When Does Shopping for Groceries Become News?

April 9, 2013

I never knew if my experiences as a reporter and editor would help me be a better public relations professional. I had developed a good sense of what I thought made a good news story over my 20 years in the business. Now, thanks to a shopping trip by a former governor turned ag secretary, I can see how grocery shopping can become news.

I grew up on a small dairy farm in South Dakota, and learned first hand the work and care that is necessary to produce quality food and fiber. There was a lot of hard work, up at 5 a.m. and watching farmers take care of their land and their animals every day of the year. So, I know that agriculture has a great story, but I often forget that not everyone was raised on a farm like me.

Today, less than 20 percent of the population lives in rural areas. That means the 80 percent that live in urban areas have not had much, if any, education about how their food is grown and produced. It’s obviously important to share the story of agriculture and teach children where their food comes from. When consumers read an issue about agriculture or food production, whether it’s about the nutritional value of a product or agriculture’s affect on the environment, it may lead them to change their shopping and dining habits.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited Sioux Falls recently, to talk about USDA’s efforts to improve access to healthy foods. During his stop at a Hy-Vee grocery store he did some grocery shopping with a Hy-Vee nutritionist for the benefit of the news media. He also outlined the need for a renewed commitment to improve childhood nutrition, which includes empowering parents to provide healthy meals for their families.

So although people walking down the grocery aisle are not likely to run into the secretary of agriculture, events like Secretary Vilsack’s shopping trip may help consumers realize the importance of healthy eating and the connection with agriculture.

The key question moving forward is, how do the rest of us who are involved in agriculture and agribusiness make the connection too? Don Hewitt was the man who created the most successful television news magazine, 60 Minutes. The reason for the show’s success came from Hewitt’s simple, four-word motto: “Tell me a story.” That same principle will work for agriculture, too. Regardless of the event that we may want to use, it’s important that we connect our facts and arguments with stories about the people of agriculture and agribusiness and how their work and their passion for their work makes all our lives better.