Operation Main Street Celebrates Five Years of Setting the Record Straight

Friday, Nov 06, 2009 – It has taken Mary Kelpinski just over one year to tell one million people about modern pork production.

Kelpinski, the executive director of the Michigan Pork Producers Association, did it by becoming a speaker for Operation Main Street (OMS), the Pork-Checkoff funded program that connects pork producers with community leaders and with the general public. Since she completed a two-day training 14 months ago, she has delivered 29 presentations about the pork industry to community civic and business groups; done interviews with three Michigan television stations; appeared on the Michigan Farm Radio Network and received coverage in at least two newspapers. Total audience: 1,174,205.

That is more than a million Michiganders who now have heard how much pork producers care for their animals, and how they preserve their land so it can be used by future generations and how they give back to their communities both financially and in service.

It’s not Mary just in Michigan. This week, Kelpinski and 757 of her fellow OMS speakers celebrate the fifth anniversary of one of the most successful outreach programs in American agriculture. Together, the OMS speakers – most of them pork producers – have made more than 3,500 presentations and have reached more than 10 million people all across the country through their presentations and subsequent coverage of those presentations in newspapers and on radio and television.

And they have accomplished that for less than what a major advertiser will spend on a 30-second television commercial at the 2010 Super Bowl.

“The success of this program is just phenomenal,” said Steve Weaver, a California pork producer who has given 115 presentations, more than any other OMS speaker. Weaver, also a member of the National Pork Board and a past president of the board, said there is a big difference between OMS and the speaker programs he has seen elsewhere within the agriculture community. “I think a lot of groups have gone to the trouble of training some of their members to speak to consumers, who we all know need help understanding where their food comes from. The problem is that farmers are busy and that once they get home from the training, finding the time to schedule speeches tends to slide to the back burner.

“With OMS, we have professional schedulers who reach out to civic organizations and other groups close to our farms and actually make the appointments,” Weaver said. “Each of the schedulers is assigned a group of speakers so they get to know us and when we’re available and what we like to talk about,” Weaver said. “If I have to figure out who’s in charge of the Kiwanis Club program in the town 30 miles down the road, I’m probably not going to do it. When Dianne calls and asks if I can be there at noon on Thursday, I go.”

The relationship between the schedulers and the producer volunteers is so important, said Al Eidson, whose Kansas City company, Eidson & Partners, has worked with the OMS speakers since the beginning in 2004. “We learned a lot about working with volunteers when we developed a similar program for the Missouri Trial Lawyers Association,” he said. “We’ve taken what we learned from the lawyers, who were looking for ways to improve the image of the legal profession, applied it to pork production, added some new wrinkles and the results have been spectacular.”

“There are so many terrific producers eager to tell their story,” Eidson said. “At the core, producers have a desire to set the record straight about pork production. As a group, they believe the industry is often unfairly maligned.

“Most of them just need a little training, a little confidence and a gentle nudge. After that first speech, many can’t wait to get that second assignment.”

The training includes an update on pork industry issues by Charlie Arnot of CMA Consulting as well as some hands-on practice giving presentations and answering media questions. On the stump, most of the speakers start their presentations with a look at their own operations and how farming has changed. They often will talk about how pork has become leaner and more nutritious. And they’ll take on current topics on the minds of their audiences. When the H1N1 flu broke out, OMS speakers were quickly on the front lines getting out the message that pork remains safe to eat.

Eidson said he constantly is amazed by the dedication of the producer speakers. “We have seen speakers deliver two presentations in one day. We have seen husband/wife teams, father/son teams, father/daughter teams present across the country. We have seen speakers become engaged with civic group meeting organizers and receive repeat invitations. We have seen speakers engage with the media directly.”

Eidson figures that the producer speakers have driven thousands of miles and have given 22,812 hours of their time to OMS over the five years. That is the equivalent of having more than two full-time employees doing nothing but telling a positive story about pork production for 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year over five years. “And it’s not just ‘the public,’ he said. “When you talk to the Kiwanis, or the Chamber of Commerce or the Rotary, you are talking to that community’s leaders. The influence of those leaders and what they tell others about what they have learned about modern farming goes far beyond their numbers.”

“We also know from audience surveys that 79 percent of those who hear an OMS presentation leave with a positive opinion of pork production,” Eidson said.

“Like a lot of successful people, the most active OMS speakers are often looking for a new challenge,” he added. “That led to the development of an advanced training program we’re calling OMS 2.0 to reach higher-value audiences. In recent months, the 34 OMS 2.0 speakers have been able to address influential groups of county commissioners, township officials, dieticians and nutritionists, veterinarians and veterinary medicine students, economic development groups and others. We have one producer who gave his entire presentation online to an Internet community.”

In preparing for the fifth anniversary, Eidson said he went back and looked at the National Pork Board’s criteria as it looked for a partner to implement OMS. It said, “Operation Main Street is intended to inspire producers to inform, educate and respond to issues facing the pork industry.

“In retrospect, that sentence is very powerful and has proven to be timeless.”

The National Pork Board has responsibility for Pork Checkoff-funded research, promotion and consumer information projects and for communicating with pork producers and the public. The Pork Checkoff funds national and state programs in consumer education and marketing, retail and foodservice marketing, export market promotion, production improvement, science and technology, swine health, pork safety, and environmental management and sustainability. For the past half century, the U.S. pork industry has delivered on its commitment to sustainable production and has made significant strides in reducing the environmental impact of pig farming. Through a legislative national Pork Checkoff, pork producers invest $0.40 for each $100 value of hogs sold. Importers of pork products contribute a like amount, based on a formula. For information on Checkoff-funded programs, pork producers can call the Pork Checkoff Service Center at (800) 456-7675 or visit www.pork.org.