Written by Kristie Swenson
An uneventful 6th-grade sleepover turned into a defining moment in my life: my passion for agricultural literacy was ignited. I grew up on a farm 13 miles from the nearest town, and when my friends and I went to feed our cattle, my friend, Sara, asked, “So, those are cows… right?”
I was shocked that Sara, who lived in a rural town (of which agriculture was, and still is, the primary industry) had never seen a cow in real life. That’s when I realized my desire to share the importance of agriculture. I found that Sara wasn’t the only person in our small town who thought milk came from the grocery store. (I’m not poking fun of Sara or anyone else; I just had no idea kids my age thought milk came from the grocery store. My world view was pretty limited in scope back then!)
Throughout the remainder of my middle school and high school years, I became more active in 4-H (of which I was already a member) and joined FFA. I majored in Agricultural Education at college and participated in agricultural organizations. All of these activities gave me opportunities to connect with others who shared my passion for agriculture, and helped me learn how to communicate with people who weren’t as connected to agriculture.
In 2011, I was invited to join an organization called CommonGround. CommonGround sounded like it was right up my alley: a volunteer group of farm women who wanted to have open, honest dialogues about agriculture with people. Meeting these volunteers was such an inspiring and uplifting experience. I discovered that, regardless of the type of farm operation we ran, all of us volunteers had 3 things in common:
- Our love for our families (we’re all wives and mothers)
- Our love for our farms
- Our genuine care about the validity and accuracy of the information available about agriculture
In my short time with these women (who, by the way, are active partners in managing the farming operations – we feed, water, and monitor livestock, drive tractors, fix equipment, make decisions, cook meals, and do whatever else needs to be done on the farm) I have come to appreciate our similarities and differences. For example, if a person asks me a question I can’t answer, I can turn to other volunteers for answers. Likewise, if another volunteer is asked about corn or soybean production, I can be a resource on those topics.
One of my favorite aspects of CommonGround is the diversity of agriculture represented by the volunteers. We come from all types of farms – large, small, organic, biotech, grain, livestock, citrus, fruit, young, experienced, etc. We all love our operations, and all of us make different choices – even those of us who have similar operations make different choices. We celebrate those differences and use them to learn about and from each other. Do we have discussions about those differences? You bet we do – and that’s the beauty of this organization. We sincerely try to ask questions with an open mind – and yes, that can be very difficult to do. By asking these women questions about their operations (what do you do? why do you do that? have you considered alternatives? when did you begin doing this?) in a tactful, respectful manner, an amazing dialogue opens up. We are all open and honest about our farm operations, and we want to talk with YOU! What are your questions? What do you wonder about how food is raised? We will give you straightforward, sincere answers about how we do things on our farm. Keep in mind, every farm is different, just like every family is different.
Kristie Swenson grew up on a farm in southwestern Minnesota. She and her husband are proud to continue living, working, and raising their family on her family’s farm. Aside from growing corn and soybeans, Kristie also has a full-time job as Assistant Vice President at a local community bank.