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THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
CONNECTING FOOD ON THE TABLE TO AGRICULTURE
I just had a birthday. Forty-eight terrific years. As I edge toward 50, and the stomach gets a little wider and I get a little more winded than usual after a four-mile jog, I couldn't help but recall my youth and growing up on the farm. Those were the days, of course, when you had enough energy to run for hours. And the last thing you thought about was food on the table and what it might be doing to your mid-section. I guess they call those "the good ol' days!"

Then I started thinking about my kids. I remember times when my dad took four of his grandkids (at the time, two of mine and two of my brother's), gave them rides on the hay wagon, "let" them help with chores and see what growing corn and soybeans and alfalfa was all about. There was a connection to the farm and their lives that they experienced five or six times a year.

Well, my kids are now 24, 22, 17 and 15. Mom and Dad moved off the farm five years ago. My kids' only real connection to agriculture is knowing their dad writes stuff in a couple farm magazines. And they may have a few friends who live or lived on farms. The connection is gone.

Kids, unless they live in the dwindling world we know of as rural America, grow up eating food grown on farms, drinking milk produced on dairy farms, wearing clothing produced from cotton fields in the southern and western regions of the U.S., and don't have a clue how it all happens.

MAKING THE CONNECTION

That's why Bayer Corporation's Agriculture Division has a program every other summer to bring some significance and perspective to "city" kids who don't have grandparents to visit on the farm anymore. Bayer just completed its fourth Kids' Day on the Farm, a community event involving 1,000 kids and more than 200 company volunteers. And the publicity generated by the event in consumer and trade media, both print and broadcast, broaden the story of agriculture throughout portions of Kansas and Missouri. That's a positive for Bayer and, for that matter, all of agriculture.

"This program makes the connection between what they eat at the kitchen table and the cotton shirts they wear to school," says Greg Coffey, director of public affairs and communications, for Bayer in Kansas City. "It's all about discovery and science and agriculture all in a fun setting."

And from where does the six- to 10-year-old kids come? From YMCA programs, summer youth groups and day care centers throughout the Kansas City area. As many as 2,000 kids have participated at one time in the program. For many kids, it's their first hands-on opportunity to learn how farm animals, crops and vegetables are grown. Bayer, with 1,500 employees in the Kansas City area, uses this as just one of its many outreach programs to be good "corporate citizens."

"There's basically three reasons Bayer does this program," says Jerry Schleicher of Schleicher & Associates, the marketing communications firm that works with Bayer on this program. "First, of course, it helps future consumers appreciate where food and clothing come from. That's something that concerns all of agribusiness.

"Second, it naturally raises the profile of Bayer as a good corporate citizen and partner to the community of Kansas City. Finally, it gives hundreds of Bayer employees a chance to volunteer their time to reach out into the community."

UNDERSTANDING OUR STANDARD OF LIVING

Coffey, who's been with Bayer for 15 years, mostly in Pittsburgh, but more recently in Kansas City, says kids need to understand that the abundant food supply in the U.S. is because of the efficiency and innovation of America's farmers. "It's about showing kids the science involved and how technology is such an important part of agriculture today," he says. "They need to see the connection between every part of their lives and agriculture."

The kids spend a day at the Bayer research farm. Not only does the crop protection group within Bayer get involved, but also the animal health group as well. While at the farm, kids see farm animals (locally provided by FFA groups), and look at research plots filled with such crops as tomatoes, peanuts, corn, cotton, cucumbers, pumpkins and other crops.

"It's all done in a fun setting," Coffey explains. "The kids learn how to care for pets, do science experiments, go on hayrides, participate in storytelling, have hot dogs for lunch and just have a great time." He adds the kids even wash their hands at wash stations before lunch. "We show them the proper way to wash their hands. We cover all the bases."

GETTING THE WORD OUT

Over the years, local media, from the Kansas City Star and area weeklies to local network affiliate television stations have covered the event. The program is a natural photo op for consumer media. "We've had great coverage for the event," Coffey says. "It's great to not only see the media covering the event, but they learn a little about agriculture too. There's a lot they need to know about agriculture, as well, as they report on the increasingly complex and challenging issues facing this industry."

The trade media has also been a part of the media relations. Groups like the Kansas Ag Network and the Brownfield Network have covered the event.

"It's all about telling kids - the future generation of consumers - that food does not come from grocery supermarkets and convenience stores," says Schleicher. "I don't know of any other company that does a program of this size for young kids. It's a fairly significant effort in terms of volunteer time and resources."

It's a program everyone connected with Bayer can be proud of. AM

 

Den Gardner is with Gardner & Gardner Communications in New Prague, Minn.


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