Episode 208: Walt Dasher
Walt Dasher is the proud owner of third-generation, family-owned G&R Farms where they do more than just grow delicious Vidalia and Preuvian onions, they are fostering the Future Farmers of America (FFA) through a program Walt started called Growing America’s Farmers. G&R Farms has always hired local kids in or just out of high school to do additional work during the summer, like driving tractors, for example. But in 2015, not one single application came Walt’s way when in years prior they’d always have an immediate and great response.
On top of it, many of the applicants that Walt interviewed had time restrictions, couldn’t work the hours required, and weren’t seeing this work as the great opportunity it is. Walt reached out to Katrina Jones, Executive Director of The Georgia FFA Foundation, and asked if she could help connect him to local high schoolers and teachers. Her response? Walt’s search was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
“We’re seeing that the kids who grew up on a farm or are associated with a family farm aren’t choosing to go back into the family business. They are electing to move out into other careers. Nobody wants to do what you do anymore,” said Katrina.
Walt experienced this first hand when visiting a local high school to speak and a high school boy who could inherit his family’s (very successful) local farm wanted to go into a career in accounting. Walt was stunned to find out this boy believed that “true American farming companies are going to be a thing of the past because the retail industry could care less where the product comes from, whether it’s from America or Asia or somewhere else”. Walt had to explain that the reason companies buy products in other countries is because they can’t source enough of the product domestically! If they could find everything locally in America, they would buy everything that’s available.
Inspired, Walt shared this information with one of his retail partners and wanted to do something to change the overall perception of retailers and farms in America. Walt started Growing America’s Farmers in 2015 to raise awareness through the retail industry. They created their own packaging and point-of-sale material, put it in stores, and embarked on a fundraising program to raise awareness and help young American farmers continue on legacies that are becoming a thing of the past.
In 2015 the average age of an American farmer was 58 years old. Today it’s 60, which shows the average age of an American family farmer is still declining because grandchildren in their 20s and 30s aren’t coming back to the farm.
The majority of larger retail companies east of Texas have embraced Growing America’s Farmers, which brings FFA kids into retail locations to interact with customers. Oftentimes there are lines of 15-20 consumers waiting to talk to the FFA students, ask them questions about their family’s history, the farm’s history, their future plans, facts about growing and more. A large percentage of the kids Growing America’s Farmers was able to financially back are now continuing on into the field.
COVID-19 changed the way Growing America’s Farmers had to operate – from packing, to shipping, to transportation, to how products were being displayed, because retailers and consumers alike were terrified of what the coronavirus might bring. Walt used this as an opportunity to change their core marketing message and further drive home the point of needing to be informed of where your food is sourced and is coming from, especially with the heightened concerns COVID-19 brought us.
“You’re dealing with a pandemic that nobody’s ever even imagined. If you’re concerned about the safety of the food stores, this is why it is so critical to know more about your food source and where it comes from.” – Walt Dasher (40:27-40:51)
What would you rather eat? A piece of produce grown in a country you aren’t familiar with, have no idea when it was harvested or any of the safety procedures taken when transporting it here, or a piece of produce grown right here in America, where you know the date it was harvested and from what field, and where you can meet the kids or the family who grew it?
There’s a need for the American consumer to be comfortable and know where their food source comes from and the Growing America’s Farmers program can help you with that. Their onion program is on shelves now and will be operating in three retailers east of Texas from May to June, and then west Texas from June to July. Consumers can go to their local retailer, enjoy the customized packaging which tells a story about where their food came from. Growing America’s Farmers also has the goal of getting FFA kids back into stores in front of consumers (which was ceased because of COVID-19 restrictions) so they can interact with one another and educate buyers on their farm and produce.
How to get involved
- Join The Produce Moms Group on Facebook and continue the discussion every week!
- Reach out to us – we’d love to hear more about where you are in life and business! Find out more here.
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Previous episodes you may enjoy
- Episode 207: Carley Parsley
- Episode 206: Tamara Claunch
- Episode 205: Donna Lynn Browne, Aribel Aguirre-Beck, and CarrieAnn Arias
- Episode 204: Kim Hammons And Brian Hammons
- Episode 203: Mike Stephan