculture and food production. During a tour, Jennie says to ask in-depth questions and remove the romantic notions of agritourism that only show the best sides of a farm. You will then be more prepared to answer consumer questions. Jennie herself is very authentic and transparent while discussing uncomfortable topics like pesticide use because she is the one who runs the sprayer. She feels an honest conversation can alleviate a lot of concerns and dispel misinformation.
Below are some of Leah and Jennie’s recommendations and resources for learning more about farm practices and effectively communicating the information to consumers:
- Talk to your retail buying team about touring farms that supply your stores.
- Reach out to checkoff programs (Beef, Pork, Chicken, Turkey, as well as Dairy) - They are often a great source of science-based information and can be a resource for farm tours.
- Utilize organizations like your local Cooperative Extension and Farm Bureau, as well as, the Food and Culinary Professionals (FCP) Practice Group through the Academy. Their Agricultural Subgroup offers virtual farm tours that anyone can access.
- In her presentation, “Between the Farm and the Plate - an Opportunity to Educate", Leah suggests that RDNs follow and connect with farmers, agricultural scientists and the agriculture community on social media. Some of her favorites include: #agchat, #factsnotfear, #farming. There are also dietitians who are farmers or are very involved to the agriculture community. These include: @FarmGirlJen - Jennie Schmidt, @DairyFarmerRD - Abbey Copenhaver, @AmyMyrdalMiller - Amy Myrdal Miller, and @BuildupRDNs where agriculture and farming information is often posted. Also, @thefarmbabe, @FarmDaughterUSA, @USFRA , @MNFarmLiving.
- For information on genetic engineering and plant breeding Jennie likes biofortified.org and genetic literacy and also recommends listening to Dr. Pam Ronald' s TED talk on Genetic engineering. Her resource for topics related to nutrition and agriculture include the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Economic Resource Service sites.
- For information and questions on pesticides visit safefruitsandveggies.com.
Visit Jennie’s Facebook page The Foodie Farmer @DirtDietitian where she posts about how food gets from field to fork. For one of Leah’s recent farm posts visit http://inglesinfoaisle.com/dirty-boots-and-the-basics-of-beef/ and listen to her podcast on beef at: http://inglesinfoaisle.com/podcast/podcast-hickory-nut-gap-farm/.