Center Focus Column

A Tool to Bridge the Gap

With less than 1.5 percent of our nation’s population directly involved in production agriculture, consumers are craving knowledge and explanations about where and how their food is produced. However, just the thought of opening your farm gate and inviting non-farm groups to tour the operation can make many farmers shake in their work boots.

SaraEditor’s Note: Sara Kitchen recently completed her summer as the communications intern at the Center for Dairy Excellence. She is a junior at Penn State studying animal science with a minor in communications. She grew up on a farm in Montour County.

Coming from a small dairy farm in a town drowning in overpriced developments with two-person mansions larger than 200-cow dairy farms, I understand just how intimidating it can feel to host a public event that is centered on your dairy. However, when you consider the disconnect between today’s consumers and where their food comes from, it is not hard to see how vital these events are becoming.

My internship at the Center for Dairy Excellence has opened my eyes to a plague hitting the entire agricultural community—uneducated consumers. Recent media stints and anti-animal agriculture campaigns have made it clear that science can easily be belittled by opinion, perception and gossip. Scientific evidence means almost nothing to our consumers because the general public can’t relate to facts.  They want to experience it first-hand.

Our consumers prefer truths that come from the mouths of producers themselves, not agenda-focused scientists in a laboratory. Research has shown that personal communication between consumers and dairy farmers helps create a positive image for the dairy industry and protect the industry by maintaining and increasing product demand.

Providing resources to producers is a key part of the Center for Dairy Excellence’s mission. Since 2008, the center has coordinated the “Discover Dairy” program, a curriculum-based resource aimed at educating school children about where milk comes from. As part of this resource, the center has offered a “Farm Tour Planning Guide” to farms wanting to host farm tours for school children.

This fall, the center will join the Mid Atlantic Dairy Association and the Pennsylvania Dairy Princess Promotion Service to introduce a new resource aimed at helping farmers plan community-oriented events. This toolkit builds on the farm tour guide to serve as a resource for farmers who want to take that leap of faith to share their truths and positively contribute to the image of the dairy industry.

This was a key project of mine this summer, as I worked with Tim and Deborah Kurtz of Kurtland Farms in Elverson, Berks County, to plan their first-ever community open house. Earlier this month, the Kurtz family hosted more than 1,600 people at their farm, showcasing what they do to care for their cows, the land, the community and the products they produce.

The Kurtz family allowed me to document their process of planning the open house, so that we could compile a resource that would lead other farm families through that process. As a result, the community event planning toolkit will include several key resources, such as posters, planning tools and hand-out ideas. A key part of the toolkit is the planning guide, which addresses how to publicize the event, how to ensure the safety of the visitors and your farm, how to prepare to maximize consumer interaction and understanding, and how to develop stations so that key messages can be presented in a simple, straightforward manner. The guide also includeshands-on activities that can be done at the event.

The kit is detailed, yet easy to understand, and provides additional contacts for farmers who have added questions or concerns. The guides and resources in the toolkit make planning a dairy farm-focused community event simple and not quite so scary. So, now as I end my summer with the Center for Dairy Excellence, I leave you with a challenge.

Watch for the toolkit to be available in the next couple of months. Request a copy of it, and be prepared to lace up your work boots and tie the bows nice and tight because this is our image and we have to be the ones to defend it. We’ll give you the tools you need, but only you can bridge the gap between your farm and your consumers.

For more information about the toolkit and when it will be available, contact the Center for Dairy Excellence at 717-346-0849 or