Farm women across the country -- wives, mothers and daughters -- are reaching out to their town-dwelling counterparts to begin a conversation about safe food and how farmers grow the food on dinner tables from coast to coast. They are calling themselves CommonGround, and that is exactly what they seek to find.
"As farm wives, our main goal is to communicate with urban moms, because they are the ones who make the food choices," says Sara Ross, a farm wife, mother, marketing manager and CommonGround volunteer in Iowa.
Like many other women involved in CommonGround, Ross grew up in town but married a farmer, which gives her and several of her CommonGround friends a unique opportunity to connect with others.
"I grew up in a small town, but not growing up on a farm, I never really thought about how my food got from a farm to my plate -- food came from a grocery store and that was that," she says. "Now that I live on a farm with my husband, my perspective has changed and I want to make sure people understand why we do what we do."
Whether it is blogging, using Facebook or Twitter, uploading farm videos to YouTube, beginning a positive discussion about a negative story concerning production agriculture, or even setting up a booth at a grocery store, these busy ladies are taking time to volunteer for a cause close to their hearts.
"I’m really passionate about agriculture and I am a farmer," says Gretchen Mossbarger, a volunteer in Ohio. "A lot of what we do is simply being a good example of how easy it is to talk about food with those who have concerns."
The Ohio volunteers recently joined the ranks of CommonGround, and, to announce their involvement in the initiative, they held a "kick-off dinner." The farm women invited women influencers, policymakers, public figures and even journalists to dinner so they could begin a conversation with them about local food production.
"We had dinner in Upper Arlington," Mossbarger says. "Over dinner. we got to spend a couple hours answering any questions that they had about food production and we got to tell them about our farms."
Many in attendance contacted the group afterwards to find out more about what they were doing and to offer their support. Mossbarger says that she measures their success by the responsiveness of those who they communicate their message with.
Each state controls how this grassroots effort operates in their state, and the volunteers have the opportunity to do as much or as little as they want to. Some states are more active than others and some volunteers are more active than others.
"The biggest challenge we face is managing our time and making time to give to CommonGround," Ross says. "Many of us have full-time jobs off the farm and have families and farm life, and our days get really full."
Full schedules aren’t stopping them. Ross says that in Iowa they have done many county events as well as state events and even had a booth at the Iowa State Fair. She says that her CommonGround friends in Nebraska have been particularly busy, even putting on cooking demonstrations at some local trade shows. Mossbarger says that even though the group in Ohio is new, they are hitting the ground running and doing their best to talk to as many people as they can.
"We are being really proactive, but when you are first getting started, it is hard to have a full speaking schedule," she continues. "But we are very active on Facebook and Twitter."
The joint effort to get women involved in advocating for agriculture started by the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and United Soybean Board (USB) began a year ago in five pilot states -- Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kentucky and Indiana -- but has now expanded to 12 states and several dozen volunteers. Despite their impressive growth and their passion to forge ahead, these women have not blazed this trail without meeting adversity.
"We’ve gotten some negative press about being farm wives and being the face of agriculture, and we don’t know why," Ross says. "We responded to some of the negativity, but we seek to keep everything positive."
She says that despite the rough patches, the group remains focused on their mission. Mossbarger says everyone she has talked to has been willing to listen. As her group reaches out to those with concerns about food production, she agrees with Ross that keeping the conversation positive is important and she hopes that she can provide a different perspective than what might have caused the concern to begin with.
NCGA and USB hope to see CommonGround expand into the 35 corn- and soybean-producing states soon and to eventually have involvement in all 50 states on some level.