The Food Dialogues, four town hall meetings held across the United States and streamed online on Sept. 22, 2011. The event, hosted by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and organized by the Ketchum public relations firm, was designed initiate a conversation between farmers, ranchers, food leaders and consumers. USFRA Secretary Bart Schott sees the event as a big success.
"I was talking to one of the fellows from Ketchum and during the Food Dialogues there were people using social media like they've never seen before," Schott said. "They were very excited about the activity coming in, so we know it was well looked at and well received. This was a dialogue we've never had with our consumers so we feel like it was a big win."
Schott says that Food Dialogues was put together as the start of a movement, not a campaign.
"A campaign is a one-day event and we wanted a movement," Schott said. "This idea came up through a lot of conversation with 'How do we do that?' Each one of our commodity organizations have had their own kind of event on how to connect with the consumer and to be honest we weren't doing a very good job of reaching our consumers."
Schott says they thought the questions they were answering were the questions were the ones consumers were asking. However a survey showed that they were not answering the questions that consumers were asking. That's how the Food Dialogues came about.
"Let's have an open dialogue with our consumers; let's connect a consumer with questions right to a farmer and rancher and let that dialogue begin," Schott said. "The event that happened on Sept. 22 has never been done before in history, where we can directly link through social media a consumer with a farmer or rancher."
Schott says the officers of USFRA have discussed the event through e-mail and were very pleased with how the Food Dialogues were conducted and received.
"We were somewhat surprised by the turnout," Schott said. "You know you never really know what to expect with an event like the Food Dialogues, but I know in talking to the other two officers we're very glad that we did it and we think this is going to be the kickoff event for things to come."
It's been almost a year since twelve groups came together in St. Louis, Mo., and tried to figure out if they could get all the production agriculture groups together and focus on the good food-bad food debate. That meeting is where USFRA was born and Schott says almost a year later the alliance is up to 55 members, covering a wide range of agriculture, participating in an open dialogue. He says to this point they are very excited and pleased and look for the plan to come together even further.
"Stay tuned this is going to get better and better," Scott said. "So we see nothing but good happening here. To me being a voice for the farmers and ranchers is quite an honor and a privilege."