More Iowans understand how the food they’ll serve this holiday season is grown and they increasingly trust farmers to do a good job growing it, according to an Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP) survey.
Ninety-five percent of respondents said they are “very” and “somewhat” knowledgeable about how the food they purchase is produced, up 6 percentage points from last year and 9 points from 2012. The survey also showed 81 percent of people have a “very” or “somewhat” positive impression about farming compared to only 6 percent with a negative/unsure view.
Cat Wood, manager of the Machine Shed Restaurant in Urbandale, is thankful more and more people know how much care and effort goes into raising turkey, ham and grain used to make holiday favorites. That means Iowa FFP programs such as Talkin’ Farming at the Shed, in which farmers discuss how they grow crops and livestock with customers as they dine, are working, she said.
“It’s a great opportunity to provide information to people about where their food comes from, and the message is resonating,” Wood said. “Everyone benefits when there’s more understanding about what farmers do and that they’re doing the right things.”
Launched in 2011 by the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), the Food & Family Project facilitates greater confidence among food-minded Iowans about how food is grown and acquaints them with the farmers who grow it. Partners include the Machine Shed Restaurant, Hy-Vee, Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), Iowa Beef Industry Council, Iowa Egg Council, Subway, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Casey’s General Store, Midwest Dairy Association and Iowa Corn Growers Association, to name just a few.
Programs include Join my Journey with Iowa Girl Eats Kristin Porter, in which the popular Des Moines food blogger invites people to follow along as she learns about production agriculture; Food for Thought lecture series and You on the Farm tours, which provide urban residents a chance to experience harvest or other farm activities. Iowa FFP is also a presenting sponsor of the Iowa Games and a supporter of Live Healthy Iowa.
The survey, conducted by Campaign HQ of Brooklyn, queried 353 Iowans who are active in health and fitness activities. The majority of respondents were female, highly affluent and educated and make the majority of their household’s food purchases. The survey’s margin of error was 4.3 percent.
“The survey’s demographics show that Iowa FFP really is reaching the audience of non-farm consumers,” said Nicole Schlinger, Campaign HQ president.
According to the survey, 15 percent of respondents said farmers “do things right regardless of financial benefit,” up 6 percentage points from last year. Sixty-one percent believe growers “balance doing what’s right with profit, while only 14 percent think farmers are “driven solely by profit,” down 4 points from last year.
Iowans surveyed are also more trusting of modern farms and food production than last year, increasing from 17 to 21 percent. Less trusting came in at 34 percent, down 5 points. Forty-one percent said there was no change in trust.
As a mother, Paula Hender of Ankeny cares about how her food is grown. In fact, food safety is at the top of the list when buying groceries. Therefore, she values the opportunity to actively engage in conversations about how food is grown.
Earlier this fall, Paula was selected as a You on the Farm contest winner and, with her husband Derek and sons Jason and Dylan, joined farmers Kevin, Julie, Jacob and Emily Van Manen of Kellogg for corn harvesting. The tour reaffirmed Paula’s opinion that farmers have her best interest in mind when it comes to providing wholesome food.
“I have concerns just like other moms and sometimes they lead me to question the choices I make,” she said. “I want to be confident and purchase food that tastes good and is good for my family. What I’m learning is that everything we eat has been modified, but it’s been modified to our benefit.
“Connecting with the Food and Family Project and Iowa’s farmers has been very helpful,” Hender said.
On a scale of 1-5 with five being the “very best,” 53 percent of poll takers gave farmers a five or four when it comes to caring about air, soil and water quality. That’s five percentage points higher than a year ago.
Using the same scale, 71 percent of respondents ranked farmers a five or four when it comes to caring for livestock. That’s up 11 percentage points from last year.
These results matter to Cristen Clark, a grain and pig farmer near Runnells. Public perception is influenced by many things, she said, including speculation and a lack of information and transparency. Therefore, having conversations with Iowans and answering their questions about what farmers do and believe are important.
