CommonGround is a volunteer group that brings women farmers and urban consumers together. Their recent Gate-to-Plate survey shows a disconnect between what moms understand about food and farming and what it actually takes to put food on the table.
More than 70% of moms admit to having questions or concerns about how their food is grown or raised, says a recent survey from CommonGround, a volunteer group of farm women dedicated to creating conversations between women farmers and their urban consumer counterparts. CommonGround’s Gate-to-Plate survey sought to gain insight into how U.S. moms feel and think about their food and the food choices they make for their families.
“Every CommonGround volunteer wants consumers to know what we are doing on our farms. And as a result, we want moms to feel comfortable every time they sit down at the dinner table. The point of the Gate-to-Plate survey is to make sure that we are answering the right questions. We want to give people a chance to share their concerns about the food supply. We hope that by providing answers, consumers will trust that as farmers, we strive to provide a safe, healthy and quality product,” says Teresa Brandenburg, a fourth generation cow/calf, soybean and wheat farmer in Osborne, Kansas.
Brandenburg says that the disconnect between what moms understand about food and farming and what it actually takes to put food on the table has a lot to do with geography. Most food production is done in extremely rural areas, and many consumers never spend any time near a farm because consumers today are three generations removed from the farming experience. However, farmers also need to take some of the responsibility for the knowledge gap, she says.
“As a whole, we have not done a good job telling people what we do. We’ve been so busy growing the food that we haven’t taken the time to show people what we are doing. So instead of teaching, we’ve been supplying, and I think we need to do more of both,” says Brandenburg.
The Gate-to-Plate survey also found that not being able to afford organic products was a huge source of guilt among urban moms. But many of the moms surveyed didn’t understand what organic truly means, and many mistakenly believed organics to be more nutritious. More than 60 percent of moms overall – and nearly 80 percent of moms ages 18 to 24 – said they would buy organic meat, produce and dairy products if they could afford it. Meanwhile, fewer than one out of 10 moms could accurately identify what qualifies food to be labeled organic.
“The biggest problem we have in America is instead of checking facts about the food we eat, we are going to less credible sources for advice. If a little extra research were conducted, consumers would know the only difference between organic and conventionally grown food is the way it was produced. It is not going to affect how it is going to taste or the nutritional value of the item,” says Brandenburg. “What I encourage moms to do is to always get the story from different perspectives. If you read a blog that says organic is better, then make sure that you are reading blogs from all perspectives. Sources demonstrate to consumers that farmers are working hard to provide safe and nutritious food. The most important thing to do is to be an informed consumer. My family wouldn’t go on vacation without doing a little planning and a little research, so I encourage moms to do the same thing before they go to the grocery store."
One of the findings from the Gate-to-Plate survey that surprised Brandenburg the most is the overestimation of the family food budget. She was shocked to hear that most moms believe the average American family spends more than 30 percent of their total income on food.
“Take my family for example. We live on a tight budget. My family is really young, and we are still growing, and like most moms I want to be sure that I am still feeding them nutritious food. We can all do that with just about 10 percent of our monthly income. We are fortunate that American agriculture has made strides in technology and conservation to help us feed our families affordably,” says Brandenburg.
Yet another interesting misperception urban moms have is that very few farms are family owned, when in fact, the majority (98%) are indeed owned by families. While a lot of farming families incorporate their farms, allowing room for a business structure that runs more effectively, the family is still at the heart of the matter, says Brandenburg – and they are working really hard to make sure America gets fed.
Brandenburg says that retailers can help continue the food and farming conversation in a couple of different ways. The first thing retailers should keep in mind is that when they are doing advertising, they should always check their facts. It is important that they are aware of what messages they are putting out, and that they are not showing any bias with the items they provide their customers. Another thing retailers can do is to provide consumers with valuable food information on recipe cards and coupons.
“I know when I go to the grocery store, I appreciate when the store provides me with things that help make my life easier or educate me on a particular food topic,” Brandenburg says.
Brandenburg says that CommonGround is focusing on moms because moms are the gatekeepers for how families eat and think about food and farming. In her house, for example, Brandenburg does 90% of the grocery shopping and roughly 95% of the cooking. She says that most moms, like herself, are concerned about the food on their kids’ plates, and they want to make sure their food choices are both financially and nutritionally sound.
“That’s why I really enjoy connecting with other moms. I, along with the other CommonGround volunteers, can really appreciate what moms are going through and can connect with them on that level,” she adds.
Check out Brandenburg’s blog at www.lifeonakansasfarm.blogspot.com or visit www.findourcommonground.com to learn more about other CommonGround initiatives.