During Farm Journal’s 2021 Sustainable Produce Summit that took place earlier this month, a key theme of effectively communicating sustainable food and agriculture stories to consumers came through again and again. As specialty crop growers and food retailers make changes to meet both environmental needs and consumer requests, there have been hits and misses in storytelling.
In a conference session titled, “Stop the Greenwashing: Best Practices for Communicating Sustainability,” a panel of speakers offered best practices for talking about sustainability goals. Speakers included the founder of Heron Farms, Sam Norton; an account manager from Schneider Electric, Lisa Causarano; an innovation leader from IKEA’s Ingka Group, Sara Segergren; and the founder and CEO of the agricultural advisory firm Agritecture, Henry Gordon-Smith.
One insight that resonated with me is this: Mindset is important in any sustainability journey. Sustainability rarely happens on an A-to-B path. Instead, it is complex, multifaceted and requires an openness to continuous improvement based on new information. What’s not helpful is greenwashing—defined in the webinar as a practice in which a person (or an organization) shares part but not all of their sustainability story, which in turn might make them seem more environmentally attuned than they are.
Conversely, focusing on one aspect of sustainability can also open doors of opportunity. In our work at Trust In Food™, we have found that many farmers who incorporate at least one regenerative practice such as no-till or cover crops are open to considering what else they might do to increase their farm’s sustainability. The national America’s Conservation Ag Movement (ACAM) partnership program that our team leads enlists the help of Conservation Steward farmers to help activate change in their communities.
One such Conservation Steward, Brian Scott of Indiana, shared in an article earlier this year his motivations for taking some land out of production and instead planting a pollinator habitat. Brian had already moved into no-till and cover crops and had taken advantage of programs through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency. This article illustrates the mindset of a farmer seeking ways to do more.
As Trust In Food’s community engagement coordinator, I focus on prioritizing and amplifying our farmers’ sustainability stories to celebrate accomplishments and give credit where credit is due; inspire others to make and meet sustainability goals in their own businesses or farms; and demonstrate practical lessons other farmers can learn from their peers and apply to their operations.
Trust In Food’s research on how and what activates farmers to make those changes tells us that producers invest substantial time gathering information, networking and considering options before taking the next step in their sustainability journey. I anticipate that by continuing to share farmer insights, experiences and recommendations, our industry will see an increase in the number of producers who express greater willingness to voluntarily adopt sustainable practices because they see the value to their economic ROI and environmental footprint.