Monday, October 25, 2010

Farm American

We’ve been saying it for a long time in agriculture, we need to be proactive in our efforts to educate the consumer about domestic food production and the farmers and ranchers that grow it rather than being reactive to the latest inaccurate accusations from an anti-ag group. There’s not a better way to do this than to tell our story one person at a time and let consumers get to know us, let them meet a real farmer or rancher. But we’ve also talked about how great it would be to tell our story on a bigger stage to a bigger audience. With limited resources and opportunities it hasn’t happened yet, however, that is about to change.

I truly believe that the opportunity we have been looking for has just landed in our lap. Even more amazing than that is it’s coming from someone with no ties to agriculture at all yet he realizes the important job that farmers and ranchers have and wants to help tell the story of the 21st century agriculturalist. His name is Barney Visser and he owns the Furniture Row chain of furniture stores. Like most farmers and ranchers, Visser is a self-made man and a great example of what you can achieve with hard work. He started with a single store in Denver selling an invention of his called the bean bag chair. That single store turned into the fastest growing furniture chain today which includes brands like Denver Mattress and Oak Express.

Visser recently formed the Furniture Row Racing NASCAR team but unlike most teams he wanted to use his to promote worthwhile causes when possible. When he was presented with the idea of promoting the American farmer and rancher he knew it was the right thing to do. At one time he had 800 employees in Colorado making furniture for him. Unfortunately he had to eventually close it down though because he couldn’t compete with less expensive imports. Reflecting back on that experience Visser stated that it was bad enough he now has to get his furniture from overseas, the last thing he wanted is his food coming from there. So over the past year he has spent millions of his own money developing the Farm American project.

The Farm American project has several facets to it. Visser has generously offered to turn the Furniture Row Racing team into the Farm American team. The Farm American car ran at three Sprint Cup races this year and we were fortunate enough to be at the final running a few weeks ago in Fontana, CA where we got to meet Visser and his family and the entire race crew. The paint scheme is beautiful on the car and really stands out among the rest of the field because it’s not cluttered with advertisements. Along with this, we want to develop a traveling interactive display that would be set up in the Fan Zone at every race. It would include having local farmers and ranchers there to share with consumers what they do, a real farmers market, farm machinery simulators and other great teaching tools. Research has shown that this segment of the project can reach 33% of the American public every week.

The next phase of the plan also highlights the commitment and generosity of Barney Visser. He is going to allow us to use all of his retail locations across the country to promote farmers and ranchers as well. This will include in-store displays featuring local farmers and ranchers as well as promotional material included in their advertisements. Visser has even offered to re-paint all of his delivery trucks to match the paint scheme on the Farm American car. This would reach another 30% of the American public.

Finally, the Farm American car and traveling educational exhibit could be available for various other functions, including fairs and shows.

When you add it all up, this project could reach nearly 200 million people. That’s an astonishing number! Unfortunately, it will take some money to bring this project to it’s full potential. As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Visser has already put a couple million dollars of his own money into it to get it off the ground. Now it’s time for agri-business to step up and help the farmers and ranchers they depend on to tell their story.

The Farm American project will need to raise $22 million in order to implement all of the components and operate for a full year. Now I know that seems like a big mountain to climb but in reality it’s not. When you think about the economic impact that agriculture has on this country and the importance of this issue, that’s a small price to pay to educate our consumers. It would be tough for individual farmers and ranchers to raise that kind of money so that’s why we need ag businesses to step up.

We need agri-business to realize that they need to become partners in our efforts to tell the real story of modern agriculture. It’s been great to see some companies realize this and trying to do what they can to help. For those, it’s their opportunity to become part of something even bigger than themselves. If there are companies out there that feel it’s not their responsibility to help tell this story, then they have a shockingly short-sighted view of what needs to be done. I plan on asking all of these companies, both privately and publicly, to help with this project. Their survival depends on our survival.

So what do we need from you? We need your voices. We need your passion. We need you to help share the story of the Farm American project so we can share the story of the American Farmer and Rancher with 200 million consumers. These ag businesses will need to hear from each and every one of you about why this is important. I am going to commit to giving my business to the companies that support this project and will encourage all of you to do the same. It's also important for me to stress that neither Visser or Furniture Row Racing will be profiting from this project.  They are doing it because it's the right thing to do. 

Above all else, we want this effort to stay very positive! The anti-ag groups like to stoop to that level on a regular basis. We don’t have to, our message speaks for itself. So thank you in advance for keeping all of your comments very positive and helping us make this incredible project a reality.

Let me know if you have any ideas, comments or questions and stay tuned for more updates!

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