American pork producers recently celebrated a key milestone, with the 5,000th Operation Main Street presentation delivered by Arcola, Ill., pork producer Pat Titus to the Ambucs Club in Danville, Ill. The Checkoff program is helping millions of consumers understand where their food comes from and is empowering leaders for modern agriculture.
"The OMS program has allowed me to have a dialogue with consumers who rarely have any contact with agriculture," Titus said. "It's really up to us to tell our story and connect with consumers so they know that we are committed to producing good, safe food, and to caring for our animals and the environment."
Through the Pork Checkoff-funded community outreach program, more than 150,000 people have heard firsthand from OMS volunteer speakers about how the pork industry is working to improve how food is raised and to provide consumers with healthy choices. Media coverage of their collective speeches has reached an estimated audience of more than 24 million.
"Without a doubt, OMS speakers have achieved a lot thanks to their hard work, dedication and desire to take on new challenges, address industry issues and make a lasting difference for the pork industry," said Chris Novak, chief executive officer of the National Pork Board. "We've also learned a lot through their efforts, and we're proud to be able to share that knowledge to benefit all of modern agriculture."
Now in its seventh year, the OMS program has trained almost 950 volunteer speakers in more than 30 states. OMS speakers are reaching out to consumers, youth and important opinion leaders, such as dietitians who can also earn Continuing Professional Education credits for attending an OMS speech. The Pork Checkoff also has developed partnerships with the National FFA Organization and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) to extend the OMS program's value beyond the pork industry.
"OMS is truly a dynamic community outreach program," said Don Lipton, public relations director of the America Farm Bureau Federation. "I've watched this program grow through the years and applaud the pork industry's commitment to raising awareness about modern agriculture and to growing leaders for the ag industry."
OMS started as a grassroots effort in 2004 to improve the pork industry's image in rural America. Today, OMS speakers have reached beyond their local civic organizations to connect with consumers in cities such as Chicago, Detroit and San Francisco. They also are educating opinion leaders, setting the record straight with the news media and utilizing social media to reach influencers.
Through the AASV partnership, OMS speakers are helping educate the next generation of animal health professionals by speaking to students at schools of veterinary medicine across the country.
"Veterinarians are a trusted source of information among consumers, but very few veterinary students today have a background in pork production," said Dr. Gene Nemechek, a swine veterinarian with Pfizer Animal Health. "I want to show them how today's production practices ensure a safe, healthy food source."
During the H1N1 crisis in 2009, OMS speakers also took it upon themselves to call their local media to set the record straight that pork was a safe and healthy food.
OMS speakers are being tapped for new and important industry initiatives. OMS speakers have been trained to help with the Pork Checkoff's social media efforts and to participate in its Adopt-A-Retailer program where they are working with the Checkoff's retail marketing managers to meet with meat directors, managers and supervisors for the top grocery store chains in the country.
For more information, contact Ernie Barnes at EBarnes@pork.org or at (515) 223-2751.