With farm-to-table influencer tour, sugar industry strives to connect consumers to the farm – Agweek

From September 28-30, 2021, the Sugar Association, in conjunction with the American Crystal Sugar Company and the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, hosted its first “Farm to Table” tour for seven social media influencers from across the United States. United.

The main purpose of the tour was to demystify the origin of sugar and humanize the sugar industry with these influential experts, according to Dr. Courtney Gaine, President and CEO of the Sugar Association.

“We know consumers want to know where their food comes from, but we’ve learned through research that only a third of consumers know that sugar comes from plants,” Gaine said. “We wanted to give social media influencers in the lifestyle, wellness, and food categories the opportunity to meet some of the passionate and hardworking farm families in America’s sugar beet industry. Bringing them to the Red River Valley was a way to concretely show people the real story of sugar and let them experience it first hand. The goal was for them to remember their experience and share it when they felt it was appropriate.

The Sugar Association is the scientific voice of the United States sugar industry. It strives to support responsible scientific research and to share credible research and information to increase consumer understanding and confidence in the role sugar plays in a nutritious and balanced diet.

When planning the tour, the Sugar Association sought open-minded and credible social media influencers who were passionate about education and had a balanced approach to food and lifestyle.

“We had six dietitians and a chef on the tour, and only one had ever been to North Dakota,” Gaine said. “We wanted to show them all the exciting technology that goes into growing sugar beets and make them feel emotionally invested in this industry.”

The three-day tour kicked off September 28 with an educational presentation by the Sugar Association, American Crystal Sugar Company and RRVSGA. On September 29, influencers visited 157 farms, owned by Erik Bakke and Beau Jacobsen, in Ulen, Minnesota. The tour ended on September 30 with a visit to the American Crystal Moorhead factory.

A group of influencers visited the Red River Valley, where they learned about the sugar industry at farms and factories. Courtesy of the Sugar Association

“It was 90 degrees the day of the tour, but I think everyone had an amazing time. I know I did it,” Gaine said. “While the fields are beautiful, the tractors fun to drive and the factory impressive, it’s the people on the ground that make it so special. We are so grateful for all the time given by so many to ensure our guests have an amazing experience.

The tour was the first visit to a sugar beet farm for social media influencer and registered dietitian Rosanne Rust of Venice, Florida.

“I visited vegetable farms, an apple farm, and dairy, beef and pork production, but the only factory experience I had had before was an apple storage and processing plant,” Rust said. .

Rust, a registered dietitian with a Master of Science in Nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh, has more than 30 years of experience working in a variety of settings. She currently works as a nutrition communication consultant and has written textbook chapters and journal articles.

She has co-authored several mainstream books on food and nutrition, and her new book, “Zero Food Waste for Dummies®”, will be published in January 2022.

“When visiting the farm, my first impression was the vastness of the sugar beet farm. A highlight was the ability to drive with the tractor. The size and specificity of the equipment and machinery for growing sugar beet is particularly impressive! Rust said. “My son is a CNC machinist who makes aerospace parts, so I found it amazing how the sugar beet harvesters were designed and how all the equipment works so efficiently together. I think stories like this should be presented to high school students across America so they understand what it takes to bring food to the table.

Rust’s passion is bringing science and facts to its social media followers and dispelling myths about what consumers perceive as “controversial” ingredients.

“I believe all foods can fit into a healthy diet, and there should be no guilt or fear associated with eating,” she said. “I’ve been known to say, ‘I have a sweet tooth, but I don’t sugarcoat. “”

After participating in the tour, Rust said she enjoyed seeing the sugar beets go from the field to the factory and was excited to share the full farm-to-table loop with her followers on the networks. social.

“One of the most interesting things I’ve learned is that the sugar is extracted entirely from sugar beets and it’s all done under the same factory roof, rather than in multiple locations. Seeing the whole process helps connect the dots to the “where the food comes from” story. I also want them to better understand all the people – from farmers to engineers – who work to bring us food and ingredients,” she said. “I also think the science of agriculture and the manufacturing part of the story is also very important right now. Children and young adults need to know that there are scientists and engineers in the food industry who bring food to life.

The visit to a sugar beet farm was also a first for registered dietitian nutritionist Melissa Joy Dobbins of Chicago, Illinois. Dobbins, who is best known for her “Sound Bites” podcast, is also a certified diabetes educator and served as a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In 2013, she served as an expert witness for the United States federal government in a Federal Trade Commission case involving false health and diet claims allegedly aired in late-night infomercials.

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Rosanne Rust chats with Mindy Bakke as a group of diet influencers experience harvesting sugar beets in the Red River Valley. Courtesy of the Sugar Association

“I’ve been on many farm tours in the United States as well as Canada and Europe, but I’ve never been to a sugar beet farm before. It was very interesting. I know a lot about soil health and how weather affects agriculture, but I had no prior knowledge of sugar beets,” Dobbins said. “I didn’t know what they were like before doing the tour and I was amazed that their roots run so deep.”

Dobbins has been a registered dietitian for nearly 30 years and a certified diabetes educator for 25 years. Her motto is “I’m the DR without guilt because food shouldn’t make you feel bad!” and its mission is to promote sound science, smart nutrition and good food.

“I empower people because they shouldn’t feel guilty about the food they eat,” Dobbins said. “I help people understand food labels and make the discussion around food less fear-based. I deliver positive messages based on facts, not fear, and I work to teach people that ‘they don’t need to worry about some nutrition buzzwords.

Learning more about sugar production is an exciting opportunity for a diabetes educator, according to Dobbins.

“I get a lot of questions about sugar. People often think that honey is better than sugar, but the fact is that all sugars are the same – all sugars are carbohydrates. People with diabetes need to understand this,” she said. “You can eat whatever you want, but you have to be careful about portion sizes and how foods affect your blood sugar. There are no “good foods” versus “bad foods”. You learn this if you have diabetes, and I want everyone to learn this perspective as well. We need to eliminate the stigma of sugar and diabetes.

As a registered dietitian, Dobbins wants people to know that it’s all about balance and balance will be different for different people.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to nutrition,” she said. “As a dietitian, I personalize and adapt different priorities to different people. Everyone is unique.

Helping people assess the source of their nutritional information and providing them with scientific facts is the goal of Dobbins’ Sound Bites podcast.

“My podcast has been out for over six years and I interview experts on topics ranging from fad diets to farming,” she said. “I talk to farmers and producers, get their views and publish accurate and credible information.

Dobbins said it’s extremely important for farmers to tell their stories to the American public.

“Consumers want more information about farming and where their food comes from. They don’t always trust the industry, but they trust the farmers,” she said. “Farmers have a great story that they shouldn’t be afraid to tell. It reaps rewards to give consumers more information. Good things happen.

When farmers share information with consumers, it builds trust.

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Will Coleman, Melissa Joy Dobbins and Ali Swietek discuss their plan of attack for the cupcake contest. Courtesy of the Sugar Association

“On social media, I want to show consumers that they can be sure farmers know what they’re doing,” Dobbins said. “It scares me when technology is taken away from farmers by consumers and non-farmers. Farmers should be able to make their own decisions, so the more people know and understand about farming, the better. People don’t always understand the details, but they understand and appreciate the general concepts.

Both Rust and Dobbins said they enjoyed chatting with sugar beet growers on the tour, learning about the cooperative system and experiencing the strong sense of community in the American sugar beet industry.

“It’s an impressive crop and I want people to know that,” Dobbins said.

Rachel J. Bradford