Finding Common Ground

Wanda Patsche, a Minnesota farmer and CommonGround volunteer, speaks at a recent CommonGround event.

Wanda Patsche, a Minnesota farmer and CommonGround volunteer, speaks at a recent CommonGround workshop in the Twin Cities.

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

For two days in late June a group of women gathered at a Twin Cities workshop to listen and learn. The common thread that brought them together? A passion for agriculture. Who are they? CommonGround volunteers.

CommonGround is a group of farm women who volunteer their time to share information about their farms and the food they grow. More than 165 women from a wide variety of farms are involved in the program nationwide.

Workshop attendee Rebekah Gustafson is one of 19 women who volunteers with CommonGround in Minnesota. Gustafson and her husband raise corn, soybeans and horses on their family farm located near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.

“As a farmer, it’s important to me that I share what we’re doing on our farm with others,” says Gustafson. “Workshops like this help me learn how I can better connect with consumers about what we’re doing every day.”

Volunteers at the workshop heard from several speakers on topics such as current food trends and branding and marketing. Attendees also had the opportunity hear insights on the latest consumer research related to food and farming.

CommonGround National staff member Missy Morgan, encouraged the workshop attendees to share their farm story.

“Most people in urban and suburban areas didn’t grow up on a farm or don’t know a farmer personally,” says Morgan. “CommonGround is a great platform for farmers, specifically women farmers, to make a connection with women in our U.S. cities to answer their most common food questions.”

After the two-day workshop, CommonGround volunteers hosted a dinner event at Kitchen Window in Minneapolis. At the event, CommonGround volunteers mingled with a group of urban and suburban women interested in food and nutrition. Nearly 50 people attended the event including Twin Cities’ media, nutrition professionals, mommy bloggers, and more.

Together the volunteers and guests had the opportunity to cook and enjoy some delicious dishes and have genuine conversations about farming and food. Questions—and misperceptions—about hot button topics like GMOs and hormone and antibiotic use were addressed by the farmers during a panel discussion at the end of the evening.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding about food right now,” says WCCO news reporter Kim Johnson, who attended the dinner event. “People care about it (food) and I think that’s a great thing. The fact that we’re here talking about it is great.”

And as more and more people seek information about their food and where it comes from, Gustafson encourages individuals to connect with a farmer.

“Many people aren’t sure who to ask or who is a reliable resource. Farmers are great people to look to for food questions because we’re growing and raising it every day,” says Gustafson.  “No matter what food choices you make, my goal is for people to make their choices based on facts not fear, and to be confident that farms like ours are growing safe and healthy food for all of us.”

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