SAN LUIS OBIPSO, Calif. — Young people across the country are showing their support for American farmers and ranchers through involvement in a student-based organization.

I Love Farmers… They Feed My Soul, a nonprofit effort to increase awareness and spark conversations about agriculture, began in 2008.

A group of college students at California Polytechnic State University came up with the idea after seeing peers voting on important agricultural issues based on media influence and not on facts.

“Our whole goal is to start conversations with young people about food, about agriculture, to have more information,” said Luke DeGroot, vice president of the group.

“This group was started at Cal Poly, but it is not a Cal Poly organization. It’s not a college club. It’s everywhere — it’s a grassroots movement. The way that we accomplished that and really got our message and enthusiasm spreading was leveraging web 2.0 technologies.”

DeGroot explained that web 2.0 technologies include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, websites and blogs.

Volunteers from the organization also visit schools and talk to their peers face to face. The target audience is young adults 14 to 24, mostly in urban areas.

“We created a presence and space for ag dominated by future decision makers,” DeGroot said. “Young people are constantly being bombarded by marketing and peers, so we decided to meet our target audience where they were, which is on the web.”

DeGroot said that they’ve gained many supporters through social media and web presence.

I Love Farmers had the fastest and largest agricultural related Facebook group with more than 30,000 members.

Facebook eliminated groups and has pages now. With more than 6,000 likes, the group is gaining momentum on its page.

“When we post a picture, a question, an article, anything to get the conversation going, that means there’s a potential for 6,000 or more to see it and respond or share with their network,” DeGroot said. “It’s all about disseminating information in a quick and cost-effective manner.”

According to DeGroot, the conversation topics are issues that involve the U.S. food system and rights of farmers and ranchers.

“If technology and finance and fashion were all to collapse today, we’d still have to eat,” he said. “It really does emphasize the importance of people who grow our food.”

Those interested in being a part of the movement simply have to start talking about agriculture.

“If you want to be involved, you could get started as a team leader at school,” DeGroot said. “The next level of involvement is being a catalyst.”

I Love Farmers defines a catalyst group as people who start conversations with peers about agriculture. Catalyst groups volunteer to write blogs, are active on social media and attend speaking engagements or community events.

“Not every person is in agriculture or came from ag, but they all have a passion for agriculture now,” DeGroot said. “We’re not a membership organization or a club, but the official people we can call our own are these catalysts for conversations.

“They are the steam behind the wheels of our social media and our website. It’s been a really effective strategy to spread our word and reach our target audience.”

For more information on the organization, visit www.ilovefarmers.org or like the Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ILoveFarmers.