PRAIRIE DU SAC, Wis. — There are plenty of reasons why farmers should know about Culver’s as one of its biggest agricultural community supporters.

One of the first reasons is related to Culver’s origins in an ag-centric state — Wisconsin.

Illinois AgriNews recently talked to Culver’s CEO Joe Koss in a telephone interview about his company’s unique relationship with farmers and why the restaurant franchise continues with its “Thank You Farmers Project.” Here’s what he had to say:

Were any of the Culver family involved in farming?

There wasn’t necessarily a direct connection with the family but one of our co-founders was involved with the area dairy industry. I think the family has always appreciated the hard work farm families do to provide them. It’s been a strong connection since 1984.

What is your farmer appreciation campaign?

It’s been about five years now since we kicked off what we call the “Thank You Farmers Project.” Over the years, we’ve supported various causes, but this one really we see as a great partnership.

For one, it’s about showing our appreciation for agriculture and for the farming community. Part of it as well is about helping educate our guests — the general public — on where our food comes from. I think many people don’t understand the effort it takes to bring food to their tables. We’re trying to help educate our guests.

And in addition to that, it’s about providing financial support for the ag industry in part.

What is Culver’s relationship with FFA?

We’ve had a strong connection with the FFA. Over the past five years, we’re very proud to say that we’ve donated nearly $2 million to both the FFA and other local organizations. That’s a combined effort in our franchise community. Our owner operators have stepped up to the plate to help support and our guests have gotten behind us. They are supporting the causes, as well.

Do all Culver’s work with FFA?

There’s flexibility for the owner operators. We encourage them to reach out to the local FFA chapters and make an effort to support those chapters. But there are any number of ways that they can reach their communities through any organization, not just FFA.

We have a Share Night when a percentage of sales are donated to an organization. We also have system wide programs in place. We have the Scoops of Thanks Day where guests can buy a scoop of custard and we donate the cost of that scoop.

Culver’s system-wide raised over $111,000 just on that day. It’s a lot of custard. It’s a way for our operators and our customers to get together to help support their communities.

Do the franchise owners have autonomy in how they give back?

One of the most special things about Culver’s is how our franchisees support their communities, and they do that in many different ways. We certainly encourage them to give back and to support those with a need in their communities, and that includes support for the ag industry, the farming community and FFA.

We talk about reaching out to the local FFA chapters and find ways to support. It’s up to them to find ways to support them.

Were you a member of FFA?

I was born and raised in Wisconsin so I was surrounded by the farming community. While I was not in FFA, I am now very active with FFA.

We are taking field trips to local farms to get a better understanding of what the day in the life of a farmer is like. It’s been very beneficial for us. The more we learn, the better we can communicate with our guests and tell an honest and accurate story about farming. I think there are some misconceptions out there. The better educated we are, the better and more accurate story we can share. It’s been a neat experience for us and we’re going to continue to do that.

What have you learned on the field trips?

We certainly appreciate everything they do each and every day. We’re a part of the food industry together and they grow and raise great food to be prepared and served up for our guests. We want to thank them for it, of course. We’d also like to encourage them to speak up, as well.

Through our research, we’ve found that farmers are very well-respected and people will listen. Farmers don’t necessarily want to brag about what they do. But we’re going to help tell their story.

What’s next for the Thank You Farmer Project?

We hope it will continue to grow. It’s been a terrific program for us, and we’re continuing to enhance the program. We understand that the world population continues to grow … the resources are not growing along with it so farmers need to do more with less.

How do we support the future of agriculture? Resources are limited.

What’s your favorite frozen custard flavor?

That’s like picking my favorite child — peanut butter cup, but I do have many.

Karen Binder can be reached at 618-534-0614 or kbinder@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Binder.

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