To Dawn Caldwell, daily life provides ample opportunities for farmers, particularly farm women, to begin a dialogue about food and farming with urban neighbors and friends.
"Every time you walk in the grocery store, there is an opportunity," Caldwell told a group of 350 farm wives and rural women attending the AG-ceptional Women conference in Norfolk. Farm women are in a unique position to tell the true story of agriculture, she said.
"Farm women are the same as other women," Caldwell said. Farm women and urban women alike shop for groceries, plan and prepare meals for their families. This connection provides a natural springboard to start a dialogue that can educate consumers on the truth about where their food comes from and dispel some of the myths about farm life, she said.
Caldwell, who farms with her husband, Matt, and their two teenaged children near Edgar and serves as corporate communications manager for the Aurora Cooperative, said that families today are typically three or four generations removed from the farm.
She told stories of an urban woman who rode in a combine for the first time and wondered aloud where the canned corn came out of the machine. She talked about women who believed there was a difference between brown and white eggs, or children growing up in the city who say there is no need for farmers because food comes from a grocery store.
Farmers have their work cut out in telling the positive message of farm life, Caldwell said. "The challenge is to focus it on them," she said. She encouraged farm advocates to keep their message personal, to make it matter to urban customers.
For example, "When we talk about sprouting wheat, don't get too scientific with hard facts," Caldwell said. "Bring the story back to them and their families. We have to make it our daily duty and responsibility to make it about the consumer."
She said that it is important to tell the farm and food story in a way that makes sense and matters to urban folks. Tell people about conservation efforts and animal husbandry practices on the farm. Explain how farmers have reduced soil erosion and why we utilize crop protection products in our fields, she said. Talk about how comfortable it is inside livestock housing units when the winter wind is howling outside. "Stand up for fellow farmers and talk about what you are doing on your farm," she said.
"We have the cheapest, safest and most abundant food supply in the world," Caldwell said. "Agriculture is one of the best researched industries." Let people know about where their food comes from and why farms are important, she said. "And take time to answer their questions."
Read more of Caldwell's observations, agriculture advocacy and farm wisdom on her blog, "Lady of Ag," at http://ladyofag.wordpress.com.