With the Farm-to-Table Influencer Tour, the Sugar Industry Strives to Connect Consumers on the Farm

The main objective of the tour was to demystify where sugar comes from and humanize the sugar industry to 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 hard-working farming families of the US sugar beet industry. Getting them to the Red River Valley was a way to tangibly show people the true history of sugar and give them the first-hand experience. The goal was for them to remember their experience and share it when they deemed it 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 in order 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 out open-minded and credible social media influencers who are passionate about education and have a balanced approach to diet and lifestyle.

“We had six dieticians and a chef on the tour, and only one had been to North Dakota before,” Gaine said. “We wanted to show them all the exciting technologies that go 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 from 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 US Crystal Moorhead factory.

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

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

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

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

“I have visited vegetable farms, an apple farm, and dairy, beef and hog production, but the only factory experience I 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 over 30 years of experience 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 consumer 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 of the vastness of the sugar beet farm. A highlight was the possibility of driving the tractor. The size and specificity of the equipment and machinery for sugar beet cultivation are particularly impressive! said Rouille. “My son is a CNC machinist who makes parts for the aerospace industry. So I thought it was amazing how the sugar beet harvesters were designed and how all the equipment works so effectively together. I think stories like this should be presented to high school kids across America so that they understand what it takes to put food on the table. “

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

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

After going on the tour, Rust said she loved 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 social media.

“One of the most interesting things I learned is that the sugar is completely mined from the sugar beet factory and everything is done under the same roof of a factory, rather than in multiple locations. Seeing the whole process helps connect the dots to the ‘where the food came 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 are also very important right now. Children and young adults should 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 dietitian nutritionist Melissa Joy Dobbins of Chicago, Illinois. Dobbins, who is best known for her podcast “Sound Bites”, is also a certified diabetes educator and has served as a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In 2013, she was an expert witness for the United States Federal Government in a Federal Trade Commission case involving false health and diet claims allegedly broadcast in late-night infomercials.

Rosanne Rust speaks with Mindy Bakke as a group of food influencers experiment with harvesting sugar beets in the Red River Valley.  Courtesy of the Sugar Association

Rosanne Rust speaks with Mindy Bakke as a group of food influencers experiment with harvesting sugar beets in the Red River Valley. Courtesy of the Sugar Association

“I have been on many farm tours across the United States as well as Canada and Europe, but I had never been on a sugar beet farm before. It was very interesting. I know a lot about soil health and the impact of weather on agriculture, but I had no prior knowledge of sugar beet, ”said Dobbins. “I had no idea what they looked like until I toured and I was amazed that their roots grow so deep.”

Dobbins has been a registered dietitian for almost 30 years and a certified diabetes educator for 25 years. His motto is “I am the guilt free RD because food shouldn’t make you feel bad!” And its mission is to promote sound science, smart eating and good food.

“I hold people accountable because they shouldn’t feel guilty about the food they eat,” Dobbins said. “I help people understand food labels and make the discussion about food less fearful. I send positive messages based on fact, not fear, and I strive to teach people that they don’t need to worry about certain 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 point is, 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 the food affects your blood sugar. There are no “good foods” versus “bad foods”. You learn this if you have diabetes, and I hope everyone learns from this perspective as well. We need to break down the stigma of sugar and diabetes.

As a dietitian, Dobbins wants people to know that it’s all about balance and that the 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 tailor different priorities for 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 available for over six years and I interview experts on topics ranging from fad diets to farming,” she said. “I speak with farmers and producers, I get their views and I disseminate accurate and credible information. “

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

“Consumers want more information on agriculture 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 for giving consumers more information. Good things are happening.

When farmers share information with consumers, it builds trust.

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

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 trust farmers to 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 can know and understand about agriculture the better. People don’t always understand the details, but they do understand and appreciate the general concepts.

Rust and Dobbins both said they enjoyed chatting with the sugar beet growers on the tour, learning about the cooperative system, and feeling the strong sense of community in the U.S. sugar beet industry.

“It’s an impressive harvest and I want people to know about it,” Dobbins said.

Rachel J. Bradford