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Engaging with the community

Many people have questions about how food is grown or raised but it’s not every day they can get their answers directly from a farmer. A recent North Carolina event provided just such an opportunity.  

A panel of six women, including four farmers, took to the stage to answer questions during an Ask A Farm(HER) event in Smithfield. I was humbled to share the stage with cattle, pig, sweet potato, and produce farmers, as well as professionals in the industry as we tackled some tough, and not so tough, questions about agriculture.

FarmHer speakers

Members of the community were invited to submit questions ahead of time or ask them from the floor. I must be honest, there were some topics I just knew we’d be asked about but weren’t. This is one reason events like this are so important. Too often we talk to consumers about what we think they want to know, instead of listening to what they are really interested in.

One participant, a 4-year-old, wanted to know what our favorite farm equipment was and why. A 12-year-old wanted advice on growing a raised bed garden.  

Other participants, ages withheld, wanted to know about advertising claims like “organic” and “antibiotic-free”, fertilizers, imports, H2A labor, and how the rising costs of all inputs affect farmers.  We took questions about land use and the pressures of land development on farming. People wanted to know how to support their local farmers and what happens to seconds, produce that doesn’t make top grade.

There were so many questions, panelists didn’t have a chance to answer all the questions submitted beforehand. To me, that shows the demand for these types of conversations between consumers and farmers.  

This idea for this event was born during a conversation at Pace Family Farms between Michelle Pace Davis and one of her customers, a member of the Junior Women’s League of Smithfield. Local food trucks Dampf Good BBQ and Little Lanea’s Mini Donuts gave the audience dinner and dessert options. The event was free and live streamed for those who couldn’t attend. In addition to the Junior Women’s League, it was sponsored by the Johnston County Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher and JoCo Grows Agriculture committees.

It started with a farmer engaging with one consumer. That can be all it takes to get the ball rolling and open the door to conversations between those who work the land and those who buy the products we grow and raise. In a time when farmers make up less than 2% of the population, we need to connect with the other 98%, and this event achieved that. 

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