Consider all the inputs, steps, and decisions required to grow soybeans. What if you had about a day to learn that information for the first time?
That was the challenge facing six Chicago-area “field moms” who toured Ron and Deb Moore’s Roseville farm during an Illinois Farm Families
(IFF) event June 8-9. IFF is a coalition of commodity groups for beef, corn, soybeans, pork, and the Illinois Farm Bureau.
“I’m still wrapping my head around all the information shared with us,” said Pilar Clark, a field mom from Lisle. “Several of us continued our conversations regarding GMOs, insecticides, pesticides, and other chemical processes used in farming and agreed we still have a lot to learn.
Some “terms make (farming) methods sound negative and intimidating, yet the science around many of them makes sense,” Clark continued. “For example I didn’t realize that fertilizers used to grow corn are non-toxic to humans and actually incorporate naturally occurring elements, like nitrogen, that the plants then metabolize to aid growth. Yet, at the same time, I’m not entirely convinced that chemicals, like ammonia, are necessary or that creating new plant hybrids is a priority.”
In addition to farm tour, the field moms also toured Twomey Co. in Gladstone and learned about fertilizers and agrichemicals. They also saw the company’s barge-loading facility and learned about marketing. The field moms gained insights into crop research during a visit to Monmouth’s Monsanto Research Farm.
The field moms also are trying their hands at farming. The Illinois Soybean Program Operating Board took the lead on a field moms’ project to grow their own soybeans at home and oversee an acre of beans on the Moore farm. Field mom Amy Rossi from Naperville learned her tall plants with three leaves probably are getting too much light and need a dormant period.
The tours reinforced Rossi’s evolving view of farming. “My view of farming was real romanticized,” said the mother of six. Before IFF she thought farming entailed “planting corn and watching it grow -- simple. But it’s really complex.”
Clark, a mother of two, shared similar thoughts: “I always viewed farming as a very pastoral, manual-labor intensive field, which, as I’ve come to find out, is a very antiquated view more suited to farming of generations past. I had no idea how much science goes into farming, much less marketing, communications, artistry, conservation, and management.”
Both Clark and Rossi enjoyed seeing and learning about the conservation practices farmers use to protect the natural resources. “I didn’t know that farmers have environmental conservation on their radar and was excited to see their progress,” Clark added.
To Rossi, the reasons behind farmers’ use of technology and current practices are: “We’re trying to feed a lot of people and this is what we have to do to feed a lot of people. I felt good learning there are reasons why farmers do the things they do.”
To Clark, the field mom experience has given her “the tools to be more proactive about my produce, meat, and dairy choices when it come to buying food for my family.”
“As the old saying goes, ‘Knowledge is power,’ and having the opportunity to go directly to the source, the farmers and their farms, has allowed me to feel more in control of what we’re eating,” she said.
Deb Moore, who serves as the IFF farm hostess, said the field moms have become more comfortable about asking questions since their first farm tours in October. The farmers who have explained farming to the field moms have learned, too, Moore added.
“It is a different mindset for farmers,” she said. “When they first start talking, it’s farmer-to-farmer and on one level. These women -– it’s not that they’re not intelligent –- they don’t have the background.”
Even common farm country terms, such as ‘diversified farm,’ may need to be explained further to help an urban field mom understand, Moore pointed out.
Clark said her connection to farmers and farming will continue. “I plan on continuing what I’ve been doing ... blogging about what I’ve learned, sharing photography as a means of telling stories about my experiences with the field moms, keeping up on current events affecting our communities . . . and working to dispel the negative myths that exist about the food that’s raised a stone’s throw from the city.”
“It’s so amazing how similar we all are,” Rossi summarized.