Creating a Connection: Wayne County Farm Bureau supper aimed at local ‘thought leaders’

SummerHarvestSupper_WayneCounty_AnneSmithWayne County Farm Bureau had a specific audience in mind for its Summer Harvest Supper, and that audience was community thought leaders.

But they knew that reaching this audience might be a challenge.

 “I got the idea at AFBF,” said Anne Smith, Wayne County education & outreach coordinator, referring to the 2017 American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Phoenix. A county Farm Bureau in Illinois made a presentation about a supper event that it had tried with mixed results, Smith explained.

“Their problem was getting professionals to come – professional thought leaders that would have influence on people’s diet and health choices,” Smith said. “There’s erroneous information out there.”

When Wayne County decided to try something similar, they knew they had to negotiate the same challenges. The key, they decided, was making a face-to-face connection.

They did this by hand-delivering save-the-date invitations (which looked like a napkin with silverware) and then later the formal invitations. These were in the form of a recipe box that included cards with profiles of each of the 18 “host farmers” as well as some recipes.

The invitations and all the printed materials – posters, table tents, informational packets, menus and so on – were created by a professional graphic designer in Hagerstown, Smith explained.

“They made a huge difference in the outcome,” she said, because they were able to create a distinctive Summer Harvest Supper brand.

The county cooperated with the Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce to get the names of the thought leaders the county Farm Bureau was looking for: doctors, nutritionists, businesspeople and other “thought leaders.”

Besides helping attendees learn about agriculture, the idea was also for professionals to have a chance to build relationships with farmers and learn to trust their food sources, Smith explained.

A beautiful local farm with a nice shade tree (and a good equipment shed, in case of rain) was chosen as the site of the supper, which was held Aug. 31 under the big shade tree. Thirty-eight guests attended and learned about agriculture first-hand from 18 host farmers representing dairy, pork, beef, poultry, grains and produce. The host farmers rotated among the tables to answer questions about food production as the guests ate a home-cooked meal of locally produced appetizers; roast beef with potatoes, carrots and onions; green beans; sweet corn; and cobbler with ice cream.

Prior to the event, Smith said, there were “an awful lot of meetings” – a total of 49 volunteers were involved – and there was also a sort of rehearsal for the host farmers to prepare them.

 “We had them practice how to not be confrontational, how to be open minded, how not to take offense,” she explained.

From Wayne County Farm Bureau’s perspective, the event was a success – comments made by guests as they departed included “Now I’m not afraid of milk anymore!” Planning is already underway for this year’s Summer Harvest Supper, which will be held Aug. 30. A new set of thought leaders will be invited, Smith said, though they’re hoping most of the same host farmers will agree to attend again.

Wayne County Farm Bureau will share its template for the Summer Harvest Supper with any county Farm Bureau who is considering a similar event. For more information, email Anne Smith.

Photo courtesy of Anne Smith.