When grocery store shelves are bare in places or your online grocery preferences are out of stock, your food choices quickly become top of mind.

In the height of a pandemic, consumers are more acutely aware of the food supply chain. Consumers are asking questions to learn more about how food is raised or grown and how the dynamics of the supply chain impact their choices.

Cue the need for farmers and ranchers to connect with non-ag consumers.

Katie Pinke, Agweek Publisher
Katie Pinke, Agweek Publisher

Ten years ago, I worked on a grassroots farmer-to-consumer effort called Know A California Farmer. Operated with U.S. Department of Agriculture specialty crop grant funding through the California State Agriculture Department, 120 agricultural organizations put their name behind Know A California Farmer. For this North Dakota gal, California was a brand-new world. From Yuba City to Bakersfield, I was part of a team that shared communication best practices and hosted social media trainings with 600 California farmers, ranchers and agricultural professionals. The experience still impacts me today and the relationships continue.

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In the past decade, thousands of farmers have ventured down the path of agriculture advocacy, or “agvocacy,” and started sharing their own farm and ranch stories via social media. Making farm-to-consumer and dinner-plate-back-to-the-farm-gate connections fueled my passion for communication for many years. However, recently I’ve questioned the value of agvocacy efforts. Have we moved the needle? How can we measure if consumers have a greater understanding of how farmers and ranchers raise their food?

At times, I’ve been wary of connecting modern agriculture to disconnected city folk who seem to hate on farmers rather than share the love of living in the most food-rich country in the world. The misinformation, the mistrust and farmers seemingly talking in social media silos rather than connecting with audiences outside ag has led me to disengage. Add in work and family responsibilities, and I hadn’t thought much about agriculture advocacy in 2020 — that is until the global health pandemic.

One positive of COVID-19 is the increase in non-ag consumers reaching out to learn where their food comes from, rather than griping on social media about limits on meat purchases at the grocery store.

I received a Facebook message from a high school classmate asking for recommendations on how to purchase pork and beef from area farmers and ranchers. She had valid questions about meat inspection, local processing and how to connect to farmers. I sent her some links to Agweek articles to clarify issues, added her to a statewide Farm to Table Facebook group and sent her names of farmers I buy beef and hogs from and a processing facility.

For those in the trenches of agriculture, we see you in the most difficult of times. Your work is valued and more appreciated today than ever before. My hope is millions of Americans come alongside me to say, this is the year of the American farmer and rancher.

Amid a global pandemic, American farmers and ranchers offer food security. I am thankful for the work done years ago to make valuable connections between consumers and agriculture audiences. Farmers and ranchers, keep connecting with your non-ag connections, friends and family. If you’re outside of ag, get to know a farmer. Social media allows us to easily connect, ask questions and learn about farming and ranching practices — and ultimately the food on our tables.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.