What do bikes and farm equipment have in common? Not much, unless you were in Iowa during the 44th annual RAGBRAI where more than 20,000 daily riders navigated the crop-lined roads in between stops in rural towns. This year, Land O'Lakes, Inc. capitalized on this influx of people as an opportunity to share the stories of local farmers with riders of the largest, longest bike-touring event in the world.
As a farmer-owned cooperative, farming is at the core of what we do. We were formed by farmers, and continue to be owned and governed by farmers. And in Iowa, we’re proud to represent 20 dairy producers and 60 member cooperatives–that represent tens of thousands of farmers–under our cooperative umbrella, who are among the more than 130,000 farmers in Iowa.
To thank these farmers for their role in producing nutritious, affordable and sustainable food, and to spark conversations about modern agriculture practices, we premiered the Thanks2Farmers initiative July 24-30 at RAGBRAI.
Escape the heat
The annual bike event attracts people from all 50 states and several foreign countries, taking place over seven days each July. This year, the riders traveled 417 miles through more than 40 towns from Glenwood to Muscatine, Iowa. And, the average temperature each day? 90 degrees or higher!
Riders spend their days traveling through the Iowa countryside, concluding each night in a new town that throws a complete community celebration with music performances and, of course, lots and lots of food.
"It is an exciting and festive atmosphere. It really is a celebration of cycling, friendship, and support of rural Iowa–including agriculture," says Jim Zell, team leader, K-12 & non-commercial segments for Land O’Lakes. "It has elements of a state fair (pork chop on a stick, homemade ice cream, pies made by local churches and schools) and a challenging athletic endeavor all in the hot and humid Iowa weather."
As a fifth year rider, Jim’s considered a RAGBRAI expert. But he, and thousands of others, noticed something new and a little different in five towns along the route–could it be Thanks2Farmers?
Thank farmers for what you eat
We were stationed in five towns along the route with roadside signs directing riders to oasis stations. Featuring entertaining rhymes, the signs encouraged participants to beat the heat and thank the farmers who work in it by stopping by.
Nearly 5,000 RAGBRAI riders were curious enough stop for a break over the course of the week. They took photos, refilled their water bottles, connected to free Wi-Fi and enjoyed LAND O LAKES® string cheese.
"I estimate we went through more than 200 gallons of water filling water bottles," says Kevin Steward, customer development manager for WinField and Thanks2Farmers volunteer. "And many riders said it was the best water they had along the route."
But most importantly, we partnered with five of our member cooperatives–Heartland Co-op, United Farmer’s Mercantile Cooperative, Farmers Cooperative Company, South Central Co-op, Vision Ag LLC and their members–to showcase our collective passion for helping farmers sustain the land and produce a safe and reliable food.
"RAGBRAI allowed us to share what our cooperative members are doing in their communities," says Leah Anderson, vice president of Member Relations for Land O’Lakes, Inc. "Since many Americans no longer have personal ties to agriculture, sharing our farmers’ stories helps us reconnect people to the incredible passion, commitment and hard work that goes into ensuring safe, healthy food is on tables across America each and every day."
Making it all possible
For the local cooperatives, it meant a lot to its members to see Land O’Lakes involved in RAGBRAI and sharing their story with the thousands of bikers who hadn’t been to Iowa–or even the Midwest–before.
"This was my first time riding RAGBRAI. I’m from Chicago and am rarely outside of urban areas. Going on this ride helped remind me of the rest of the country and the people that live there, which makes my life in the city possible," says Frank West, 42, RAGBRAI rider who stopped for a refill at an oasis station. "You take it for granted–we need to thank farmers more often."