Food Check-Out Week Spreads Farm-to-Table Awareness
by PAUL CATALA
For most of her life, Scarlett Jackson has been involved with getting what’s on the farm to the table.
But some of Florida’s 20.6 million residents—many from other parts of the United States or abroad—might not know what it takes to get food from a Florida farm to their tables.
In an effort to help today’s consumers become engaged in modern agriculture, the Florida Farm Bureau started Food Check-Out Week in 2019.
In February, four “secret shopper events” were held across Polk County, where Florida Farm Bureau Women’s Committee members gave away Publix gift cards to surprised customers buying “Fresh from Florida” locally produced agriculture products.
According to the Florida Farm Bureau, agriculture and related enterprises generate $148 billion statewide every year.
Scarlett Jackson, who has been the executive director of the Florida Future Farmers of America Foundation since 2019, says the four Publix supermarkets that participated with the Food Check-Out Week were in Lake Wales, Bartow, Lakeland and Winter Haven. At each store, Women’s Committee members gave away gift cards to shoppers who were seen buying Fresh From Florida products, goods derived through participating agricultural agencies that can offset a portion of their consumer packaging and carton printing costs by promoting the “Fresh from Florida” message.
“The idea is to excite our consumers about the American food supply, especially Florida products,” says Jackson, who also serves as the Women’s Committee Chair for the Polk County Farm Bureau. “We’re promoting the ag industry and bringing consumer awareness of our state food supply.”
In 2019, Jackson says Florida Farm Bureau Women’s Committee members gave away four gift cards at the Bartow Publix. She said in 2019 and 2020, customers were randomly chosen.
“Some get really excited, some cry, some are sort of indifferent,” says Jackson, who worked as an agriculture teacher at Frostproof High School. “We love to give free money via the cards to help, especially when we find those people who have gone above and beyond in their lives’ circumstances.”
Food Check-Out Week is just one of the Florida Farm Bureau’s “Our Food Link” outreach programs that various Florida county leaders and volunteers use to engage consumers in today’s agriculture. Our Food Link is a year-round program county and state Farm Bureaus use to reach consumers with information about modern agriculture. Bureau studies show most Americans are at least three generations removed from the farm. Farm and ranch families make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, which is one of the reasons for the motive behind Food Check-Out Week.
In a sample Food Check-Out Week proclamation for government agencies, the Florida Farm Bureau cites reasons why municipalities and residents should participate in the event. Some of these are: the importance for all Americans to have access to healthy foods with adequate vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients; achieving better nutrition with fewer resources through consumer education and wise shopping strategies; and showing how Florida farmers and ranchers consistently produce safe, nutritious and affordable food.
Additionally, Food Check-Out Week is a way for Farm Bureau members to help people connect with the sources of their food. Other activities range from outreach at supermarkets or farmers’ markets to hosting interactive booths at community events, contacting lawmakers and neighbors about food-related issues or visiting classrooms to help students understand agricultural-related topics.
Jackson says the various outreach efforts can bring the focus of the farm into the layout of the living room.
“It was just a fun and easy event that impacts our community. This initiative is dear to my heart because you never know the life circumstances you can run across as you’re sharing the story of Florida agriculture with consumers,” she concludes.
Other Florida Farm Bureau programs developed to help link farm to city include farmers’ markets, grocery store displays, cooking demonstrations, fitness fairs, farm tours, library displays and food drives.