Farmers wear a lot of hats – literally and figuratively. Nearly four years ago, Illinois pig farmer Kent Blunier, decided there were too many people who didn’t understand agriculture and he wanted to help people see what farming is really about.
Not knowing exactly how to best do this, he decided he’d start up a Facebook group where farmers could share their stories to help people unfamiliar with farming learn how their food is produced. He hoped for 200-300 followers. He reached that goal in the first 24 hours.
Today Farm Hats, his facebook group, reaches nearly 13,000 followers (about 25% are not farmers) and not only provides a glimpse into farming, but also creates an opportunity for farmers to share about the many hats they wear every day with their peers.
“Farmers are busy every day of the year,” Blunier says. “They do their best to produce safe food – I just wanted to help share that story with the world.”
When an Idea Catches on Fire
Not long after the group started, the obvious question was posed. “When will we be able to buy a Farm Hats hat?”
Blunier laughs that selling hats was the last thing he was trying to do.
“I’m not a fashion guru or graphic designer,” he says. “But I went online and found a site that helped me create a logo. I made up t-shirts the first time around. It seemed wrong to me to profit from the shirts. I’m a farmer and I know money is tight sometimes.”
He decided to give the profits to Illinois Ag in the Classroom. The first t-shirt order brought in $500, he says. Not long after, the Illinois Corn Growers Association approached him to make hats for them and the first Farm Hats were given away at the 2015 Farm Progress Show in their booth.
Since then, he’s continued to sell hats and apparel with all proceeds going to agricultural orgs. To date, Farm Hats has generated more than $7,000 to help young people in agriculture.
“Kent’s Farm Hat project helps us with awareness to careers involving agriculture – both typical production and those associated around and off the farm,” said Kevin Daugherty, director of the Illinois Center for Agricultural Engagement. “The Farm Hats project helps us show how students can be involved on the farm and off the farm in agriculture.”
On April 1, Blunier completed his most recent philanthropic project – a 365-day challenge to wear a different hat and photograph it each day on Farm Hats, just after vaccinating 1,100 pigs on his farm.
“A local ag business leader asked me how many hats I had and challenged me to wear a different hat each day for one year. At the end of the year, he would give me $500 to support any ag org I wanted,” he said. “I started that journey on April 1, 2018 and have not worn the same hat twice.”
Blunier plans to split the money locally and nationally between 4-H and FFA.
How Do You Store 365 Hats?
365 hats is a rather large collection and storage dilemma. He stores his hats in plastic tubs in his office and in his hog house, of course.
“We have an area in our office in the hog barn where I store my hat tubs,” he says. “I keep about 15 hats on my desk at all times. Some of my favorites sit on my shelf. Once this challenge is over, I plan to go back to wearing my favorites again.”
On April 1, he donated a large portion of his hats to Jerry’s Hat Museum in his hometown of Forrest, Ill.
“I have plenty of hats these days and I am happy to share them with the museum,” Blunier says.
It’s Not Just About Hats
For Blunier, the most rewarding part of this journey are the people that he’s met along the way.
“Everyone says social media causes disconnect. But I see people connecting all over the country because of this page and their common interests,” he says. “Everyone wants to help and seeing that helpfulness is rewarding. How can you not be inspired by people coming together to support each other through the ups and downs of life?”
Ashley Niemann of Dwight, Neb., says the Farm Hats group has become like a family.
“I love this page because it has brought tons of ag-related families together from across the world in order to educate America on how agriculture and farmers really work,” Niemann says.
Her husband, Chris, is a fourth-generation farmer raising soybeans, corn and cattle. He also serves as one of the page’s administrators. A few years ago, Blunier added Chris and Matthew Boucher to assist him in maintaining the page.
For some followers of Farm Hats, it’s helpful to get a glimpse of what farmers are doing in other parts of the country as well as other nations.
“There’s always someone else in a similar situation to help you remember you’re not the only one having trouble,” says an Illinois farmer. “It’s a place to see and share these challenges we all face.”
Some of the group members of Farm Hats are not farmers and are not involved in an agricultural career, but this community ties them back to their childhood or to an industry they wish to learn more about.
Blunier admits it’s also been a fun way to connect with his 10-year-old son, aka “Mater” online.
“He likes to be involved and take selfies with me,” Blunier says. “He also gets a lot of free hats out of it, too.”
In an era where transparency reigns, Blunier says this group gives people the opportunity to be an advocate for agriculture and share their story by snapping a photo and giving a two-sentence explanation about what they are doing and why it matters.
“Some people don’t want to write a blog or don’t feel like they have enough to say,” Blunier says. “This gives them an easy way to contribute to the greater good.”