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What are Participants of Breakfast on the Farm Learning?  

Ted Ferris, Faith Cullens, Marilyn Thelen, Dean Ross, Nancy Thelen, Mary Dunckel, and Phil Durst

For the third year, Breakfast on the Farm (BOTF) events in Michigan were held last summer. In 2011 MSUE and industry partners hosted eight BOTF events that gave consumers and farm neighbors a first-hand look at modern food production, and the farm families who produce a safe, wholesome food supply for Michigan communities and the world. This is the third article reporting on exit survey results from three of the 2010 events and focuses on what participants felt they knew about eight topics before and after their BOTF visit. 

Educational stations used at BOTF provide opportunities for participants to learn about various aspects of dairy farm management. Exit survey participants were asked to indicate what level of knowledge they felt they had on eight topics. They were asked, “For each topic, please indicate how much you feel you knew about the topic BEFORE your visit and how much you feel you know about the topic now AFTER your visit on a 5-point scale, where 1 is ‘Very Little Knowledge’ or ‘Understanding’ and 5 is ‘Very Great Knowledge’”. 

There were 573 visitors who responded to this set of questions with an average response of 2.90 for all eight topics before their visit and an average change of 1.47 in responses after their visit (Table 1). Change was determined by subtracting their response for BEFORE from their response for AFTER.  This calculation attempts to measure the gain in knowledge they estimate they had at the exit survey.


The 573 respondents felt they had the greatest knowledge about “Milk being a very regulated food” with an average response of 3.38 on a 5-point scale (Table 1). They felt they knew the least (2.55) about “why newborns are removed from their mothers” (a management practice). The change in knowledge was somewhat the inverse to their knowledge before their BOTF visit. This may mean that their self-assessment of what they knew prior to their BOTF visit depended on how much they felt they learned. If they learned a lot, they knew less. For example, the least change in knowledge was for “Milk being a very regulated food” (1.11). However, the greatest change was in “Amount of milk a cow produces” (1.82), but they felt they knew more about this than two of the topics. This is an objective measurement that is easy to understand and present. 

First-time Visitors to a Dairy Farm
Similar to the results for all respondents in Table 1, 260 first-time visitors to a dairy farm felt they knew more about milk being a regulated food and what a cow eats, and least about why newborns are removed from their mothers and what farmers do to manage manure. This group represents 46% of the respondents. Average knowledge before the BOTF visit for the eight topics increased with number of prior visits, ranging from 2.25 for first visit to 4.12 for more than 10 visits. Those who live on a farm would be in the latter group. 

First-time visitors gained more than 2 points of knowledge for five of the eight topics (Table 1).  And their average gains were 4 times those with more than 10 visits (2.02 vs 0.55). “Steps taken to ensure milk from sick cows treated with antibiotics is discarded” and “Why newborn calves are removed from their mothers” are two important concepts for the public to understand.  The former relates to how producers prevent milk from cows treated with antibiotics from being sold.  The latter relates to messages that some animal welfare groups push by suggesting that calves should be left with the mother for the calf’s welfare.   

Where They Live and Their Connections to a Farm
Demographic information was provided by 545 respondents. Level of knowledge before their visit for those living in urban and rural areas near a farm were similar and greater for all topics compared with those who lived in urban or rural areas but not near a farm. Respondents specified if they lived near a farm or not. The averages for the eight topics for those living in an urban area not near a farm increased 1.67 points from 2.52 to 4.19, a 66% increase. The average increase was even greater for rural residents not near a farm (1.84). The largest increase for the latter group was 2.01 for “How cows and calves are housed” and “Steps taken to ensure milk from sick cows treated with antibiotics is discarded”. The largest increases (over 1.70) for urban residents not living near a farm was for “How cows and calves are housed”, “What farmers do to manage manure”, “Steps taken to ensure milk from sick cows is discarded”, and “Why newborn calves are removed from their mothers”. Responses based upon where they grew up showed similar results to where they currently live.

Average responses for all topics for respondents with parents (3.65) and friends (3.27) who own/owned a farm indicate greater prior knowledge about each topic compared with those who had no relatives who own/owned a farm (2.37). Gains in knowledge were greatest for those who had no relatives who own/owned a farm (1.85) vs. parents (0.93), grandparents (1.36) and friends (1.24) who own/owned a farm.  

Why Does BOTF Work? 
The BOTF program and similar events build trust through education and transparency. The public receives messages from many sources today and the tendency is to fear what is not understood or to have concerns when messages raise doubts. So education in a transparent format, such as BOTF, provides the public an opportunity to learn first-hand, ask questions, give feedback, and to further develop trust in farmers and the products they produce. Because BOTF involves a high level of commitment and financing we also need to consider the potential impact of these types of events on the image of agriculture.

We might conclude that the more knowledgeable consumers are about food production practices and systems, the more confidence they will have in agricultural products resulting in less support for unnecessary regulations. Unnecessary regulations established to add trust are an expense that both the producer and consumer pay. Breakfast on the Farm may not change attitudes of members of some special interest groups, but it can impact the attitudes of the general public which make up the largest segment of the population.

Further, knowing what the public felt they did or did not understand, prior to their BOTF experience will help us determine where to place future emphasis on educational efforts. For the 2011 BOTF survey, we will look at why individuals attend BOTF, the level of trust they have in various sources of information about our food system, and what they found to be different than they expected. 

The BOTF events are a collaborative effort between MSU Extension and local Farm Bureau where the event is presented with significant personnel and financial support from agri-business. The United Dairy Industry of Michigan provided funding for data entry for this survey.


Michigan Dairy Review is published and mailed to all Michigan dairy farmers and individuals working in allied industries. With its ever increasing on-line presence, the MDR target audience has spread beyond Michigan and the U.S.; today electronic subscribers are located in places such as Australia, The Scandinavia, Italy, Mexico, Ireland, Peru, and New Zealand.  

The MDR is the primary communications vehicle for research findings, extension programming, and teaching between faculty and staff in MSU dairy programs and the dairy industry. The MDR web site is paid for by the C. E. Meadows Endowment.

January 2012 Topics

Calving Pen Alternatives

Intensified Feeding Programs for Calves

Right to Farm: Site Selection

Treatment of Milk House Wash Water

Diagnostic Tests and Strategies for BVDV

Landowners: Oil and Gas Leases

Livestock Gross Margin [Pt 2]

Social Secuurity Basics [Pt. 2]

What BOTF Participants are Learning

MSU at Nationals Dairy Challenge

2012 Winter Dairy Program