“Start your Adventure. Feed Your Curiosity” That is what I did this summer as one of the four Interns at Fair Oaks Farms. I had the opportunity to move to Indiana for 13 weeks to learn, share, and teach all things agriculture. My internship consisted of 5 weeks of pigs, 6 weeks of dairy, 1 week of crops, and 1 week in a variety of other departments.
My summer started out at Legacy Pig Farms where I spent a week on our Breed to Wean Operation where there are more than 8,000 pig and piglets. Not having grown up around pigs, I really enjoyed this time learning more about modern day pig farm operations. My favorite part was being able to farrow pigs for a day. At the end of my week working on the farm, I moved upstairs where the tours are given. I spent time guiding guests through the Growing Barn, Breeding and Gestation Barn, and Farrowing Barn. I shared facts and information with guests about the swine and pork industries, and I enjoyed answering questions and helping consumers gain a better understanding of where their food comes from and how it gets to the grocery store.
Having grown up in a rural community and now being a Student in the College of Agriculture at Iowa State University, I have taken for granted that myself and others around me know where their food comes from. This summer was truly eye opening to me because I learned the communication gap between producers and consumers is much larger than I expected. Almost daily I was reassuring guests that chocolate milk does not come from brown cows and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) are not bad for the environment or their bodies. I also spent time talking about the importance of modern farming and how technology is helping us feed the world.
For the second half of the summer, I spend most of the time within our Dairy Adventure. Fair Oaks Farms consists of 11 Dairy Farms combining to have 36,500 cows. My favorite part of the summer was being up in the observatory deck where guests were able to come see out 72 cow rotary parlor and learn about the process of the milk and how it gets from the cow to their refrigerator.
As many of you know, in June, Fair Oaks Farms hit the mainstream news line. Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) came out with a video related to animal abuse. Unfortunately, Fair Oaks Farms had been infiltrated and they had to act fast in the eyes of millions of people. For me, I was able to see our Crisis Management plan go into place. The owners began answering questions from the press and helping consumers understand what really happened while our marketing team worked hard to share our side of the story.
During my experience, I had to learn quickly how crisis communication worked. As an Adventure Guide I was the face of Fair Oaks Farms. I spent the next few weeks talking with almost every guest I encountered about the video and how it does not truly reflect who we are. As a dairy farmer myself, I was able to convince more consumers that what they saw is not the reality of farming.
We see in the media more times than we wish about Animal Activist Groups disrupting farms and twisting the story of agriculture. Unfortunately, these groups are not stopping, and we can never be too prepared for a crisis situation. Taking an Annie’s Project Class or a Managing for Today and Tomorrow Class would be a great way to help you prepare for situations that you often don’t even think about. The agriculture industry must continue fighting for what we believe in and bridging that communication gap between producers and consumers.