Written by Julie Smith, UVM Extension, Animal and Veterinary Sciences and Ted Ferris, MSU Extension, Animal Science
The first Vermont Breakfast on the Farm event gave consumers and farm neighbors a first-hand look at modern food production. Hosted by Nea-Tocht Farm in Ferrisburgh in August 2015, the event was organized and staffed by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, local businesses, sponsors, and over 100 volunteers. Throughout the event, the volunteers and educational stations promoted Vermont’s largest agricultural sector--the dairy industry--and its role as an economic driver for the state as is detailed in the state leadership goal of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan.
UVM Extension had a lead role in coordinating the educational stations and event evaluation. An end-of-tour evaluation, completed by 220 visitors who were at least 18 years old, documented how much visitors’ perceptions of agricultural practices changed during the event. Over 550 visitors ate breakfast then set off on an educational walking tour of the farm facilities to see where the cows and calves are housed, how the cows are milked, and how their feed is produced.
This event was patterned after events in Michigan, which have been bringing the general public up close with agriculture since 2009. In Vermont, those visiting a working dairy farm for the first time in the past 20 years made up 26% of Breakfast on the Farm participants, while 24% indicated having one to two prior visits to a working dairy farm, and 13% indicated three to five prior visits. As in Michigan, the event reached a significant number of consumers who are not familiar with modern dairy farms.
Having toured the farm and visited educational stations, participants’ exit survey responses indicated that they came away with better impressions about modern dairy farming practices. First-time visitors gained the greatest knowledge about ‘how technology is being used’ and ‘how cows are being housed’. On a 5-point scale where 1 is strongly disagree and 5 is strongly agree, first-time visitors had an average score increase of 0.56 between their BEFORE and AFTER ratings of their agreement with statements that farmers are ‘treating animals humanely’, ‘protecting water quality’, ‘using pesticides responsibly’, and ‘using antibiotics responsibly’. The greatest change in beliefs was about dairy farmers treating animals humanely with a mean increase of 0.74 and 0.51, respectively, for first-time visitors and all respondents. The percentage of first-time visitors ‘agreeing’ or ‘strongly agreeing’ that farmers treat animals humanely increased from 61% to 91% after touring the farm.
Educational farm tours, such as Breakfast on the Farm, provide the public an opportunity to learn firsthand, ask questions of farmers and other professionals, and give feedback about modern food production. In addition to what they learned, participants came away with better impressions about modern dairy farming practices. Feeling good about where one’s food comes from has been linked with increased consumption. Thus, Breakfast on the Farm helps Vermont reach its Farm to Plate goal to increase the consumption of locally produced foods while also celebrating the food system and its role in the economy.
Two Vermont Breakfast on the Farm events will be held this year. The first will be hosted again by the Vander Wey family at Nea Tocht Farm on Saturday, June 25th, and the second will be hosted by the Rowell Family of Green Mountain Dairy in Sheldon on Saturday, August 27th. Learn more at www.vermontbreakfastonthefarm.com.