Help consumers on their road to better health by explaining what you do

Photo by Jared Sych

owenYet more evidence is trickling out about consumers’ upbeat perceptions of farmers. And not surprisingly, once again, it’s good.

This time the source is food consultant to the Royal Winter Fair, popular dietitian Lois Ferguson of Eating For Ecstasy fame. She’s released results of a survey conducted with more than 1,400 fairgoers last November, which revealed farmers (and dietitians) are, in her words, “the most credible source of information.”

She described food companies and retailers as “further down the list.”

And even though the results are getting old, I suspect they’re still accurate. The focus of what she called her Taste and Discover Research Study was consumers’ current vegetable and fruit knowledge, and what it might take to boost consumption.

For ages, Canadians, despite knowing better, have eaten only a fraction of the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.

They’re told repeatedly they should do better, for the sake of their own health and that of their children. But have farmers told them?

I don’t think so. Nutrition-related statements about food have traditionally been the domain of registered dietitians such as Ferguson, people highly schooled in the fine points about nutrition and food.

But fairgoers don’t seem to mind that farmers are not dietitians. They want to hear from them anyway.

So then, what can farmers tell people about fruits and vegetables, to get them eating more? Well, quite a bit, actually.

First off, they can explain the near-miraculous way that most produce found in stores, farmers’ markets and even at the end of the lane meets consumers’ demands for being almost flawless.

That means explaining how and why modern commercial-scale farmers need to use some form of crop protection to handle disease and pests.

People just won’t stand for food that isn’t practically perfect, and fruit and vegetables are among the most susceptible crops. By limiting disease and pests, farmers go a long way towards maintaining their crops’ nutritional potential, and the likelihood that Canadians are going to put them in their shopping carts, the first step towards getting more fruit and vegetables on their plates.

Farmers can also explain that while they’re the first in the value chain line, they are by no means an island. The whole agri-food system – including transportation, processing, manufacturing and retailing — needs to work like a clock to supply consumers with the fruit and vegetables they want.

Farmers don’t need to speak like nutritionists or dietitians for help consumers understand the value of eating more fruits and vegetables. Just speak like farmers.

But by all means, speak. Consumers want and need to hear your voice.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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