Those of us in agriculture know all too well who our critics are. From TV talk shows to social media channels, the anti-farm, anti-animal, anti-GMO, anti-everything crowd — along with those organizations who make money by bashing agriculture and scaring people about their food, our critics have no problem making their voices heard. Yet, there may be a large group of supporters just waiting silently out there for us to realize they like agriculture and want to engage with us in a positive way. Who are they? They are the Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000.
According to Gavriella Keyles, a college student currently an intern at the Farm Journal Foundation (yes, a millennial), her peers are big supporters of agriculture. “We love food,” she wrote in an Ag Web post. She points to the popularity of food television as proof, “Last year was Food Network’s most watched year to date, and it held its spot in the list of the Top 10 cable networks for the fourth year in a row. And let’s not forget about the Cooking Channel, TLC, Bravo and the many other cable networks that have hopped on the “foodie” train.” She adds, along with this interest in food, is an interest in where food comes from, “This is the best thing to happen to farmers since sliced bread — or maybe since the tractor — a real, vested interest in where food comes from.”
Many of the people who visit farmers’ markets or go to farm to fork restaurants are millennials. “Young people are increasingly more excited, interested and concerned about what’s on their plates and what’s in their bellies, and this infatuation could be an invaluable one for America’s farmers,” said Keyles. Visiting a farmers’ market is a long way from supporting mainstream, modern agriculture, but Keyles believes this plugged-in, on-line generation can be a force to support agriculture, “If millennials really care about their food and where it comes from, and I have enormous confidence that they do, they will care about the issues that pertain to their food. They just have to be educated about these issues first.”
Indiana Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann sees this potential and recently created a contest to come up with a communications plan to reach this generation. “Who better to reach millennials than other millennials,” she said. So she challenged teams of university students to develop such a plan. The winning plan from Huntington University stressed how agriculture impacts not only the food we eat but the many other aspects of our world. Team leader Stephanie Morin told me that, before you can talk to millennials, you have to give them a reason to listen to you, “They want to know how it affects their daily lives. On a small level, it is about the milk and cereal in your bowl coming from Indiana farms; but on a larger scale, how agriculture can impact their world.”
Agriculture has a great story to tell, not only about food production but also about how farmers impact the economy, the environment, and civilization both here and around the world. But, we have to start by showing them why we are relevant to them and their world. This may seem strange to some of us in agriculture because we cannot imagine someone now knowing how important farming is and how it impacts daily life. Yet, we must to reach and teach the Millennial generation. At nearly 80 million strong, millennials represent nearly 27 percent of our United States’ population today. Chipotle has identified this group and knows how interested in food they are. Agriculture needs to reach this important demographic with the message of the good works of agriculture and the benefits we bring to their world.
By Gary Truitt