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New campaign promotes farmers

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Jim Willers, Beaver Creek, kneels by the elevator as he loads out beans from his bin Wednesday afternoon south of Beaver Creek.

BEAVER CREEK -- Fourth-generation farmer Jim Willers of Beaver Creek is one of a handful of area farmers to be featured in a new campaign launched by the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) to educate consumers about the people who grow their food.

The R.E.A.L. (Responsible, Ethical Agriculture for Life) Story campaign launched earlier this month and features farmers from across Minnesota sharing their story about production agriculture. Through billboards and media campaigns, the farmers hope that by sharing their stories of farm life with the public, people will feel more connected to the food they purchase in their local grocery stores.

A survey conducted with consumers last year showed that most believe their food is produced by big companies, and many said they didn't personally know any farmers.

"The R.E.A.L. Campaign is intended to close the gap between farmers and consumers and tell the real story -- our food and our environment are better today than ever, and that's because today's farmers have excellent technology and possess a strong personal desire to do what's right for their families, their community, their farm and the environment," said Rachel Gray, with Farmer-Lump advertising agency, which is coordinating the effort.

Willers, who serves as chair of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council's (MSR&PC) communications committee, said the idea for the campaign grew out of a discussion among soybean farmers in late 2009 during a joint meeting of the MSGA and MSR&PC.

"We were disappointed with some of the press about farmers," said Willers, adding that stories about animal cruelty, unkempt farms and food safety garnered the headlines.

"I kept hearing, 'I wish we could get out the real story,'" Willers said.

At the time, soybean promotion in the state seemed to be more reactive than proactive.

By the spring of 2010, the MSR&PC hired Farmer-Lump to develop a campaign to share the positive stories of agriculture, and in August the search was on for soybean farmers to tell their R.E.A.L. story. The campaign was unveiled last week, during the MN Ag Expo at Morton.

There are 40 soybean growers featured in the campaign -- one from each Minnesota county where soybeans are grown. Willers volunteered to be the Rock County spokesperson because of his role in the MSR&PC. Other farmers participating from this area include: Bill Gordon, Worthington, vice president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association; Chris Hill, Brewster; Jim Jorgenson, Westbrook; and Gene Stoel, Lake Wilson, chair of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council.

"We're real people -- we're also real consumers," Willers said. "We farm for a living. Farmers are ethical by nature, we're hard-working, conscientious, and we try to take care of our farms and the future of our farms for a healthy America."

In addition to being a state spokesperson for the soybean industry, Willers was appointed to serve on the United Soybean Board by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in December .

Willers and his brother, David, are full-time farmers growing soybeans, corn and hay in Rock County. Both have sons who are interested in carrying on the family's farming tradition.

"Farmers need to take care of the land so they can pass it on to future generations," wrote Willers in his R.E.A.L. story. He also explained that his family has taken steps to conserve the land and preserve it for future generations through practices such as contour farming, installation of terraces and creation of grassed waterways.

"We want our food to be safe, fresh, healthy and affordable," he said. "We want consumers to know when they go to the grocery store there's a farmer behind that food, and he's just as concerned about food safety."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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