Farmer advocate’s biggest role: Connect food to farmers and families
Sometimes consumers need a friendly reminder that food doesn’t really come from the grocery store. And, sometimes the farmers who produce that food need to see that informing and connecting with their consumers is an important responsibility.
As one of the finalists for the 2010 Princess Kay of the Milk Way crown and an active advocate for agriculture, Michaela Bengtson relates a story about helping consumers connect the food they eat with the farmers who milk cows, feed cattle, pigs and poultry and grow corn and soybeans.
At the 2010 Minnesota State Fair, Bengtson was talking with fair attendees as they watched one of the other finalists sit for her carving of one of the famous “butterhead” sculptures. She was visiting with some teen girls, who are usually more enamored with the princesses’ crowns than the butter, and took the opportunity to explain, in personal detail, the origin of the 90-pound block of butter being turned into a sculpture.
“I told them that the milk from my cows made that butter,” she said, noting that her parents sell the milk from their 34-cow dairy herd to the company that provides the butter for the sculptures. “It’s about helping people realize those connections.”
Now, more than ever, farmers need to share information with consumers about where their food comes from, and make a personal connection that helps consumers understand that milk comes from cows, like those on the Bengtson’s rural Kandiyohi farm, she said.
“We have the knowledge, we need to spread and share the message,” Bengtson said. “That puts the personal touch on the foods we are eating.”
Bengtson’s been an advocate for agriculture since her middle school years, when she began tagging along with her older sisters to dairy promotion events. She said she’ll tell as many personal stores as she can to illustrate the fact that farms aren’t just a business, but rather a family working together to grow crops and care for livestock.
And family is the common denominator with consumers, she said. “That’s the easiest way to connect, everyone has family.”
The 2010 New London-Spicer High School graduate is serving as one of three Agvocates (Advocates for Agriculture) for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association this year and is now a junior studying agriculture education at the University of Minnesota. After graduation, she may go into teaching high school agriculture or working in public relations or communications.
As the third class of MCGA agvocates, Bengtson, Nicholas Peterson of Clear Lake and Kevin Welter of Stewartville attend events promoting consumer understanding and develop their skills in agriculture advocacy and leadership.
They also receive scholarship money for their work.
The trio began their year-long agvocate experience last summer and worked at FarmFest, the State Fair and other key events, along with using social media to promote understanding of agriculture. Bengtson updates her Fackbook page www.facebook.com/AgricultureEverywhereEveryday daily. Her goal is to provide quality information that helps people understand and teaches them new things.
“It’s important to find good and important information that will enrich people’s thought process about agriculture,” she said.
Bengtson recently attended the corn grower’s day event at the State Capitol in St. Paul, and enjoyed the experience, learning that she didn’t necessarily know all that happens in the legislative process. She likened her educational experience to what consumers may not understand about farm families and agricultural production.
“People don’t always realize what we are doing,” she said. “It is one of the most important things that we (as farmers) can do is share our knowledge.”
The agvocates also contribute to the Corn Grower’s blog at http://minnesotacornerstone.wordpress.com/.