By Ted Ferris, Michigan State University Department of Animal Science, Nancy Thelen and Mary Dunckel, MSU Extension
As consumers and the public become further removed from farms, their ability to understand and evaluate information about food and food production has diminished. As a result, agricultural organizations are making efforts to educate the public about modern farming practices to build trust in farm products and the methods used to produce them.
Breakfast on the Farm (BOTF) is one such public educational effort lead by Michigan State University Extension. Each BOTF event includes an educational tour of the host farm with stations highlighting various aspects of a modern farm operation as well as a free Michigan-grown breakfast. A total of 40,865 visitors and volunteers participated in 21 events held on farms across the state since 2009.
The 2011 breakfasts involved seven dairy farms where 93% of visitors indicated in an exit survey that they now have a better understanding of modern dairy production. Similarly, 92% of visitors left BOTF with an improved general impression of dairy farming.
BOTF is not just about improving impressions; it's about building trust as well. After experiencing BOTF, 86% of visitors views of milk safety increased.
Survey respondents were also grouped by the level of connection to dairy farms, eliminating those who currently live or work on a dairy farm or have a job in agriculture or agri-business. Of the respondents with no family or friend connections to dairy farms, 90% felt their trust in dairy farmers as a source of information about food production increased as a result of their farm tour experience.
Education in a transparent format such as farm tours, provides the public an opportunity to see and learn firsthand, ask questions, give feedback and develop trust in farmers and the products they produce.
BOTF is changing impressions about specific farm practices including animal housing, milk safety, care for the environment and how producers care for their animals. This occurs as a result of seeing facilities and reading information at tour stations on animal housing, how animals are managed, milked, and receive veterinary care, and how milk is safe-guarded and monitored for antibiotics. Concerned neighbors get a chance to see how manure is stored, handled and used for growing crops. Additionally, people feel welcome, they enjoy learning and seeing modern farms. BOTF events, involving small and large farms, demonstrate that the more knowledgeable consumers are about modern food production practices and systems, the more confidence they have in agricultural products.