Who doesn't love a road trip? I have been game for hitting the open road with a girlfriend since, well, since I turned 16 and could. My first was but days after my 16th birthday, when my best friend and I loaded up in my mom's Caprice Classic and headed to the big city, where we each got a second hole pierced in just one of our ears. We were total rebels.
So when the opportunity arose to travel to Chicago on behalf of Illinois Farm Families for an evening with a group of Chicago moms, I jumped on it. So did Emily Webel, of Confessions of a Farm Wife fame. In fact, we commenced to emailing each other pretty much instantly and formulating our wild plans. The lengthy exchange ended with a reference to cruising the square in high school; I'm not sure how we got to that point in our conversation but it was a fun one.
Anyway, again. The plan was to meet up with two other farm moms, Deb Moore and Donna Jeschke, at a café, along with some 40 Chicago area moms who are either bloggers or who are part of a moms group that expressed interest in knowing more about their food supply. It was, in a word, fascinating.
We surveyed the scene, as women poured into the café. We talked and greeted and learned a bit about each other. Then we four farm women introduced ourselves and told a bit about our families and farm operations. Almost immediately after introductions were over, a lovely young woman named Katherine came over and simply gushed that if she'd been asked to pick out the four farm moms in the group, she never would have picked us. "You're so trendy!" she said. "You're dressed like us. You all are, like, hot farm moms!"
I had (and still have) no idea how to respond to that, as I've never heard those exact words strung together in regard to a group I'm a part of, but it was a fascinating observation. And as I questioned her and a group of other women, I learned that they really and truly expected us to be in jeans and boots and plaid shirts. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Someone asked Emily if she wore bibs. "Um, no," she said. I admitted I sometimes wear Carhartt bibs to do chores and pull calves in the winter, but that's it. I haven't worn bibs as a fashion statement since the mid-1990s, and I'm not ever sure if I should admit that.
Fashion aside, we then divided into three groups, and the four of us rotated through each group. We took questions like:
- What do you think about documentaries like King Corn?
- What's your day like?
- It seems like from what we hear that Monsanto controls everything and now they're getting into food. How do you feel about them having a monopoly?
- Do you take vacations?
- It's just unnatural to breed plants in a laboratory and have our food come from there.
- I don't like crossing tomatoes and fish and everything else. We're messing with our food supply too much. I don't even like rice with Vitamin D. It's too much like we can just pop a pill or a grain some day and get all our nutritional needs from that one thing.
- Something like 80% of all corn goes into ethanol.
The fact is, these women are much like us, but with less freezer space. They don't have access to local meat or their own sweet corn patch, and they're distrustful. I think, very honestly, I would feel the same way. They don't get the same information we do. They get documentaries about King Corn and Food, Inc., and Farmageddon, and they get Katie Couric insinuating that antibiotics are bad. That would make me question, too.
In all, it was a good night. If the goal was to talk to the food-buying decision-making consumers who have questions and want answers, we succeeded brilliantly. I'd load up and head north again in a heartbeat.
Holly Spangler is farmwife to John, mother to three little farm kids, and farm writer for Prairie Farmer, all from their farmstead in western Illinois. You can follow her blog here.