A group of farmers have left their hometowns for the South Beach Food & Wine Festival, but this isn’t a vacation getaway.
While many companies use the event to hand out free samples, the United States Farmers and Ranchers Alliance has a different strategy: Bring the farm to Miami.
USFRA will debut two virtual reality videos at the Goya Food’s Grand Tasting Village and the Badia Spices’ Fun and Fit as a Family events where guests will be able to explore a pig farm in Illinois in virtual 3D.
A virtual hog farm on the beach
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The 360-videos were produced by USFRA in conjunction with a media firm and allows viewers a full range of motion.
“On your phone or iPhone, you can twirl around and see the entire barn. You can look down. You can look up and we have it narrated,” CEO Randy Krotz said. “The goal was really to immerse people into what a pig farm really is.”
The video shows a farrowing house where piglets are born, then follows the course of a pig’s life until it makes it to the market. The narration stresses the expertise farmers have in the care of their pigs.
It is USFRA’s first time participating in the international food festival, Krotz said.
“Agriculture as a whole I think historically hasn’t done a lot with this event. Let me step back — You certainly have to say wine is agriculture, as well,” he said.
But as far as meat producers, Krotz said USFRA, which is tasked with consumer education, is looking to fill a void.
Connecting farms, food and hungry consumers
The hope is that the virtual experience will segue into a conversation about farming and food production, Lauren Arbogast, one of USFRA’s Faces of Farming & Ranching, said.
Arbogast, a farmer from Virginia, said she understands the disconnect between U.S. farms and city-dwellers who eat what is grown and raised on those farms, but that’s why her trip to Miami is so important.
“The neat thing is I grew up in a similar city. I did not think twice about the food I put in my mouth,” she said. “Going from the city side into the agriculture side was certainly a big jump. I asked a lot of questions. I wanted to learn as much as I can. For me, really found that my passion lies in sharing what we do with other people. I see myself in them.”
Randy Krotz, U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance CEO, prepares for his organizations debut in the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on Thursday, Feb. 23.
More than 65,000 people will flock to South Florida for the sand, waves, food and wine the Wine & Food Festival offers, according to numbers provided by organizers — and that’s what makes it so attractive for USFRA, Krotz said.
UFRA represents about 100 farmer and rancher organizations. It uses a small portion of these groups’ profits to tackle the large task of reaching and educating consumers. Part of USFRA’s strategy includes attending about 25 events annually.
Miami was a clear target of USFRA’s efforts.
“So it’s primarily the influencers that are here — the chefs, the registered nutritionists and dietitians. Really being able to be in front of that group of people is extraordinarily important because we don’t have the money to do a broad national campaign to consumers,” Krotz said.
Virtual reality, real threats?
One of USFRA’s toughest adversaries is food marketing, which Krotz said places unrealistic demands on farmers and confuses consumers.
An example of that is what Krotz called “absence claims,” or labeling that boasts what a food product does not contain. Krotz said “antibiotic-free” labels restrict the ways in which farmers can treat sick livestock, while claims for “no GMOs” increase pressures to resist using agricultural technology.
“It’s marketing and I get that but it’s also damaging to our ability to treat the environment the way that we want and need to be treating it on our farms,” Krotz said.
Whether Krotz and his team will be able to delve into these heavy topics using virtual reality, is yet to be determined.
“This is the first major launch. I think it will be great, but I have to wait,” Krotz said.
If you go
What: Virtual reality farm tours by the United States Farmers and Ranchers Alliance
When: Saturday, Feb. 25 and Sunday, Feb. 26
Time: noon to 5 p.m.
Where: Saturday at the Grand Tasting Village — 13th Street & Ocean Drive, Miami Beach; Sunday at Badia Spices’ Fun and Fit as a Family at Jungle Island
Tickets: $225 at sobefest.com/gtvsat/; Sunday’s family event tickets cost $20
USFRA will be giving away free virtual reality headsets at both SOBEWFF events.