Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"Farm to Family Connection" radio project tunes in to agriculture

In a rare opportunity, farming families are increasing awareness about the diversity of agriculture in the listening area of KK93 FM radio in Yankton, SD. They hope to increase their listening base with new broadcasting hours starting next week.

The "Farm to Family Connection” radio program, originally funded, in part, by the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (NCR-SARE) in 2004, has been sharing with listeners the family farm stories of locally raised food and farm products available within driving distance.

Using contacts already established through the advertising program at KK93, Curt Arens (Crofton, NE), received help early on from Gary Cwach (Yankton, SD), and Kenard, Chris, and Steve Kreycik (Niobrara, NE) to start the radio program.

They sought out program guests and new prospective business sponsors to support the show so that it could be aired during prime commuter times for people traveling in Yankton and surrounding areas.

Arens recalls the first time they broadcasted the program: “The first time I sat down to the microphone, my hands were shaking and my voice was crackling. Over time, fortunately, this plain dirt farmer became a little better at the nervousness part of it, primarily due to the patience and friendliness of the radio station staff.”

“You have to understand, that it is rare, very rare, that a radio station would take on such a local and targeted project as this one. So when we walked into KK93, we found a gem. The folks there have been awesome.”

Arens was selective about sponsors. In deference to the organic farmers featured on the show they avoided seed and chemical companies that only wanted to promote those products or GMO seed.

Farmer participation on the radio show was vital to the success of the programming, but has been a challenge for the team. “Finding farmers is somewhat difficult because we like to feature farmers who don't have a big operating budget for advertising and need help getting the word out. That's why we keep their portion low at $60,” explained Arens.

Survey results from farmer participants on the radio reveal that sales for them have increased around 5 to 20 percent because of their radio program.

“This tells us that farmers should not expect a big response from being on the show once in a year,” explained Arens, “but if they work to develop a promotion that we can use seasonally, maybe four times a year, the results definitely have paid off the very minimal $60 fee to be involved.”

Although the program has been funded by corporate business sponsors since the original SARE grant ended, the group appreciated the footings SARE provided. “We believe that the SARE program is a wonderful way to fund ‘real’ farmers and their ideas in a variety of areas,” said Arens.

Tune in to Farm to Family Connection’s new broadcasting times on Thursdays at 9am and 4pm on KKYA, 93.1 FM, Yankton, SD, or visit their web page http://www.farmtofamily.net/index.shtml. Yankton area writer and publisher, Loretta Sorensen, is the new voice of “Farm to Family Connection,” while Arens maintains the web site.

Arens’ continued commitment to sustainable agriculture has always been the heart of the project.

“We promote the little guy,the farmer with the big idea, but with a small advertising budget. We promote local economic development, by encouraging people to purchase food without frequent flier miles - the stuff raised with care by your neighbors down the road - the folks you know and trust. That is true food security, because if you know your farmer, then you know your food.”

With a grant from W.K. Kellogg, Arens hopes to expand the concept. “Using the Kellogg grant funds, we are developing a toolkit, so that farmers and radio stations elsewhere can start their own local radio show and website campaign for local food,” said Arens.

Since 1988, the SARE program has helped advance farming systems that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities through a nationwide research and education grants program. The program, part of USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, funds projects and conducts outreach designed to improve agricultural systems.

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