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Ag on the menu

More consumers today are going online to enjoy hearty servings of kitchen-table conversations. They're asking questions like, “What's safe and healthy? How do food labels relate to the health of my family? Help! What do I feed my kids tonight?” A survey by the Center for Food Integrity shows that 49% of early adopters say they use Facebook frequently and 30% frequently are on YouTube. This offers a new way to engage them on issues impacting the farm and food sector. But sometimes seeing is believing. That's why eight food bloggers from across the U.S. were invited to participate in the second annual Iowa Cornucopia Tour. The two-day tour is sponsored by Iowa Corn Growers Association and Iowa Corn Promotion Board in partnership with The Center for Food Integrity.

These young women and mothers love food and recipes. It's their passion – not their livelihood. They blog and post under the domain names of The Wicked Noodle, The Hungry Housewife, Busy Mommy, The Post It Place, A Farmgirl's Dabbles, Once a Month Mom, Farmgirl Gourmet, and Mele Cotte. They have many followers who visit their sites daily.

A jam-packed tour
The bloggers traveled from as far as Washington, D.C., Florida, and Georgia to Des Moines. They began their visit at the nineteenth-century Living History Farms museum, and they later toured Bill and Nancy Couser's grain and cattle farm near Nevada.

At the Lincoln Way Energy LLC dry mill plant, the women received an earful about ethanol. Hitching a ride in pace cars powered by ethanol at the Iowa Speedway near Newton helped put the message about ethanol on the fast track.

At Iowa State University, the bloggers discussed hot topics such as high-fructose corn syrup and hormones in meat with Ruth MacDonald, Food Science and Human Nutrition department chair.
A highlight of the tour for Brenda Score (A Farmgirl's Dabbles) was a visit to the Better Homes & Gardens® Test Kitchen at Meredith Corporation.

I met the bloggers and gave them a brief history of Successful Farming magazine, Meredith Corporation's founding magazine, before Test Kitchen director Lynn Blanchard toured them through BH&G publication's facilities.

If you didn't know that these women worship recipes and food, their excited reaction to a shelf full of trademark red-and-white plaid BH&G cookbooks was a dead giveaway!

Returning home the next day, they shared tidbits from their short farm course. “Before I came to Iowa, I knew nothing – only how to cook corn,” blogged Leslie Green (Hungry Housewife). “And that was sweet corn. I had no idea about number 2 corn.”

Others indicated the tour reinforced their views. “When it comes to food, I think the overall motto should be everything in moderation,” blogged Emily Roemmich (Busy Mommy).

“I'm not here to tell you what to feed your family,” wrote Jyl Nipper (The Post It Place). “Sugar is sugar. It doesn't matter where it came from.”

Dinner conversations
Finding out what consumers think about food, farmers, and agriculture is our business.

Sara Ross, a Minden, Iowa, farmer helped host the bloggers. She's part of an initiative called Common Ground ( Ross combines social media with one-on-one events to talk about farming.

Research by The Center for Food Integrity shows that shared values build trust more than demonstrating competence does.

“Getting to the farm and riding the combine was my favorite part,” blogged Christiana Arpante. “Seeing the process for what goes into corn and the faces behind the production was amazing. It's not as simple as one might think. Talking with farmers reminded me they're the heart of America. We need to remember they're still here.”

We need to keep this conversation going and make sure that it's a two-way street.

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