Sam Bartels was tickled pink when she walked into Albury's Harris Farm Markets and "the guy who made the ice-cream was serving it to me in the store".
She was, of course, referring to the North East's multi-award winning Gundowring Ice Cream, fourth-generation dairy farmers who make premium ice cream from their farm-fresh milk and locally sourced ingredients.
Ms Bartels, an agribusiness developer from Mount Macedon, Victoria, has spent a lot of time in grocery stores - both here and in the US - observing consumer behaviour.
She says it's a fascinating study as that's where most people interact with food.
It's also where farmers have their best shot at "getting to tell their stories".
And she insists now more than ever it's vital to tell - and sell - those stories as the world wrangles with weighty matters of climate change, ravaged landscapes, lost ecosystems and the challenge of growing enough food to feed its nearly 8 billion people.
Specifically Ms Bartels is referring to the regenerative farming movement, which has been described as a "system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health".
It aims to improves the resources it uses, rather than deplete them.
She was a keen observer at the recent Farming Matters conference at Albury where more than 350 people gathered to hear from the movers and shakers in the regenerative farming space.
She's excited by the potential of "regen agriculture" for consumers, retailers and producers.
"Everyone is feeling downtrodden about the state of the world and wondering how they can possibly help," says Ms Bartels, whose passion for agriculture is focused on innovation that can progress the sector as a whole.
"The food solution is complex and we need everyone at the table.
"If consumers knew they could go into a store and buy a product that actively mitigated the effects of climate change they would."
But there are some rather large pieces of the puzzle missing, according to this enterprising young woman who founded Vertical Harvest in the US, socially conscious and profitable hydroponic farms "smack bang" in the middle of urban environments.With a
These multi-storey greenhouses produce incredibly fresh local food 365 days a year no matter what the weather's doing, while also providing meaningful employment for "differently abled" people in the community.
But while she is immensely proud of her work at Vertical Harvest and "sees vertical farms as an integral part of our urban landscapes going forward", she felt the pull of the land, livestock and rural communities of home.
Ms Bartels, who grew up in Melbourne, wanted to be a farmer since she was 9 years old.
She had high hopes of becoming a producer and creating the change she wanted to see "leading by example on the land".
But after completing an agricultural science degree, Ms Bartels was to discover, to her extreme disappointment, she was a "really shit farmer".
"I realised quickly I was really bad at it and I have more of a knack for the business side," she admits cheerfully.
Now she is directing her impressive energy and marketing acumen to the other end of the food chain.
"Just like the land needs stewards, the brand needs stewards," she says by way of explanation.
"That's where I see my role in this regenerative space; someone who can't grow anything but who can help ensure the people who can are represented in the way that does this space justice."
Producers already have "the hardest job in the world", according to Ms Bartels.
"They are agronomists, accountants, mechanics, animal husbandry experts, and even HR when they need to be," she says.
"It's the nature of the Australian agricultural industry that we're not natural promoters.
"(But) just like we are trying to be forward thinking with our land management, we also have to be forward thinking with our customer management."
And these customers are developing a voracious appetite for ethically and sustainably grown food.
Leading the charge are the Millenials (those currently between the ages of 25 and 40), the largest generation and therefore largest consumer group, Ms Bartels says.
"They are coming into their prime purchasing years and globally were predicted to spend US$1.4 trillion in 2020."
Ms Bartels has gathered plate loads of data about the shopping habits of these powerful consumers.
It's food for thought for producers and retailers to re-think and re-brand what they are doing.
"This generation has a much higher interest in ethical products and scrutinise where their food comes from," Ms Bartels explains.
"Generation Z is only a more intense version of that."
Y-Pulse research found social media is Millennials' number one go-to for shopping information, with 62 per cent more likely to become a customer after interacting with a brand online.
They are loyal too (80 per cent are in loyalty programs) and 63 per cent consider themselves advocates for responsibly produced foods.
And, since COVID-19, nearly half of them are doing their grocery shopping online.
"So if you don't have a clear 'regen agriculture' drop-down tab on those sites, you're really going to miss out," Ms Bartels says.
She points to the IAG New Zealand Ipsos poll that found 4 out of 5 people (79 per cent) say climate change is an important issue for them.
Meanwhile an international study of 20,000 customers by grocery brand giant Unilever identified one in three (33 per cent) people were choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing environmental good.
Ms Bartels says there is a disconnect between people's good intentions and their purchasing.
She lists label confusion, pricing, a lack of options to buy authentic, truly environmentally sound products among the factors that could explain that difference.
Education and branding that's digestible for consumers are among the solutions at one end.
At the other end, "re-gen agriculture" is poised to reap the rewards of consumers hungry for better choices.
"People are interested in food as medicine and holistic wellness," she says.
"But would you buy medicine you couldn't read or understand label on?"
Even within the industry there is confusion, Ms Bartels says.
"People are already confused by grass-fed, or hormone-free and many more have lost faith in organic," she states.
"You have mere seconds to get your message across on a label on a supermarket shelf."
Ms Bartels believes "regen agriculture" has the potential to be the answer to many of our big-picture problems.
You have mere seconds to get your message across on a label on a supermarket shelf.Sam Bartels
"But it is an unreasonable ask to expect a consumer to understand what it is let alone seek it out on shelves and pay more for it," she adds.
It's one of the reasons Ms Bartels is such a fan of the family-owned Harris Farm Markets grocery chain, whose catch phrase is "for the greater goodness".
"Harris Farm is an incredible retailer - they are flying the flag," she says.
The chain, which recently opened an Albury store, has more than 130 regeneratively farmed and specifically labelled products on its shelves.
But Ms Bartels warns work needs to be done to brand and verify regenerative agriculture to ensure consumers develop an appetite for it.
"If we don't define ourselves as an industry, someone else is going to do it for us," she says.
"We need to get the message out there that if you really want to have a tangible impact on the planet, look for this brand and pay $10 more for this steak."
Her final message is for the farmers already making a difference from the ground up: "There's a whole world out there rooting for you, they just don't know about you yet."