COUNTRY MOUSE AND CITY MOUSE… MAKE THAT COUNTRY MOMS AND CITY MOMS

Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in what’s called a “meetup.” In basic terms, it’s a get together organized on the internet, which anyone can choose to attend. You may or may not know anyone there. Generally there is a topic or theme for the occasion, thus those that attend self-select based on their interests.

At this “meetup”, the 3 dozen or so attendees came to meet farm moms and have a conversation about farms and food. And boy, were the conversations buzzing!

First of all, the meetup was held at a place called Little Beans Café. It’s interesting to me that parents would pay a membership to have a place for their kids to play, but I guess that’s just an aspect of city life with which I’m unfamiliar. The part I was familiar with was the coffee shop! At Little Beans, you can sit down and enjoy a fresh coffee drink while your little one’s enjoy the climate and germ controlled play area.

I could go on and on about the various conversations and observations. Instead, I’ll just make a quick list.

  • The types of questions and concerns we heard fell into thematic areas with which we anticipated.
  • Many of the questions came straight from the script of Food, Inc.
  • The moms, in many cases, just want to know that they don’t have to worry about whatever they’re worrying about!
  • They became concerned about labeling and terms like “organic” and “Angus beef,” even feeling duped when they came to understand the marketing process.
  • One-on-one conversations are the way to go.
  • Social media (like this blog) is a great way to start the conversation and carry-on with it after face to face dialogue.

We’re on the right track with what the Illinois Corn Marketing Board is doing in terms of reaching out to different, influential audiences. The cooperative effort dubbed Illinois Farm Families (www.watchusgrow.org) is a great outreach component. We can apply these lessons at the Corn Crib and at NASCAR events, everywhere non-farmers are gathered and interested in food and farming!

But none of this is worth anything if the FARMERS are not involved in the conversation.

Have you talked with someone recently that challenged the way you think? Are you prepared for that to happen?

Just a little food for thought!

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMBA Communicatios Director

HEAT ADVISORY DOESN’T STOP FARMERS

In Bloomington, IL today, the temperature hovered just below triple digits.  The “feels like” temperature approached 120 degrees.  Ninety percent of the worker bees in Bloomington hid in their cubicles with the a/c running full blast, only to dash to the comfort of their air conditioned cars at 5 pm.

Farmers didn’t.

All over Illinois today there were farmers taking care of their livestock.  Making sure water troughs were filled, fans were running, and sprinkler systems were operational was a priority.  The hogs and cattle that are residents of our great state may not have suffered in the heat as much as the farmers did, who continued to work hard while the rest of us sat in front of a computer to escape.

Is the farmer the only one toiling in the heat?  Most definitely not.  Construction workers, landscape artists, and millions of others are doing the same to serve the people in the communities around them.  You recognize them and you thank them – maybe not enough – but you do.

Of the farmer’s commitment to care for his animals, you throw stones.  You criticize his motives, his attachment to the lives in his care, and his judgment.  You attempt to tell him how to do his job.  You push for legislation that will ensure that he cannot care of these animals ever again, nor give the same commitment to his children.

Maybe today you can rethink the skepticism.  Maybe today you can believe that the farmer is committed to animal care, animal welfare, and animal safety.

Maybe today, from the comfort of your 74 degree cube, you can understand that the farmer cares for his animals before himself.

And you can thank him for the safest food products in the world.

CITY PRODUCE PROJECT – ROUND TWO

With the help of valued industry partners including Syngenta and Monsanto, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board participated in the inaugural year of the City Produce Project in 2010. Now we’re back with nearly two dozen more Illinois farmers that will be growing sweet corn on their farms to donate to underprivileged families around the state.

The City Produce Project worked to positively impact the growing problem of poor eating habits, food insecurity, obesity, and diabetes by providing fresh, locally grown vegetables and nutrition education to low income communities. As an extension, Illinois corn farmers also used sweet corn seed generously provided through partner seed companies to support their local food pantries, soup kitchens, or other food outreach organizations.

In its 2010 pilot year, approximately 75,000 pounds of produce, including several tons of sweet corn, were distributed to inner city sites in urban food deserts where recipients accessed the produce through local pantries and enrolled in nutrition education programs to learn how to effectively use the fresh vegetables in their diets. It was a very successful beginning.

Specifically regarding the sweet corn component, 22 corn farmers received and planted the sweet corn seed donated by the partnering seed companies. A few of the crops were devastated by the early season rains, but the majority yielded a very successful harvest. The participating farmers reported great personal satisfaction in their experience, relaying stories about gaining a new understanding of the food needs in their communities. The sweet corn harvest also allowed for several facets of the local area to work together, introducing agriculture and corn to their conversations.

Recipients of the Chicago-area fresh produce overwhelming reported that the sweet corn component was the most valuable contribution to their family.

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director

MEET AN ILLINOIS CORN FARMER: DONNA JESCHKE!

Donna is a mother, grandmother, wife and business partner. She participates in all aspects of their family farming operation and she can’t wait to share her story with you!

If you have questions for Donna about her life on the farm, her experience as a farm wife, or her interest in talking to others about agriculture, leave them in the comments!

WATCH US GROW

We haven’t talked much about it, if at all, but the Illinois Corn Marketing Board is part of a group of Illinois commodity groups that are trying harder to connect with our urban cousins.  We’ve been conducting research for a while about what non-farmers think of us and what they’d like to know more about.  We found out things about the way we talk with non-farmers (we get too technical most often) and what they’d like to know more about (namely, they’d like to know US and feel like they can trust us).

And now we’re doing something about it.

The Illinois Corn Marketing Board, the Illinois Beef Association, the Illinois Farm Bureau, the Illinois Pork Producers Association, and the Illinois Soybean Association – who represent probably every farmer in Illinois among the six of us – have come together to reconnect with consumers.  And we’re calling ourselves “Illinois Farm Families.”  Because that’s who we are and we’re proud of it!

First, check us out at www.watchusgrow.org.  We’ve got a blog there for urbanites to read more about what we do and we’re inviting “Field Moms” to apply to visit several farms and video and blog about their experiences.

Second, if you’re a farmer that wants to get involved, let us know.  There are multiple opportunities for you to connect with your customer and we’d love to help you find just the right fit.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

MEET BILL CHRIST, ILLINOIS CORN FARMER

You may remember seeing Bill before, but now you can truly meet him and find out what makes him tick!  Bill is currently serving as Vice Chairman for the Illinois Corn Marketing Board but he has so many interests besides just corn!  Geneology, livestock, grapes and wine … you’ll probably find that you and Bill have something in common too!