By Emily Paster
For several years, Illinois Farm Families has sought bridge the divide between food consumers and food producers through its Field Moms program. This program brings mothers from the Chicago area to farms all around Illinois during different times of year to see what life is like on the farm and to put their toughest questions to the farmers themselves. The Field Moms share their experiences with a wide audience through interviews, blog posts and social media. The goal? To demystify agricultural production for urban and suburban parents who may have had very little direct exposure to farming. Illinois Farm Families is currently accepting applications for the 2014 Field Moms program. The deadline is December 15, so if you are interested, do not wait to apply.
For those of you who are wondering what the Field Moms program is like and what you might gain from participating, I present my interview with Diane Letson. Diane lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter. Access to healthy food is an issue near and dear to Diane's heart: she works for Feeding America, a leading domestic hunger-relief charity with a nationwide network of over 200 food banks. At this time of year, it is sobering to remember that millions of Americans face food insecurity. Recent government cuts have only increased the need and Diane reports that local food banks are feeling the pressure from these cuts. So, it is definitely important to keep your local food pantry in mind in your end-of-the-year charitable giving.
When not working to ensure that all families have adequate access to nutritious food, Diane loves to cook for her own family, including her picky daughter — something I can relate to! Here are some excerpts from my interview with Diane:
Why did you want to become a Field Mom?
A co-worker forwarded the application and description for becoming a Field Mom because she thought I would be interested, and once I read the information I wanted to apply. I am familiar with manufacturing food and with how grocery stores operate, but the whole farm-to-fork process was still a bit of a mystery to me. I wanted to understand challenges the farmers face, and learn more about how our soil and environment is treated when crops are grown and livestock is raised.
How did your desire to become a Field Mom relate to your work at Feeding America?
At Feeding America, the entire network of 203 food banks and the national office are focused on trying to secure and distribute more fresh produce to people in need. When you are financially strapped buying fresh produce can be an obstacle because typically fresh produce isn't cheap food. At the national office and at the local level, we work with the agricultural community however we are seeking additional ways to bring fresh produce to people in need. We have wonderful partners in the farming community including Howard Buffet who launched an innovative concept called Invest An Acre.
What did you take away from your experience as Field Mom? Do you think about food differently? Do you shop differently?
One of the greated takeaways that I have from being a 2013 Illinois Field Mom is that family farms are incredibly concerned about the soil, water, and air quality. They want their farms to be productive for future generations and therefore are careful stewards of the earth. I was also greatly impressed by the level of technology that is used daily on farms from soil sampling to planting to experts who can discern what is ailing, say, corn stalks. Science, math, and technology are deeply embedded in farming, and that was eye-opening.
I have been thinking about produce a bit differently and thinking about when one produce item is truly at its peak. In some cases, I have been purchasing a bit more organic where it makes sense due to pesticides. Also, I have been looking for more locally sourced produce to support Illinois farmers.
Who should consider applying to become a Field Mom?
I think that any mom who is interested in food and interested in learning with an open mind should apply. Farming is vastly interesting, and I feel as though I only scratched the surface of understanding agriculture and family farming.
And now a food blogger question: what do you like to cook for your own family?
I enjoy trying new recipes and falling back on some either favorites or recipes that always turn out well. I try to mix up each week with a combination of heavier meals and lighter vegetarian meals. We usually have a large salad with dinner in addition to a vegetable. Some of my favorite recipes are Butternut Squash Risotto, Kale with Spicy Sausage, Black Bean Mole Stew, Cornbread Sausage Skillet Dinner, Swedish Meatballs, Vegetable Parmesan, and a Feta and Sun-dried Tomato Meatloaf. I also love to bake, and will probably make an apple cherry pie for Thanksgiving dessert.
Well, that all sounds delicious! I have to get the recipe for that Black Bean Mole. Thanks so much to Diane for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing her thoughts on her experience as a Field Mom. I really encourage all of my readers who have an interest in food production and agriculture to consider applying for the Field Mom program for 2014.I have been on some of the Field Moms tours and they really are both fun and utterly fascinating. We are all concerned about food safety, sustainability, and combating food insecurity in our communities. Farmers of all kinds and varieties are key to ensuring that all Americans have access to safe, nutritious and affordable food.
Full disclosure time: In my role as a Brand Ambassador for Illinois Farm Families, I am being compensated for my time and writing. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.