During a Nov. 29 panel discussion at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation 2016 Annual Convention, five diverse consumers gave farmers insight into their food-shopping decisions.
The discussion, titled Ears Wide Open, was “for us to listen and better understand what goes through consumers’ minds when making food choices,” said moderator Lauren Arbogast, a Shenandoah Valley farmer and blogger on paintthetownag.com. The other moderator was Jesse Martin, a producer and broadcaster for On The Farm Radio, which broadcasts to more than 9 million listeners and 230,000 farming operations six days a week.
Kelly Troxell, a Harrisonburg first grade teacher and mother of two young children, said that when she was growing up she went to traditional grocery stores with her parents and never questioned where the food originated. “But now there’s so much information out there that it creates questions,” she said. As a result she and her husband, Taylor, who also served on the panel, intentionally buy food from farmers’ markets and local farmers. “They explain farming practices to us that we don’t understand, and then it makes sense,” she said.
She reads product labels in the grocery store but said the wide variety of marketing terms can be confusing. “It feels a bit gimmicky,” she said, citing products that are obviously gluten-free but are labeled as such anyway.
June Crann, a registered dietitian and Rockingham County beef and dairy farmer, pointed out that most marketing labels are not added by farmers. “The manufacturers put them on to get you to buy their products,” she said.
As a consumer, “you have to educate yourself,” said Taylor Troxell, an associate grocery coordinator for Whole Foods.
The consumers agreed that spending time on actual farms can be helpful but is not always practical. “People want to know who farmers really are and what they’re doing to produce our food,” said Annie Clay, food and nutrition services manager for Amelia County Public Schools.
Arbogast and Martin urged farmers in attendance to continue conversations with consumers whenever possible. “We come together to talk about changes we need to make in communicating our story, but we talk about it in the ag community; we need to have those conversations outside the ag community,” Martin said.