Educating Growers on How to Communicate Directly with Eaters
In 2016, Red Tomato partnered with IPM Voice, a national advocacy organization that makes integrated pest management (IPM) intelligible and valuable to the public, and the FrameWorks Institute, an independent research organization that translates the views of scientists to the public, to launch the Farming and Good Narrative Project (FFNP). The Farming and Food Narrative Project’s primary focus is to develop a more effective approach to talking to the public about farming and farm practices, and to create communications strategies that are evidence-based. To learn more about the history behind the FFNP, check out this article.
We are excited to provide information about our latest publication, “Reframing Farming: Strategies for expanding thinking about agriculture,” released in December 2022. This report reviews how traditional perceptions about farming and agriculture can be harmful, inaccurate, and over-simplified. These inaccuracies cause harm to our agricultural communities, preventing the public from understanding the true nature of agriculture. “Reframing Farming” is a study and toolkit aimed to help farmers and agricultural workers properly communicate the intricacies of their vital work in a way that connects to the public and makes a long-lasting impact on the way we all perceive formwork.
As shared in the report: “Framing is the process of making choices about what we say, how we say it, what we emphasize, and what we leave unsaid. Framing matters because these choices shape how people think, feel, and act. Frames affect whether we think an issue is important, whether we think of it as a private, personal problem or a shared social concern, and the kinds of solutions we support.” This report focuses on the following strategic frameworks for implementing this change:
- Focus on farming, not food
- Make the story about interconnection
- Show how adjusting farming practices and policies can contribute to the type of communities we want
- Talk about the tightrope that farms must cross
- Tell science-rich stories about innovative practices on farms
- Speak directly to historical and contemporary inequities
Using these frameworks, we can begin dismantling the inaccurate, preconceived notions surrounding modern farming practices. “Contemporary farming is, at once, integral to society and removed from it. The United States has the benefit of a food supply that is—for most, but not all—safe, abundant, and affordable. Yet less than 2% of those actively employed in the U.S. participate directly in producing crops.” Reframing Farming is bridging the gap of knowledge between food growers and consumers, and creating meaningful connections between them.
To check out the full report, visit this link.
As a food hub that helps distribute and market local farmers’ products, here’s how Red Tomato is applying the findings from Reframing Farming into our practices:
- Eco Orchard Project: A specific project for NE SARE on orchards, utilizing the narrative from the FFNP final report, to help you-pick orchards communicate with those who come to their farms.
- Growing West: In 2023, Red Tomato is participating in workshops with WSARE to bring the FFNP findings and recommendations to other growers outside of the Northeast.
- Starting in 2023, Red Tomato is working on an EcoCertified co-branding project with certified farms and value-added producers to put the “Reframing Farming” findings to use on farms, at markets, and online.
To learn more about how “Reframing Farming” is shaping work at Red Tomato, we sat down with Red Tomato’s co-founder Michael Rozyne.
Red Tomato: With the FFNP final report in hand, how is Red Tomato focusing its work to make the findings actionable and accessible for growers, eaters, retailers, and other food-reformation organizations?
Michael: Direct-market growers are invaluable partners in communicating about EcoCertified to their direct-market customers. This is a new educational engagement for Red Tomato. We are producing new materials, training their staffs, providing content for websites, and staying tuned in to and helping fulfill their particular communication and marketing needs.
We see co-branding with farms and other marketers as an important future channel for both sales and marketing of EcoCertified products. For example, farms that produce value-added products using EcoCertified ingredients (e.g. hard cider, canned preserves, freeze-dried fruit). We are producing a series of posters (in 2023) and videos (in 2024) called “This Is How We Farm” to engage a public audience and express the benefits of EcoCertified farming in the voice of the grower.
And, as part of a Western SARE-funded project, we are hosting two 1-1/2 day, in-person workshops in July 2023 in Oregon and California aimed at “influencers,” such as educators, cooperative extension specialists, journalists, farmers, advocates, and food industry practitioners.
Red Tomato: Where are growers needing the most communication assistance? What’s the biggest hurdle?
Michael: This depends on the growers and how they go to market. It includes two main categories:
- Accessing the channels that would likely publicize their farms, such as local television, community newspapers (where they still exist — seems like some are actually coming back); and
- Answering the common questions (Do you spray? Do you use chemicals? What’s Eco mean? How did the recent weather event impact you?) in ways that will engage the listener, build trust in the farm, and leave the listener wanting to learn more.
Red Tomato: What do the next three years look like in bringing this document’s findings to life for growers — and eaters — throughout the country?
Michael: We intend to integrate the research findings into the communication strategies and narratives we put forward on behalf of EcoCertified growers here in the Northeast as well as in new production areas, such as the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. The engagement with FrameWorks has slowly and steadily changed the narrative we convey during sales presentations, on-farm visits with retailers and their produce staff, and in our written communications. For example, we are way more selective about the amount and selection of the factual information we choose to convey (instead of dumping it all in), and we have greatly limited our use of scientific and industry jargon in our broader communications. We are searching for emotional connections to an audience, which is hard work that requires lots of practice.
Honestly, we need to go through the upcoming two workshops in Oregon and California before we can do justice to answering this question. We’ve already heard from two organizations in Eastern and North Central states that they are interested in hosting a similar kind of workshop for their region. We shall see how that progresses over time, and we are hopeful for this line of work to become more and more effective and impactful.