Difference Makers: Illinois Farm Families

IFFIllinois Farm Families (IFF) is a consumer engagement program representing all Illinois farmers through several state commodity groups. As a unified voice, IFF makes a greater impact with its consumer audience than these organizations would be able to do on their own.

How does IFF inform consumers and influencers about the facts of food production?

IFF reaches out to consumer audiences in the Chicagoland area. This is particularly effective because of the concentration of population in that region, but also because of the relative distance from farming and agriculture in Illinois. Our two main audiences are millennial-age parents and dietitians, which we find are easy to connect with over social media – Facebook and Instagram.

IFF regularly features farm families on a blog, on social media and through a #FarmerFriday weekly feature. IFF has also found renewed interest in recipes with recent stay-at-home orders. Recipes shared frequently come from farmer volunteers featuring Illinois-grown products and provide an opportunity to talk about how those commodities are grown and raised in Illinois.

Through a partnership with the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, IFF hosted more than 60 dietitians on two farms in McLean and Livingston counties last fall.

Why did dietitians become a key target audience?

When you think about influencers in the food space, dietitians are a natural fit. We find dietitians frequently receive questions from clients about agricultural production practices, and they aren’t always sure where to turn for information. Our dietitian partnerships, including with the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, have been incredibly beneficial for everyone involved. Dietitians get on the farm, connect with farmers and pepper them with questions. IFF learns the types of questions dietitians receive, and that helps shape future communications efforts.

Has IFF changed opinions of dietitians and urban influencers via these tactics?

IFF successfully provides dietitians with resources for learning more about agriculture. Dietitians are scientists who often wait until they know more about a subject before drawing conclusions or forming opinions. They are open-minded and ask great questions. College dietetics programs and agronomy programs include the same biology and chemistry classes, so it is easy to translate what they know about nutrition and the human body to agronomic and livestock practices.

What value is there in maintaining or expanding an open dialogue with these groups?

Farming used to require two things: access to land and equipment and the know-how to grow and harvest a crop. Today, farmers need to add social license to operate. Essentially, this is the public perception of what agriculture is doing and the public’s approval for doing that.

Without consumer trust, it is going to be challenging to retain social license to operate. It’s all about transparency. Research shows that the millennial and gen Z audiences particularly value transparency and view those who aren’t transparent as having something to hide. With the public becoming more and more removed from the farm, it’s more important than ever to communicate what farmers are doing and take time to answer questions about practices used.

What does IFF have planned for the future?

IFF in 2021 will continue dietitian partnerships, as well as focus on featuring farmers through various social media opportunities. IFF is looking at new virtual opportunities to continue engaging consumers as well. Help IFF continue to grow by following on Facebook (facebook.com/IllinoisFarmFamilies), Instagram (@ILfarmfam), and on the website at WatchUsGrow.org. IFF is interested in hearing from farmers willing to serve as volunteers.

IFF is a unified consumer engagement platform working to connect Illinois farmers and other experts in agriculture, food and nutrition with their urban counterparts to share more about food and the people who grow and raise it. IFF is a collaboration between the Illinois Beef Association, Illinois Corn Marketing Board, Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Pork Producers Association, Illinoi Soybean Association checkoff program and Midwest Dairy.