“There is a concerted effort by families to work the land and care for the livestock in a way that allows us to provide the next generation — our children — with a farm that is just as productive or more productive than how we found it,” said Clark, who volunteers as an Iowa FFP advisory team member. “I take pride in passing on farming for my kids just as my great-grandfather did for me. That’s a story I want to share.”
Iowa FFP impact
Recognition and awareness of the Iowa FFP increased as did positive perceptions about farming and those that work the land.
Awareness of the effort to connect farming, food and families jumped 6 percentage points from last year to 31 percent, according to the poll.
That’s significant as poll results indicate that people who are familiar with the Iowa FFP are more knowledgeable about farming and have a more favorable impression about production agriculture.
For example, those who are familiar the initiative are:
• Ten percent more confident that farmers care for the well-being of their livestock
• Nine percent more confident that farmers protect the quality of the state’s water, air and soil
• Nine percent more trusting that farmers balance doing what’s right with financial considerations
• Half as likely to say they have a negative impression of farming
Poll results show that consumers who are familiar with the Iowa FFP are more likely to pay attention to food labels and seek details about how food is grown. They also hold a more favorable impression about today’s farm and food system.
“What these numbers tell us is that we’re influencing the food influencers,” said Aaron Putze, APR, communications director for the Iowa Soybean Association and Food & Family Project coordinator. “Those involved in this timely initiative have a passion for helping Iowans be healthier, happier and more informed about the food they love and the farmers who grow it. Our work is groundbreaking and the results are real, positive and measureable.”
Bridging the gap
The Iowa FFP has bridged the communication gap between consumers and farmers, according to Katie Coyle of the Iowa Egg Council. She serves as consumer affair directors for the council and is an Iowa FFP advisory team member.
During a Join my Journey event in July at a Casey’s General Store in Ankeny, Porter and customers learned the eggs sold by the convenience store chain and the 1 ½ million pounds of scrambled eggs used on breakfast pizzas annually are sourced in Iowa. The state leads the nation in egg production at about 15 billion, enough to circle the globe nearly 22 times.
“Iowa Food and Family is creating a positive perception about farmers in Iowa. Consumers are embracing it and getting excited about what IFFP is all about,” Coyle said.
Labeling and trust
The survey also queried Iowans about food labels and marketing claims.
Seventy-seven percent of consumers find food labels helpful, a dramatic increase from 31 percent a year ago, according to the survey. Food labeled “local” is viewed most positively by consumers at 62 percent.
The Machine Shed buys as much food locally as possible, Wood said, which is important to customers. Meat is sourced from the Midwest, the restaurant has its own garden and it buys fruits and vegetables locally when in season.
“People want to feel connected to their food. It’s a trust factor,” she said. Other food marketing claims didn’t fare as well. Only 25 percent of people said food labeled “organic” is better than food not labeled “organic,” down 11 points from last year. People who think food labeled “natural” is better dropped 7 points to 27 percent.
Additional poll results include:
• Eighty-one percent of people “often” or “sometimes” think about how food is grown
• Iowans watch price (21 percent) but care more about quality (35 percent) and safety (24 percent) of food when making purchasing decisions
• Only 22 percent of people said “GMO-free” labeled food is better than food not labeled “GMO-free”
• Forty-eight percent of respondents said food labeled “hormone free” was better compared to 41 percent who didn’t 11 percent weren’t sure
Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said food labeled “antibiotic-free” is better compared to 48 percent who said no. However, once people were told that farmers must withdraw antibiotics in time so there are no traces of them in food, only 27 percent thought antibiotic-free was better.
While poll results are exciting, the change in opinion concerning antibiotics tells Joyce Hoppes of the Iowa Pork Producers Association that more conversation is needed.
“Our efforts are making a difference,” said Hoppes, an Iowa FFP advisory team member. “But we still need to empower people about claims made regarding food safety and nutrition. They are paying attention.”