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THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
FARM SAFETY 4 JUST KIDS
Marilyn Adams, founder and president of Farm Safety 4 Just Kids, highlights farm safety initiatives in Iowa and announces the FS4JK local/national 104! Nor More! farm safety campaign at a press conference held August 6th at the Left and Center Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa.
As Marilyn Adams, founder and president of Farm Safety 4 Just Kids (FS4JK), accepted congratulations recently in Reno, Nev., after becoming the recipient of the 2002 American Agricultural Editors' Association's Distinguished Service Award, a thought crept into my head. Here was a woman who lost her son Keith through suffocation in a gravity flow wagon back in 1986. She took that tragedy to begin what now is a 15-year-old vibrant organization that promotes "a safe farm environment to prevent health hazards, injuries and fatalities to children and youth."

For many of us in agriculture, Adams' story is well-known and well-documented.

A grant from Firestone Tire and Rubber Company for a danger decal on farm equipment resulted in the birth of FS4JK in 1987. As someone who has spent the past seven years writing a column on effective public relations, there's something a little strange for me to be writing this month about how effective media relations has played a major role in getting this organization where it is today. But public relations has played a major role in the success of FS4JK.

After all, this thought occurred to me while I was at the awards banquet: "When you're starting an organization from scratch, with no real funding and no background in building something like this, what is it that makes it work and gets people from across the country to believe in your cause?"

THE BEGINNING

"Without the media in the beginning we wouldn't be here," Adams says. "I was just a farm wife and mother going through the grieving process when we got started." Articles in the Des Moines Register, Wallaces Farmer and Iowa Farmer Today were a springboard for the organization to get out the message about farm safety.

Those early articles resulted in a plethora of farm station radio interviews. "All those radio station calls helped pull me out of my horrible stages of grief," she recalls. "It helped me emotionally and gave our family something joyful to focus on. We didn't know what to do. So we bought an answering machine, and all I did early on was talk to the media."

National media hits followed in such publications as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. "Good Morning America" also did a piece with Adams early on. Other major hits early in the '90s included a piece on Lifetime Cable TV and an article in Family Circle magazine.

Adams calls a special section sponsored by Dow Chemical Co. (now Dow AgroSciences) in Successful Farming magazine in 1989 a "benchmark" for the organization. "That really created a public demand for what we were trying to accomplish." Dow Chemical, then later DowElanco, played a huge role in funding FS4JK in the early years.

FS4JK, based in Earlham, Iowa, celebrated its 15th anniversary earlier this year and in August celebrated at the Left and Center Field of Dreams complex in Dyersville, Iowa. You remember: That's where Kevin Costner and Shoeless Joe Jackson commiserated in a cornfield that turned into a baseball field in the movie also titled "Field of Dreams." The cornfield's maze was the organization's logo this summer.

FS4JK also used the occasion to announce to the media a new program called "104! No More!" Despite tremendous strides in reducing the number of children's fatalities in farm accidents since FS4JK started (the numbers were estimated at about 300 per year 15 years ago), two children on average die each week because of a farm accident. That 39 percent reduction is fantastic, Adams says, but more needs to be done.

In September, FS4JK announced a new partnership with the Farm Service Agency of USDA. In many of the communities where there are local FS4JK chapters, efforts will be made to get 104 kids to "march for safety."

But back to the point. Mindy Williamson, community relations director for FS4JK, has been with the organization for three years. She sees media relations as a growing priority within the organization. "I think you're going to see a lot more time and attention devoted to this in the future. A major marketing communications plan was first written in 1997. We're now revising that and hopefully will take a look at some of the ideas with our board and follow through with some of those things."

NON-PROFIT CHALLENGES

Adams says even after 15 years, the biggest challenge facing FS4JK is learning to be more proactive than reactive. "It's a new story to somebody all the time," she says. "But we still spend too much time reacting. Programs like the one with USDA are going to change that."

Williamson says another major challenge is a result of the overall economy in the past couple years. "As a nonprofit, we realize the crunch the media feels because advertising revenue isn't what they would like it to be," she says. "That affects our ability to get them to use our PSA ads, radio and TV spots. We don't have any advertising budget. We have to rely on the media to run our PSAs."

With no advertising budget and less use of PSAs because of the economy, Adams and Williamson realize the importance of public relations in getting the message told about farm safety. And although national attention in consumer media is great, both concede that the farm media is their audience and the people they need to devote their time and attention to in getting out the message of farm safety.

"Even though the times have been tough economically, we are lucky to be dealing with ag publications and broadcast media," Williamson says. "They understand the issues and know this is a worthwhile message. But it's not easy to do."

Adams says the organization must continue to cultivate the personal relationships it has with the ag media. "That is the biggest way for us to reduce injuries and fatalities on the farm," she says. "We need the outreach the media provides locally, regionally and nationally." (It's interesting to note that Jack Odle, vice president/editor of Progressive Farmer magazine, introduced Adams at the Reno, Nev., event.)

Adams commends ag media groups, such as Progressive Farmer" and national syndicated television shows such as "U.S. Farm Report," "AgDay Television" and "RFD-TV." "These people have been tremendous to us."

Today, it's not exaggerating to say media relations efforts have had a major effect on the growth of the organization, which now has more than 3,000 volunteers and 150 local chapters in the United States and Canada. A multitude of programs are managed through the organization, including seminars and workshops on many safety and health-related topics.

"The media has made my life chaotic, that's for sure," Adams says. "But it's all been worth it. We've used the media from the get-go and it's been a real plus."

For information on how you can help FS4JK, check out the organization's Web site at www.fs4jk.org. AM

Den Gardner owns Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn.


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