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Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Portland, Oregon for the 2014 AgChat Foundation Regional Conference. The 2-day Conference is a smaller scale of our national conference (2014 national location to be announced soon!) and is a great opportunity for folks on a beginner level to get a more intimate opportunity to learn about the tools of social media. Portland is a rather food-centric city compared to much of the U.S. and provided a great opportunity for farmers and ranchers in the Pacific Northwest to gain some awareness of food conversations around them.

In case you’re not aware of the work of the AgChat Foundation – AgChat is a non-profit that works to give farmers and ranchers the tools to engage with customers in food conversations. This includes tips on how to approach difficult conversations and learning how to utilize social media platforms to engage in those conversations. Learn more about AgChat at AgChat.org or join the weekly Twitter chat – Tuesdays, 5-7 p.m. Pacific by using the hashtag #agchat.

On Thursday night, we had the opportunity to breakout and travel to several food establishments across the Portland area. My group went to Bob’s Red Mill where we learned more about the history of this local, family owned grain processor. Red Mill produces many flours, cereals, grain and baking ingredients from raw grains, products that encourage consumers to utilize more basic ingredients in their home kitchens. It’s interesting to see how rapidly the company is expanding and outgrowing their facilities. Their most rapidly growing product line is gluten-free where the Mill uses many various grains (excluding wheat) to produce flours and baking ingredients for customers who want to remove wheat products from their diets.

Bob's Red Mill Portland Product Line

Bob’s is making progress in their GMO-free labeling with the Non-GMO project. We asked why they are pursuing the labeling program when so many of their grains are not even available in GM varieties. Bob’s staff say they believe that the consumer is always right which is why they are pursuing this line. It was really cool to see the diversity of products in Bob’s line up. They emphasized the importance on a record of food safety and cleanliness, not only in their facilities, but also in their suppliers and transport.

Side note: I wonder why a company would spend money labeling products, fueling consumer concerns about products that are not even available in GM (ex. There is no such thing as GM oats. SO what’s the use in labeling oats as GMO-free?). Providing accurate information about how grains are grown and the availability of GM foods falls on everyone from the producer to the retailer. There are times when the consumer is not right. Excess labels dilutes the impact of labeling and make us lazy.

That being said, kudos to Bob’s for listening to consumers and taking a voluntary approach to labeling their product lines, something that really shouldn’t be required by government policies.

Workshops on Friday morning included tips for using Facebook, Twitter, blogging platforms, Pinterest, Instagram and more. Attendees also had the opportunity to learn how to handle difficult conversations and negativity in a workshop with Marie Bowers. I presented about measuring your impact online and gave several tips/tools on how to gauge your effectiveness. Many of the suggestions I gave centered around paying attention to what your audience is currently reading and returning to the topics that engage your audience. Consistency and Listening are always important when it comes to drawing and retaining an audience for the messages you want to share online.

Montana ranchers attending the AgChat Foundation social media training in Portland
Montana ranchers had a great crew to represent the state while we were in Portland!

The conference went great and it was awesome to see a few days of green in the middle of winter. Considering I’ve seen snow since October, I found a little surprise in just how green Portland is at the end of January. As with any trip in the middle of winter from Montana, my flights were delayed in both directions. On the trip out of Helena, we sat on the plane for 3 hours while the crews tried to thaw frozen brakes. On the way back, we had to sit at Great Falls while crews plowed the runway, which wasn’t plowed when we landed and created quite a white scene with a few inches of fresh snow. Getting to the airport at 5 a.m. on Thursday and landing at almost 1 a.m. Saturday morning made for a few long days.

One benefit of traveling during the winter in Montana. Check out that view at the Helena airport!
One benefit of traveling during the winter in Montana. Check out that view at the Helena airport!

Despite all that, it was a great trip and I hope everyone involved had a great time learning more about these conversation tools while in Portland! Check out more photos from the conference on Facebook!

Montana ranchers attending the AgChat Foundation social media training in Portland
Generations working together to learn more about Social Media platforms.

Montana ranchers attending the AgChat Foundation social media training in Portland

The breakout crew at Bob's Red Mill
The breakout crew at Bob’s Red Mill
Bob's Red Mill Portland
Learning more about the grain processing and product lines at Bob’s

Bob's Red Mill Portland

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