Johanna Rohrer wants you to know the backstory behind that last apple you ate.
“Over time there’s been a buildup of misconceptions or lack of understanding of how food is produced — whether it’s here in Lancaster County, or globally,” says Rohrer, a division marketing specialist with MidAtlantic Farm Credit.
“There’s such an opportunity now to connect families to how their food is produced.”
Rohrer’s commitment to that end is one of the reasons she received the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s 2019 Young Ag Professionals “Excellence in Agriculture” award last month.
Rohrer, 31, was recognized for her leadership ability, involvement with agriculture and participation with the Farm Bureau, where she worked previously as regional organization director.
Her current day job — working for a co-op of more than 11,000 members throughout Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia — involves traveling from the Mount Joy office at least a couple days each week.
In her downtime, Rohrer volunteers in a variety of roles with the Lancaster County Farm Bureau, including working on its newsletter and website.
It’s all a continuation of the story she’s been telling since childhood, when she worked at her six-generation farm family’s market in Manheim.
“Being involved in orchard production really allowed me at a young age to interact with consumers and community members and to share with them how an apple is grown,” she says.
“What does that process look like? Sometimes it takes a number of years before a tree actually produces an apple that we eat. It’s kind of easy to take all the food we see at the grocery store for granted.”
Rohrer never has. She decided in eighth grade that ag was for her. So she opted to leave her friends in Hempfield schools to become a tuition student at Manheim Central where, she says, ag offerings better helped her prepare.
That paid off on the scholarship front, she says. She majored in agricultural sciences at Penn State University with a double minor in leadership development and family and youth education.
“I paid for my college education primarily myself, and I couldn’t have done that without the industry’s support,” she says.
Entering any aspect of agribusiness is not without challenges, she says.
“Most people don’t realize that it’s really hard to get into farming, and it’s very expensive,” she says.
“The people who choose that as their future goal? It’s important that as a community we respect some of the challenges they’re facing and we try to support that — especially with the rich heritage we have here in Lancaster County.”
Rohrer says she never gave much thought to what she’d be doing if it weren’t agribusiness related, though she’s lately been scrutinizing the world beyond. She tries to hit two or three conferences each year that have no immediate connection to agriculture.
“Reaching outside my comfort zone over the past two years is something I’ve focused on,” she says. “I have spent an incredible amount of time in the industry, studying the industry. And it is important to me to see what kind of technology is out there, what kind of communications strategies other folks are using.”
Millennials are helping shape that landscape, says Rohrer.
“I work with a lot of people my age or slightly younger in agribusiness,” she says.
That’s partly related to what she describes as big gaps in generations.
“A farm may not have transitioned from one generation to the next,” she says. “And now there are a group of millennials who are trying to enter the industry.”
Her cohort realizes, Rohrer says, that to do that they must effectively identify emerging markets and find a way to truly connect with consumers.
Several social media influencers offer examples.
She points to The Peterson Farm Brothers — Kansas siblings who pump out song parodies on YouTube such as “Tractor Stuck” (think AC/DC) and “Farmer Rock Anthem.”
Rohrer follows the Rural Gone Urban Facebook page, produced by a woman with a master’s degree in international agriculture who now works as a strategist for agriculture and food industries.
And she listens to “The Millennial Farmer” podcast of a fifth-generation farmer in Minnesota.
Rohrer now mentors the Gen Z generation, which Pew Research defines as people age 22 and younger. She’s been coaching 4-H for nine years.
In addition, she helps on her family farm on weekends and at their farm market during peak times. She must also fit in caring for her three horses, Prince, Princess and Star.
Rohrer always had a horse growing up. She rode in her free time, as leaving the farm during the spring and summer wasn’t an option.
“I didn’t realize that it was weird not to go on vacation as a kid,” Rohrer says.
“Of course, most little girls don’t get to grow up with horses,” she adds. “But I guess I didn’t realize the sacrifice of living on a farm until I got a little bit older. Our farm families sacrifice in ways that maybe the average community member doesn’t realize. Your life is definitely a little different.”
Rohrer says her parents gave enough exposure to options beyond agriculture to know in the end that what she grew up with is where she’s meant be.
“I was able to embrace what I’m passionate about,” she says. “Whether I’m producing food or working in the industry, there’s an impact, something bigger than yourself. And for me, that’s just really important in my career.”