Ohio families looking for the nearest place to find locally grown perennials can look to Our Ohio – on television, on the Internet or in print. An initiative sponsored by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF), Our Ohio aims to connect the state’s residents with the stewards of its land by promoting agricultural products and tourism in Ohio.
In 2001, OFBF began working with its members to change its course and make agriculture more relevant to Ohio consumers. At the time, the organization had one publication for all of its members and decided to create two magazines – one for producers and one for consumers. With some great response from both audiences to OFBF’s consumer-oriented messaging, OFBF combined its efforts again to launch Our Ohio in the fall of 2005, with the tagline, "Grow It. Know It. Live It."
"The response has been great," says Senior Vice President of Communications Kurt Ely of OFBF. "Most people just couldn’t make that leap between agriculture and how it applied to them. Once we started talking about gardening and food and open spaces and the environment, all of the sudden it became relevant." Ely says as consumer interest became more focused on the food supply, how and where it is produced and who is producing it, OFBF became committed to forging a partnership between Ohio’s farmers and consumers.
"We basically consolidated all the different pieces we were doing and really analyzed what we were trying to say and it is that this is Our Ohio and we need to grow it – whether it’s growing production or awareness; know it, which means we all need to understand the industry, as well as consumer needs; and then live it, which means taking action," he says.
The Our Ohio initiative involves three very interactive communications vehicles that seek to promote Ohio farm products and family visits back to the farm. Its television show by the same name is produced by public television and broadcast over all 12 statewide public broadcast stations. The second season has recently wrapped up filming with its new host, Gail Hogan, an Ohio native with her own audience and plenty of broadcast background, who is also representative of the demographic OFBF wants to reach.
"The TV program really takes viewers across Ohio to meet the faces and visit the places and touch the values, culture and heritage that really makes Ohio a great place," Ely says. "There are numerous agricultural topics addressed, whether it’s local food or a local business or other features that make the communities great. We have depicted agriculture as part of a community within that program and not fully the community. It gets back to our belief internally that everyone should understand agriculture’s value to them, and I think once you make it relevant, they do."
The Web element, www.OurOhio.org, serves to connect the state’s 16-plus large metropolitan areas, its diverse population and its diversified and very viable agricultural sector through farm locators, maps and event listings. Visitors can find farm stands and markets, food festivals, tree farms, nurseries and more, searching by county on an interactive state map. Consumers interested in gardening, cooking with fresh food and wine tasting can learn from the experts through articles, recipes and other resources.
Finally, the magazine, Our Ohio, offers interesting articles about people and places throughout Ohio. It is, however, a perk that is available only to OFBF members.
Driving The Experience
Fully funded through OFBF membership dues, Ohio producers do not have to pay for these communication vehicles that promote their products – they only stand to benefit from the publicity. And while OFBF has not conducted any formal measurements of how the Our Ohio initiative is affecting producers, the anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s a hit.
"We are doing a lot of point-of-purchase marketing that suggests, ‘Visit this entity as seen on Our Ohio,’" Ely says. "We’re measuring our response by the membership renewals, new memberships and hearing from our producers, ‘Boy, we really like what you’re doing, we like how you’re shaping our message.’ They’re getting people into their stores and farm markets and places of business who have identified with the program. And while the organization would like to say we’ve done all of these great things, it’s really those producers out there who are voting their support via their membership each year."
In the end, the main focus of the Our Ohio program is not only to promote Ohio’s agricultural industry and products, but also to create an experience for Ohio residents, while growing their appreciation of what Ohio has to offer, Ely says.
"Perceptions are developed through experiences and a lot of this brand is about getting out and experiencing agriculture and deciding for yourself how you feel about it," he explains. "We’re just trying to drive people to the experience."