Young farmers reach out to consumers

A group of young farmers has taken to social media to share with Canadians how they produce food and two fruit and vegetable growers are right in the thick of it.

Erin McLean, whose family runs a pick-your-own berry operation near Peterborough and serves farmers’ markets and local grocers with fresh fruits and vegetables, and potato grower Stephanie Kowalski from the Alliston area are part of a recently launched initiative called Dinner Starts Here.

Central to the project is a website called dinnerstartshere.ca, which features blog posts by ten young farmers as well as recipes, answers to frequently-asked farming questions and information about buying local. Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest will be used to share information and bring visitors to the site.

“I love teaching people about farming and where their food comes from. So often these days the connection with the farm is lost,” says McLean, who farms with her parents and brother. “I’m hoping we’ll be able to teach people more about the work that goes into getting food onto their table so they can better understand the process, be informed about farming practices and appreciate all of the hard work that each and every farmer does to feed them every day.”

“It is especially crucial in the horticulture industry to connect with the consumers. I want them to think of my blog posts or tweets next time they walk into the supermarket and see potatoes,” adds Kowalski, a fourth year biology student at Wilfrid Laurier University. “I want to be a part of that trust-building relationship with consumers that I think is very critical for farmers. Social media is where consumers are and it’s where we need to be also. That’s why I get so excited about this because it’s us, the everyday farmers, getting our say to the consumer.”

The team members are taking turns posting on various social media outlets, as well as the project blog with a goal of posting twice monthly. A post consists of anything from a video to a simple discussion about what’s happening in the field that day, things that non-farmers can relate to.

“The biggest success with this project will be hearing that people learned something new and it added to their knowledge about farms and farming,” says McLean. “Reaching out to consumers to be able to show them first-hand where, how and why their food is grown, harvested and sold will help bridge the gap between the farming community and the public and help demystify farming and local food and bring it back to a level that anyone can understand.”

“My personal goal is to get my non-farming friends interested in it,” says Kowalski. “If I can get even five of my friends, in their 20s, to follow it and read our posts I would be thrilled and consider it a success for me.”

The project was the brain child of dairy farmer and social media advocate Andrew Campbell of Appin, Ontario, who has lined up funding for the project from Dairy Farmers of Canada, Gay Lea Foods Co-operative, Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency, Grayridge Egg Farms and Farm & Food Care. The group would welcome more sponsors and also encourages others to get involved in sharing the story of food and farming.

You can follow the team on Twitter at @HowDinnerStarts, on Facebook or through their blog, www.dinnerstartshere.ca.

Members of the Dinner Starts Here blogging team at the Farm & Food Care annual meeting in April 2013.

Note: this article was originally written for Farm & Food Care and printed in The Grower, June 2013 edition.

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