The Illinois Farm Families organization can help you make decisions about your food, where it comes from and how it’s grown.
Face it: We, as parents, are often judged by what we feed our children. I can’t count how many times I inadvertently have been pulled into a conversation with another parent about the benefits of buying organic this or non-GMO that. Tired of trying to determine fact from fiction and wondering if our food really came from a farm or a large factory, I found a group that is dedicated to providing education about farming in Illinois to urban parents like me: the Illinois Farm Families.
Illinois Farm Families hosts moms from the Chicago area (and surrounding suburbs) on tours of family-run farms. The programs lasts for a year and I was able to tour at least 4 different types of farms including those that concentrated on hogs, cattle, corn and soy as well as a dairy farm. At the end of the tour of the farms, we also explored a grocery store to learn how food is transported from the farm to the processor and finally to the store. I spent much of the year redefining my erroneous views of how our food is grown, processed and sold. Most importantly, I gained a better understanding of what it means to have GMO and non-GMO grown food. When my friends asked me what I got out of the program I always said the same thing: “I learned so much that I think you should apply to be a Field Mom too.” In other words, don’t take my word for it, go out and meet the people who are growing and caring for your food!
The mission of the group isn’t to sell the Field Moms on why we should buy one type of product over another; it is to get the word out about Illinois Farms and get rid of the mystery (and stereotypes) of what it means to be a farmer and live on a farm. The Field Moms met with farmers and other agricultural representatives from both the pro-organic and pro-GMO sides of the farming industry. Both sides were passionate about their beliefs and were willing to answer some of our (okay my) outrageous questions. We learned that not all farmers are alike. For a growing portion of the Illinois family owned farms, women are considered the “head” farmer or at the very least equal partners with their male relatives. Running a successful farm is less about manually planting the seeds and more about using the latest and greatest technology to ensure a successful harvest. For instance, all of the farms that we visited used GPS guided planters to maximize their acreage and plant the best seed for a particular type of soil.
Finally, we had the opportunity to volunteer at a food bank. I have to be honest, although I was looking forward to spending time with many of the women with whom I made lasting friendships, I was not too excited to spend a precious Saturday throwing meat and stuffing boxes of dried goods. Once again, I was wrong! This was a wonderful experience. It made me appreciate how much food is actually wasted in this country and what I could do to help others gain access to healthy, non-processed meals. In fact, when I became a Federally Licensed Health Navigator later that year, I often referred my Medicaid eligible clients to the Northern Illinois Food Bank. I cannot wait to have another chance to volunteer at this very needed and dynamic facility.
My experience with Illinois Farm Families didn’t end with the volunteer work at the Northern Illinois Food Bank. I was invited to speak at the Illinois Soybean Growers Conference about my experience as a Field Mom. My experiences truly influenced my perceptions about the modern farming industry and where our food comes from. More importantly, I had the chance to meet women, who are very much like me: Mothers, Business Women, Wives, Pet Owners and Dynamic. What was once a seemingly insurmountable difference between these women and me; that they lived on a farm and I, in a city, seemed irrelevant by the end of my year.
If you would like to learn more, or even apply to be a part of this years city moms touring farms, then I suggest you check out the application HERE. Deadline to apply is November 15, 2014. Trust me, you will be glad that you applied.