#FarmFoodTour brings food bloggers, dieticians and chefs to see where their food comes from | TheFencePost.com

#FarmFoodTour brings food bloggers, dieticians and chefs to see where their food comes from

For food bloggers from the east coast who had never set foot on a Kansas farm or ranch before, the #FarmFoodTour sponsored by Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Soybean Commission, was a totally new experience and one that accomplishes its goal of bringing the foodies to the farms.

In the five years of the tour, 26 bloggers or online influencers have participated along with 26 dieticians, five farmers and one chef. They range in age but are mostly in their early 30s with varying levels of knowledge and comfort levels about agriculture, with some trusting farmers naturally and others warning their friends to be wary prior to the tour. Whether they are from the Midwestern states or, like this year, places like Boston, Mass., the survey data collected shows that the tour — getting out on Kansas farms and ranches, meeting the families behind the food, hearing firsthand about production methods, and getting transparent answers from the producers — has changed how they look at farming and food for the better. And that's the goal.

Bloggers were able to apply for the #FarmFoodTour at the Everything Food Conference in Utah and also through word of mouth. A small group of nine were selected for the tour that is designed to bridge the divide between producer and consumer through on-farm visits. In previous years, the majority have come from the state and have had at least some vague understanding of Kansas farming, This group, however, hailed mostly from the east coast and one attendee from India by way of a graduate program at Kansas State University.

Katie Sawyer of Sawyer Land and Cattle Company near McPherson, Kan., has welcomed bloggers onto the farm she shares with her husband and their children for all five years of the tour. Sawyer did not grow up on a farm but married Derek, a fourth-generation farmer.

Sawyer, like the old adage goes about successful farmers and wives with jobs in town, works off farm but said she specializes in "nutritional and logistical support." Always at the ready to feed the crew or help juggle vehicles around to different fields, she isn't involved in the day-to-day operations of the farm and Angus sourced cattle operation, making her a great choice to discuss farming with the bloggers.

"It's times like this when the markets aren't great, me working an off the farm job and bringing home a paycheck and benefits is just as helpful as anything else," she said.

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TRADITIONAL FARM

Sawyer calls their operation a pretty traditional Kansas farm, growing wheat, corn, soybeans, milo, hay, alfalfa and Angus-based commercial cattle. While the farm has some pasture, the cattle herd spends most of their time in eastern Kansas on grass. In their crop production, Sawyer said they employ a number of tillage practices and their acres are split, with about half in irrigation from ground water sources.

"We can do creative things with irrigation and tillage to allow for good use of our resources," she said.

It was these practices the couple were able to explain to the bloggers to help them understand the management of resources. With little basis for prior knowledge, Sawyer was able to explain every aspect of the operation and let the bloggers see it for themselves, without the noise of off-farm opinions. After the tour, the group was able to witness the end product in the form of combines rolling through the corn fields for the bloggers to see and even ride in. One of the sights that was often mentioned in the bloggers' social media posts was the Sawyer's young sons' love of the combines and the farm.

The transparency of the entire tour, said Meagan Cramer, director of communications and marketing for Kansas Farm Bureau, allows the bloggers to ask nearly anything. After seeing soybeans in the fields nearing harvest, some conversations turned to tariffs and the effect of the trade uncertainty on Kansas farmers.

Cramer admits the logistics are challenging but said the tour has been impactful, making it so if resources allowed one monthly, it would be worthwhile. Pre- and post-tour surveys collected have revealed that attendees leave the tour more comfortable with farming practices, and other topics around food production.

"One of the bloggers said she had watched all the documentaries and realized now how misleading they are," Cramer said. "Every year, they come away with their eyes opened and they feel so much better about the food and how the farmers take care of the land, and the crops, and the livestock. That's honestly why we do it."

While the long-form blogs from the experience have yet to be published, the group did post on social media about their time on the tour. Posts included a number of great photos and all communicated gratitude for the opportunity and respect for those producing the food they use in their blog posts and social media posts. The requirement of the bloggers, Cramer said, is that they post on social media during the trip and write one blog post about their experience. Tour organizers maintain the expectation of transparency in never reviewing content prior to publication and that transparency has been rewarded with positive posts to audiences much like the bloggers themselves, furthering the reach of the tour.

"A lot of them seem to really appreciate the opportunity to be exposed to it," she said. "Many of the ladies have cooking backgrounds so hopefully, this helps them make the connection between the food they're using in their recipes to being a farmer and growing their food."

THE TOUR

Sawyer said the group had a good look at all of Kansas agriculture and she's looking forward to the blog posts. The group started in Kansas City and made their way to Craig and Amy Good's farm near Olsburg, Kan., where they raise soybeans, corn, Angus cattle and heritage hogs. Sawyer Land and Cattle was the second stop. The second day found the bloggers at France Family Farms in western Kansas. The France family runs an Angus cow/calf operation and row crops. Amy France actually joined the bloggers for the entire tour, serving as a resource to answer questions and participate in conversations ranging from tariffs to GMO crops. The group then traveled to Reeve Cattle Company in Garden City, Kan., where they were able to see a large-scale cattle-feeding operation and the family's ethanol plant. From the Reeve's, the group toured a Cimarron, Kan., dairy farm, Forget-Me-Not Farms. The third day brought the group to a Wichita restaurant started by a chef who had previously completed the #FarmFoodTour. Dalebanks Angus, run by Matt Perrier in the Flint Hills gave the group a close look at the grasslands and its management and the final stop was at Juniper Hills Farm, a produce farm with hay and row crops that employs both organic and conventional methods.

To review social media posts and to learn more about the bloggers, search #FarmFoodTour on social media. ❖

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at rgabel@thefencepost.com or (970) 392-4410.