Texas Farm Bureau's beehive box prompted several discussions about how beekeepers and farmers work together.
Texas Farm Bureau’s effort to foster productive conversations about modern farming and ranching practices with a specialized audience landed them at the Texas Restaurant Association’s Marketplace trade show in Houston in July.
Though Texas Farm Bureau hadn’t previously tapped into TRA, the organizations have many similarities, Whit Weems, TFB director of Organization, pointed out.
“They’re a membership-based organization serving restaurants and restauranteurs. Not only do they do policy work, but a lot of their policy aligns with ours,” Weems said.
After a visit in 2018 to TRA’s Marketplace, the second-largest foodservice trade show in the U.S., TFB determined the event presented a great opportunity to connect and build relationships with restaurant managers, chefs, culinary students and restaurant suppliers.
To maximize their engagement, TFB requested space in the “Go Texan Lounge,” a high-traffic area in which many farmer suppliers were located. The lounge provided ample opportunity and space for conversations and exhibit-viewing.
“There is so much to talk about. We didn’t want to just share messages with them. We wanted to have actual conversations with chefs and suppliers about the various ways produce is sourced, different types of beef production and all the other aspects of agriculture,” Weems said.
He continued, “Regardless of what method a farmer is using, it’s all about feeding a growing population. We’re all in this together. So, we thought about how we have those conversations with chefs.”
TFB’s exhibit in the lounge included a produce stand, beehive box, a live observation beehive and a monitor playing Meet a Farmer videos. Also central to the conversation were the farmers TFB brought in – J Allen Carnes, a vegetable grower; James O’Brien, a cattle rancher and beekeepers Nick Lindsey and Karla Macias.
“Our cattle rancher does conventional, grass-fed and all-natural beef, so he could talk about raising cattle from all those perspectives,” Weems said.
People were particularly interested in the beehive, providing numerous opportunities for discussions about how beekeepers work with farmers to protect bees and pollinate crops, contrary to what many believe. Other topics TFB successfully addressed were locally grown beef and produce, the different challenges small and large farms face, how larger farms are often better equipped to test for foodborne illnesses and the importance of labeling and transparency in food marketing.
“It’s essential for consumer confidence that we have a consistent message and that we are transparent in how our food is produced. But we need to do that with a true understanding of what food production processes mean, without using fear as a tactic,” Weems explained.
Carnes, the vegetable grower, and O’Brien, the rancher, also participated in a panel discussion on food sourcing with a representative from Sysco.
As part of its ongoing relationship with TRA, TFB is discussing a potential lesson on Texas agriculture for culinary programs in the state as well as a return to the TRA Marketplace.
TFB’s partnership with TRA garnered Texas Farm Bureau a 2020 New Horizon Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation. The award, which honors state Farm Bureaus with the most innovative new programs, is presented annually at the AFBF Annual Convention.