Illinois Specialty Crop Conference will connect farmers and consumers

By Kay Shipman

Farmers already possess the best tools to connect with consumers, solidify customers and create a different profit margin, according to Janice Person, a national communications consultant.

“The biggest thing for farmers to understand (is that) stories matter now,” Person told FarmWeek.

People are less interested in the seed a farmer bought or the irrigation system used. Instead, nonfarmers are fascinated to learn how farmers care for their land and how they make decisions.

“They want you to share your values – that’s what they care about,” explained Person, CEO and founder of JPlovesCOTTON LLC.

Person, who launched a “Grounded by Farm” podcast Dec. 11 with an interview of a Belleville popcorn grower, will give the keynote address Jan. 9 at the Illinois Specialty Crop Conference Jan. 8-10 at the Crowne Plaza, Springfield. 

While farmers are skilled and focus on growing crops and raising livestock, they aren’t automatically attuned to changes in consumer values. “Farmers are not necessarily plugged into where American culture moves into food,” she said. “They want to know your stories. If you do that (share fundamental values), you create a different profit margin. It’s not just creating photos on social media; stories solidify customers.”

During her address, Person said she plans to share culture context of what is happening with food. She will also teach a breakout session that will offer “worksheet” specifics. “It takes seeing how others do it to do it for yourself,” she added.

Person is among nearly 100 speakers who will provide information and workshops during the upcoming conference.

The trade show will feature 60 exhibitors.

On Jan. 8, preconference workshops will include pumpkin production, cut flowers, protected culture and industrial hemp.

Breakout sessions Jan. 9-10 will feature fruits, vegetables, herbs, agritourism, beginning farming and business development.

The 31st annual apple cider and 18th annual hard cider contests will be held in conjunction with the conference. Winners will be announced Jan. 9 at the evening banquet.

To receive registration materials, contact Charlene Blary at 309-557-2107 or A detailed conference agenda, registration and cider contest information are available here.

A block of Crowne Plaza rooms has been reserved at a rate of $103 per night.

Call the hotel directly at 217-529-7777 and ask for the Illinois Specialty Crop Conference room block for reservations at the conference rate.

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