Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bridging the Gap

Every year in early summer, upwards of 10,000 women descend upon the Overland Park Convention Center to attend the Just for Her Expo.  They come with their moms, sisters, daughters, aunts, neighbors, and best gal pals for a few hours of girl time.

They come to shop for purses, boutique clothing, house cleaning gadgets and luxurious bathrooms renovations.  They come to sample chocolates and wine.  They come to listen to live music.  They come for mini spa treatments.

It’s everything a girl could ask for.  It’s everything this farm girl loves to escape to the big city for.

This year marked my first trip to Just for Her.  And instead of shopping and massages, I was parked behind a booth, alongside another Central Kansas farm gal, volunteering for a farm women’s advocacy group called Common Ground.  And we were charged with the task of doing just that – striking common ground between farm girls and our suburban counterparts.

The goal was to engage in conversations about food.  The draw was bold questions printed across the booth’s backdrop: Have questions about where your food comes from?  Concerned about hormones in your food?  What’s all the worry about GMO’s?  The giveaways included a flexible cutting board and a notepad for grocery lists.  The results were, err, well, interesting.

I thought GMO’s were a bug.

I buy raw goat’s milk for my family from a farmer near Kansas City.

I’m worried about losing the family farm.

I just started juicing.

There aren’t hormones in poultry?  Really?

I remember visiting my grandparent’s farm, but I don’t think my teenage son has ever seen a farm.

I don’t like that they give all the animals antibiotics.

So, you’re saying organic production uses products to control weeds and pests, too?

I don’t have a vegetable garden.

Do you work for Monsanto? (Followed by an over-exaggerated wink.)

I began each conversation the same way: “I’m volunteering on behalf of Kansas farm women, and we’re here to provide information about your food from its source.”  Where the conversations went from there was not always what I expected.

Beyond cute purses and wine tasting, there simply wasn’t much common ground.  The gap between Central Kansas farm women and Johnson County women is much greater than the 208 miles between us. 

Sure, there were some positive conversations.  I made contact with an eager young gal who writes a newsletter for KC Metro moms.  She said she’d love to have articles about food contributed from Common Ground.  Another go-getter ran a women’s executive club, and we chatted about exchanging business leadership training for education about food production.

But the vast majority of conversations were riddled with misinformation and rampant with fear.  Some wanted to listen and were eager to learn more; others ruffled their feathers and moved on.

In each short encounter, I did my best to leave the conversation with this, “No matter where you fall on the food purchasing spectrum – from local and organic to modern and conventional – it’s important you get the information about your food from the farmer.”  Then, I handed them a flexible cutting board and flashed my most sincere, Kansas farm girl smile.

Bridging the information gap between producers and consumers is a marathon – not a sprint.  It doesn’t happen quickly.  And the road to the finish will take us to places farmers have never been before – the halls of an Overland Park Convention Center, the pages of an urban mom publication, the offices of suburban executive women. 


Common Ground and it’s supporters – the Kansas Soybean Commission and the Kansas Corn Commission – get it.  They understand that one conversation at a time, we can reconnect consumers with the faces behind their food.   And if that means meeting suburban consumers on their turf – in the shopping and dining mecca of our state – twist my arm, I’ll be there.  

No comments: