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By Emily Paster
I have had so many fun and enriching experiences as a result of writing this blog and one of the best has been the chance to meet and connect with farmers and people who work in agriculture. As someone who grew up in a city and has spent her whole life in urban and suburban areas, I knew very little about how the food was produced. But as my interest in cooking grew, I naturally began to take an interest in where the ingredients I used came from. I became a farmers' market junkie. I began to read and seek out information on issues relating to food, like organic versus conventional farming, antibiotic use in livestock and sustainable farming. Like so many others, I was overwhelmed and confused by the contradictory information I found.
Through my blogging, I have had opportunities that most urban and suburban consumers do not. I have been able to tour farms and put my questions about how my food is produced directly to the men and women who produce it. I have also had a chance to represent the concerned consumer at agriculture industry events and be part of an honest and productive dialogue between consumers and producers. These experiences have permanently changed the way I feel about food production in this country and I am grateful for them.
In 2011, Illinois Farm Families created a program designed to give Chicago-area parents these same kind of opportunities to visit Illinois farms and ask their toughest questions of the farmers themselves. The Field Moms program, as it was called, enabled a group of urban and suburban moms to take trips to different kinds of farms — all located here in Illinois — speak to the farmers and other people who work in agriculture. The Field Moms then shared their experiences through social media, print and video. I even got to go on one of the trips and it was such a fun and informative experience.
The Field Moms program was such a resounding success that Illinois Farm Families is offering it again in 2013. A group of moms from the Chicago area will have a chance to take at least five day-long tours of different farms from around the state and learn more about such hot-button topics as conventional versus organic farming, GMOs, animal welfare, hormones and antibiotics and sustainable farming. The Field Moms will meet farmers who raise beef cattle, dairy cows and pigs and grow corn, soybeans and canning vegetable produce. They will get to follow the growing cycle, from spring planting to fall harvest.
If you are someone who cares deeply about nutrition, food safety, or the environment, this is a unique opportunity to seek out the information you desire without any middleman. Ask your questions. Get answers. Draw your own conclusions. And then share what you have learned.
The tour dates for the 2013 Field Moms program are as follows. The Field Moms are expected to attend at least five of these events:
- February 23
- May 18
- June 22
- July 27
- September 21
- November 9
Field Moms must also be willing to share their experiences through social media and written and video statements. As a Field Mom, you represent all the other moms out there with questions and concerns about how our food is raised. You will provide a crucial link between the producer and the consumer and be part of breaking down some of the barriers that have led to confusion and mistrust. We know that being a Field Mom is a big commitment, but it is also a tremendous opportunity to be a part of something very worthwhile.
The deadline to apply to be a Field Mom is January 31. To apply, go to the Illinois Farm Families' website here. You can also learn more about what the 2011-12 Field Moms did during their year and get the answer to any questions you may have. I very much hope that some of my readers apply and maybe I will see you on one of the tours! I definitely hope to come along again.
Full disclosure time: I have been engaged by Illinois Farm Families to help spread the word about the Field Moms program and I am being compensated for my work. All opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.