Telling the industry’s story

June 8, 2015

Telling the industry’s story

We are on the eve of United Fresh 2015 in hockey-mad Chicago, co-located with the Food Marketing Institute annual meeting and an associated event devoted to floriculture. All these events are designed to tell the big story — the metanarrative — of their industries, which in turn encloses thousands of other stories.

But on the way to Chicago, digital content editor Courtney Culey and I took a side trip to Fair Oaks Farms near Fair Oaks, Indiana and got a sampling (literally and figuratively) of another way to tell the food industry’s story.

We will be sharing more details about Fair Oaks, its food operation and its farm agritainment facilities. For now, we’ll share some quick impressions of a conversation with Fair Oaks CEO Gary Corbett and a quick tour of the facility with Greg Stahl (also known as “Farmer Greg”) to see the new plantings of fruit crops and the vegetable garden.

Fair Oaks’ main business was and is dairy. So why have they expanded into so many other areas?

Corbett told us of how the leadership of Fair Oaks perceived that the food business was already on the defensive from activist groups and other concerned consumers, a trend that would only continue to increase. The “antis” had the initiative and needed to be countered. The concerned consumers needed to have a platform to learn more about how their food is produced and about the new technological advances to go with it.

The discussion boiled down to whether or not Fair Oaks could afford to invest heavily in innovative ways to tell its story.

“But we came to the conclusion that it was not a matter of whether we could afford to do it, but that we couldn’t afford not to,” Corbett told us.

When all the plans of Fair Oaks come to fruition, the facility will have what you might expect from farm marketing/agritainment businesses, such as a restaurant, market and bakery. But visitors will be able to see firsthand and in one place, active dairy, pork, poultry, fruit and vegetable production and learn from the growers and producers themselves.

You want locovore? What patrons eat in the restaurant comes from the Fair Oaks farming operations.

You want sustainable? Fair Oaks is already very close to its goal of using every bit of the manure from its dairy cows for alternative energy sources, including fuel to power its truck fleet.

It’s not Iowa. It’s Indiana. But they’re building it at Fair Oaks and people are coming by the tens of thousands each year.

You certainly don’t have to, and may not want to, open your processing facilities to the public. But how will you reach your customers, up close and personal? How will you tell your story?

 Lee Dean, editorial director


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