Finding Common Ground

01:30PM Nov 12, 2011
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Farm women seek to connect with urban moms

Across the country, a group of farm women are reaching out to their town-dwelling counterparts to help them connect the dots from the food that is on their table to the farmer who raises it. The group is called CommonGround—and that’s 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 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."

Finding Common Ground
Like many CommonGround volunteers, Iowa farm wife Sara Ross (right) shares her story with fellow moms at the grocery store.

Ways to engage. 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."

A number of Ohio volunteers recently joined the efforts 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 journalists to the dinner so they could begin a conversation about local food production.

"We had dinner in Upper Arlington," Mossbarger says. "Over dinner, we got to spend a couple hours answering any questions our guests had about food production, and we got to tell them about our farms."

Many people in attendance contacted the group afterward to offer their support. Mossbarger says she measures the group’s success by the responsiveness of those they communicate their message with.

Spread the word. Each state group controls how the grassroots effort operates in its state. Some states are more active than others, and some volunteers are more active than others.
"The biggest challenge is managing our time and making time for CommonGround," Ross says. "Many of us have full-time jobs off the farm, families and farm life—our days are full."

Their busy schedules aren’t stopping them, though. Ross says that her group in Iowa has done county and state events, as well as having a booth at the Iowa State Fair. She says her CommonGround friends in Nebraska have been busy putting on cooking demonstrations at local trade shows. Even though the Ohio group is new, Mossbarger says, they are hitting the ground running and doing their best to talk to as many people as they can, which means being active on Facebook and Twitter.

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and United Soybean Board (USB) started the effort to get women involved in agriculture advocacy a year ago in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Today, CommonGround has expanded to 12 states and dozens of volunteers. Despite this impressive growth, these women have not blazed this trail without meeting adversity.

"We’ve gotten some negative press about being farm wives and [presenting ourselves as] 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."

NCGA and USB hope to see CommonGround expand into the 35 corn- and soybean-producing states in the near future. Eventually, the organizations hope to have involvement in all 50 states on some level.