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Focus on Agriculture

For the week of January 30, 2012

Farmers Get Trendy

By Stewart Truelsen

According to Phil Lempert, best known as the Supermarket Guru, “Farmers are becoming the latest food celebrities.” He goes so far as to predict that celebrity chefs are out, celebrity farmers are in.

Lempert is an astute food industry observer, journalist and trend watcher. He created a virtual grocery store and consumer information center, Phil’s Supermarket, on Second Life, a rapidly growing online world. If you have time for a second life you might want to check it out. Otherwise there is his website, www.supermarketguru.com.

The notion that farmers are becoming celebrities is one of Lempert’s Top Ten Food Trends for 2012. He may have gone a bit too far with this one. Most farmers don’t have time to be celebrities, but they do recognize the value in opening lines of communication with consumers.

Lempert believes the “farm to fork” journey has become increasingly important. Shoppers want to know where their food comes from. “We’ve seen ‘buy local’ become one of the most important supermarket offerings; now we get to meet the people who are the producers, farmers and ranchers,” he said in describing the trend.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has facilitated this trend with an emphasis on social media. AFBF’s FBLog has opinions and perspectives from the nation’s top producers. Want to know what cold-climate farmers do all winter? It can be found there at www.fb.org/blog.

Farm Bureau also reaches out to consumers with Foodie News, an electronic newsletter that appeals to those most passionate about food and food trends. Individual farms and ranches are represented on Facebook and Twitter and are eager to have friends and followers.

For many years farmers have wanted to tell their story to consumers, but it was always hard to reach an urban audience. Print and broadcast media just didn’t get the job done. The only time consumers paid much attention was when food prices were rising or a drought, freeze or some other calamity affected farmers.

The growing consumer interest in the “farm to fork journey” and how it is promoted through social media and the Internet is a huge breakthrough for the farming and ranching community, and the trend is only just beginning.

Lempert isn’t the only one noticing the higher profile or celebrity status of farmers and ranchers. One of The Food Channel’s top trends for 2012 is the rise of the agri-chef, a new breed of chefs who like to grow their own food. TFC expects this trend to evolve from gardens to full-fledged farms. One thing we know for sure is that growers have reached out to renowned chefs, and they are almost as likely to be on the agenda for a major farm convention as an economist.

It’s no secret that people like to visit farmers and ranchers and see firsthand how their food is grown, but it is impossible in today’s world for everyone to do that. Social media connections help make the farm to fork journey possible for more people.


Stewart Truelsen is a regular contributor to the Focus on Agriculture series and is the author of a book marking the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 90th anniversary, Forward Farm Bureau.