August 5, 2011

Food Systems Round-Table connects farm to fork

This week, the Nebraska Soybean Board hosted the annual Food System Round-Table event to bring everyone that deals with food to the table – literally! – to talk about food.

Part of the day featured a food panel discussion including a food blogger, a CommonGround farmer volunteer, a registered dietician and an ag promotion coordinator for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

The food blogger was Ann Huddleston of Healthy, Tasty Chow ( who blogs from Elkhorn, Neb. Her perspective as a person outside of agriculture to a group of ag folks was very interesting – offending at times – but something we need in agriculture need to hear.

The CommonGround volunteer was Joan Ruskamp or Dodge, Neb. She is a self-proclaimed city girl converted to farm life. Joan and her family own and operate a feedlot, grow corn, soybeans and alfalfa and is very involved in her community, especially with five kids.

The registered dietician was Kelli Kennel from Hy-Vee grocery stores. Kelli grew up on a farm, but considers herself far from it. She specializes in helping customers make healthy food choices.

The remaining panelist was Casey Foster, ag promotion coordinator for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture who works closely on opening new markets for value-added ag products, like expanding the farmers market program in the state.

The conversation started with the question, “When it comes to food, what kind of things interest you in terms of issues surrounding food?”

Joan – “The biggest issue is misunderstanding of the general consumer. We {farmers} take it seriously that we’re producing food. We know we’re producing food and we want to be really good at it! I’m a consumer too and even though we have a feedlot of cattle outside of our home, I buy my beef from the grocery store. Our food system is safe and I trust it to feed my family.”

Kelli – “It’s important to make food enjoyable and healthy in your lifestyle. Consumers want the quick fix when it comes to healthy eating. I tell them the best fix is the good, old fashioned way with diet and exercise being the key, which surprises most people.”

Ann – “The most important aspect for my choice as a consumer for food is convenience that is healthy. I am more interested in how food is produced - any type of food production is interesting to me. I visited an egg farm in Arizona and didn’t mind it because it was really clean. Yeah, I wished their cages could have been bigger, but the cleanliness surprised me and I have a better trust in it. Another issue is taste for me. I will buy something over another because I like the taste – I buy grass-fed beef because I prefer the taste, not because of the production method.”

“How can we help you become more comfortable with modern agriculture?”

Ann – “I have never met a bad farmer. I get my information for my food blog from everywhere. If I don’t know if the source is credible, I will still use it, but take it with a grain of salt. I am always looking for a credible third-party researcher – not one out there with a profit affiliation.”

Joan – “As a farmer, I am using video. I want to show everyone out there what I’m doing on my farm and try to better explain it so they can “see” it for themselves.”

Casey – “We use surveys to see how people can become more comfortable with modern agriculture. With the farmers market program, a major factor of healthy food and trust is the produce that you buy. Finding wholesome, locally grown food ranks high on people’s list.”

Ann, the food blogger, also gave some intriguing insight to her consumer choices and why she does what she does. When it comes to buying natural, Ann buys as natural as she can, if it is affordable. “I will go all over the place to find the best food!”

Thanks to the Nebraska Soybean Board for putting this round-table event together to gain more insight on how consumers make decisions and how we in agriculture can help them make those decisions in an educated way.

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