These days when fires rage out West, a pandemic wreaks havoc on the economy and Midwest storms tear into a healthy crop, the challenges of agriculture seem to keep mounting. In Oregon, Tillamook County Creamery Association (Tillamook), a 111-year-old cooperative, and its board decided to try to do something about it.
“We’re a farmer-owned cooperative, and we’re focused on the challenges of farming,” says Patrick Criteser, president and CEO, Tillamook. “And we’re seeing the extra challenges presented by the COVID situation, and the way farmers have been impacted. There is a need to keep our food system strong.”
Criteser talked with Western Farmer-Stockman about an innovative program where the cooperative is sharing 10% of product sales, up to $1.6 million, during September with American Farmland Trust. The funds will not only be used for farmland preservation, but also in grant programs to help farmers. And the program has a public component, too, with Eva Longoria, the actress and longtime advocate for farmworkers, partnering as an influencer in the program.
“Another focus for us is that the distance between all of us and agriculture, and where our food comes from and how it’s made, is growing,” Criteser says. “There are a number of programs that work to reacquaint agriculture and consumers and where our food comes from.”
Add in that Tillamook is expanding as a national brand in the last few years, and was looking for a way to connect people with farmers and help boost consumer awareness of the challenges related to raising food — including the loss of farmland.
Criteser says the cooperative turned to American Farmland Trust “because of the well-respected work they do in farmland preservation and the promotion of good farming practices.”
All for Farmers
This September Tillamook’s promotion might get a consumer's attention with the hashtag #AllForFarmers, which aims to drive awareness. But Tillamook has also launched a website, allforfarmers.com, that shares information on the program as well as farmer stories with consumers. Essentially, the cooperative is putting its money where its mouth is when challenged to tell agriculture’s story.
Criteser lays out three key areas of the program.
First, there’s promotion of the website where Tillamook is sharing the stories of farmers. “They can see what's going on in farming, and how COVID is impacting agriculture,” Criteser says.
Second, consumers can help support American Farmland Trust program by purchasing Tillamook products. “We're going to donate 10% of our sales during September, and we’re targeting $1.6 million,” Criteser says. “Buy a little cheese or ice cream, and bring a little joy into that quarantine life.”
Third, Criteser says the cooperative is working to leverage its brand on social media to reach out and say thank you to farmers. “We’re asking people to post a thank-you to farmers and use the hashtag #AllForFarmers, and we’re passing that on to farmers. As a little extra bonus, if you use the hashtags #AllForFarmers and #Sweepstakes, you’ll be entered into a drawing where 10 people will win free ice cream for a year,” he says.
Criteser is reflective as he discusses the program. Tillamook has not been hit financially as other food producers have been by the pandemic. Most of its sales are to grocery stores, which have seen business rise as restaurants close and more people cook at home.
“We recognize that anybody in the food business has the opportunity to do well right now. People are at home, and they’re buying more at the grocery store. We wanted to lean into our mission and support farmers and raise education about farms and farming,” he says.
While American Farmland Trust is known for farmland preservation. Criteser explains the money being committed to the group will be used in two ways. First is to continue the work of farmland preservation. But about half of the money will be directed as grants to farmers to help them address COVID-19-specific issues, whether that means access to land or adopting new practices. The aim is to help those who apply overcome market uncertainties.
As for Longoria? Many farmers may not be aware that the actress and producer is also a longtime advocate for farmers and farmworkers. Tillamook teamed with her as the “face” of the program. A quick search for “Eva Longoria agriculture” shows that she’s getting the message out about the importance of food and farmers in the time of the pandemic.
Tillamook is leveraging a growing national market position in new ways, but sticking close to its roots as a farmer-owned organization.
“We’re proud of the work we do and proud of U.S. agriculture. We want to engage consumers. Our aim is to treat animals well, minimize our environmental impact and produce tasty food,” he says.
See a YouTube video about All For Farmers below.