Television star Mike Rowe, United Egg Producers (UEP) President Chad Gregory and dairy farmers Mike and Sue McCloskey all have one thing in common: They want people to be knowledgeable and appreciative of the people who raise their foods.

Gregory, Rowe and the McCloskeys became friends over the years, and the end result is the Chew and Swallow segment of Profoundly Disconnected, an initiative of the mikeroweWORKS Foundation (mrWF). On the Chew and Swallow webpage, visitors can find a series of fun and whimsical videos as well as a series of quizzes that tests a person’s knowledge of agriculture.

UEP and Fair Oaks Farms, the McCloskeys’ dairy operation, are the main sponsors of Profoundly Disconnected’s Chew and Swallow project.

How UEP’s alliance with Mike Rowe began

Gregory recalls a time about six or seven years ago when he was at a speaking engagement in Ohio. After Gregory gave his speech, somebody asked him if he had seen a video where Rowe defended sheep producers who had been criticized for castration techniques. Gregory viewed the video, where Rowe asked what if the animal rights groups “got it wrong,” and what if the farmers were correct.

Gregory realized that someone with celebrity status and an open mind would be a good ally to have. So he “naively” reached out to Rowe’s agent, Mary Sullivan, also the president of mrWF. After visiting with Sullivan for several hours, she invited Gregory to go see Rowe speaking at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis. The two could meet there, she said.

“I had dinner with him, and we just hit it off. That grew into a relationship,” Gregory recalled.

Around the same time, Rowe had been visiting with the McCloskeys, a family with whom Gregory also became better acquainted.

Then, at a later time, Rowe and Gregory were at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Atlanta. Poor weather conditions led them to spend more time in Atlanta than anticipated, and they began talking more about what they could do to advocate for agriculture.

“The relationship kept growing and building, and it was always about what can we do as a farming industry to help tell our story better to those who don’t have anything to do with agriculture,” Gregory said.

The development of Profoundly Disconnected

Sullivan explained that Profoundly Disconnected and mrWF came as a result of the success that Rowe had enjoyed with his television show “Dirty Jobs,” in which Rowe goes to a job scene, interviews the workers and performs many of the jobs many would deem unpleasant. Always respectful to the workers and the jobs they performed, Rowe got positive feedback from people he had worked with while taping a show.

“A lot of people came up to Mike after the show, saying ‘thanks for making my job cool again,’” Sullivan said.

In its early stages, the main focus of Profoundly Disconnected was to create awareness about problems with young adults leaving college with huge amounts of debt and no job prospects. mrWF wanted to create awareness for education alternatives to a four-year degree program that could result in a good career in industries like the ones Rowe highlighted in his television show. The Profoundly Disconnected project grew, including into its Chew and Swallow agriculture awareness program.

Farmers were always a group Rowe held in high esteem, so doing a campaign to reconnect the common person with the people who raise their food made sense.

“Obviously, farming was big on Dirty Jobs, and as Mike would say that if you look around, everything is basically due to a farmer or a miner. That’s where it all starts,” said Sullivan.

So Sullivan, Rowe and their partners wanted to elevate others’ views of farmers.

“We think farming in general needs a PR campaign. We think people have become disconnected from their food. Inadvertently, we don’t appreciate that a small percent of the population feeds 100 percent of us. That comes through dedication, technological advances and a hard work ethic — all of which are things we like to support,” Sullivan said.

But not just any public relations campaign would work.

“The difficulty is, we believe, most of the traditional type of PR campaigns don’t work. I think if you have violins playing in the background, people tend to tune it out. After a failed attempt to participate in the more traditional thing, we kind of said, let’s do something that’s kind of fun and cheeky and put it out there.”

Many of you — like me — may think you are pretty well “connected,” but the results may surprise you.

Gregory helped provide a list of agriculture trivia questions to test website viewers’ knowledge. Rowe and his crew also produced a series of videos, which Gregory said he thought were “absolutely hilarious.”

Quizzes help demonstrate the disconnect

On the Profoundly Disconnected Chew and Swallow website, a series of quizzes let you know just how connected or disconnected you are with the source of your food.

Many of you — like me — may think you are pretty well “connected,” but the results may surprise you.

Here is a sampling of questions:

  • How many cans of soda will 1 bushel of corn sweeten?
  • What is the top cotton-producing state?
  • What is America’s largest cash crop in terms of bushels?
  • True or False: Is cotton a food crop?
  • How many blueberries are grown in the U.S. each year?

Once the quiz is completed, a video featuring Rowe speaking to the viewer can be seen. If you do poorly, he doesn’t humiliate. Instead, he just tells the website visitor “you are not connected to your food the way you’d like to be,” then he encourages visitors to do a little research.

Sullivan said they have never tracked the percentage of questions that are answered correctly. She said the aim is simply to educate while having a little fun at the same time.

Potential growth for the Profoundly Disconnected project

Gregory sees a lot of value in Profoundly Disconnected, and he hopes others will as well. He admits the initiative “has not grown into something as big as what the McCloskeys hoped it would, ” he also understands there are limitations to what the mrWF staff can do with the funding they have, and he encourages others in agriculture production to become involved.

Sullivan would like to see the project grow and welcomes new donors or sponsors.

“If the industries want to get together to build something broader, I think there is a lot that can be done online or otherwise,” she said.

People interested in getting involved are encouraged by Sullivan to go to the mrWF website, either through the “Giving Options” page or the “Mailbag” page.