Developing farmer leaders is important to Midwest Dairy because telling dairy’s story is a priority for all of us. It is important that we provide dairy farmers with the resources to do their part when telling their own story. Midwest Dairy offered many different farmer trainings throughout 2022, allowing confidence to build and connections to be made.
In 2022, we offered ENGAGE training provided by the Center for Food Integrity. This training focuses on helping farmers connect with consumers on shared values to have more meaningful conversations. In today’s world, consumers are asking more questions than ever before about their food. The conversation is less about “What’s for dinner?” and more about “Should I be feeding this to my family?” and “Can I trust that it was produced responsibly?” Research shows that connecting through values is three-to-five times more powerful in building trust than simply sharing facts. That’s why ENGAGE training allows farmers to learn how to answer these ethical questions with more than just the facts because communicating with values is equally important.
Ultimately, Midwest Dairy wants to help farmers become better advocates for the industry, and we do this in various ways. For example, growing dairy farmers’ skillset when talking to consumers is important and something we focus on during farmer training sessions. We have all gotten tough questions and know how hard it is to connect with farm-removed consumers. Midwest Dairy is always a resource farmers can tap into when needing talking points or help perfecting how they tell their farm’s story. This training helps prepare farmers for those tough conversations online and in person.
Finding common ground with consumers is a great place to start during these conversations. Those tough questions can become easier to answer when we connect over shared values. When farmers share the values that are important to them, it humanizes them and lets the consumer know that farmers also care about their community. For example, some shared values farmers might incorporate in conversation include environmental messaging showcasing their commitment to the earth. Another example includes cow care and the dedication to keeping their livestock happy and comfortable. In addition, when farmers share details about their operation, they find shared values amongst others and allow for better connections to be made.
In April of 2022, farmers from Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota were brought together for a hybrid ENGAGE training where farmers gathered in person, by individual state, to participate in the virtual training. Each state had its own meeting location, and through Zoom had the opportunity to participate in the ENGAGE training and also network and learn with fellow dairy farmers. In all, 18 farmers met in Minnesota, 15 met in Iowa, and eight met in Illinois. Twenty farmers rated the training an 8.9 out of 10, agreeing they had learned something new that they could use when conversing with consumers. One farmer said, “The content was wonderful, and some great discussions were started.” Another farmer commented, “The hybrid model was pretty good. It was nice to hear what some other groups came up with and not have to travel too far.”
Another group of farmers from Arkansas, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nebraska gathered in Kansas City to hear from dairy checkoff partners and participate in an ENGAGE workshop in 2022. Partners such as Casey’s, KC Mom’s Network, and Lee’s Summit Public Schools were in attendance to share why they feel it is valuable to partner with dairy farmers and answer questions from the group. The event kicked off with an outstanding presentation from the “Voice of the Kansas City Chiefs” Mitch Holthus, including a private tour of Arrowhead stadium followed by other partners’ presentations. The group ended the day at Jasper’s Italian Restaurant, where Chef Jasper of Jasper, another dairy checkoff partner, prepared a special Italian meal for the dairy farmers. Dairy farmers also participated in an ENGAGE workshop.
Through training like this, Midwest Dairy has also seen many relationships among farmers grow. By getting involved, farmers meet other farmers facing the same obstacles allowing for support and good conversation. Networking with peers is essential in allowing the Midwest dairy community to unite.
Developing farmer leaders is important to Midwest Dairy, and we will continue to provide tools and offer training that supports farmers when telling their own stories.