Face Time With Farmers

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Natasha Nicholes

Like many urban moms, Natasha Nicholes of Chicago wears many hats. She runs a home-based business and blog called “Houseful Of Nicholes.” She keeps her household of six running smoothly with husband Shomari. She provides structure for 13-year-old son Nathaniel, and she homeschools her three youngest children – 5-year-old Jessica and 3-year-old twins, Penelope and Zachary.

Like all moms, Nicholes also strives to provide healthy food for her family on a budget. So when she heard about the Illinois Farm Families® (IFF) program, which allows Chicago-area moms (called Field Moms) to tour farms and learn how they produce food, Nicholes jumped at the chance to get involved.

“A friend posted on her Facebook page that they were looking for moms to participate,” Nicholes says. “I was attracted to it because there is so much talk of GMOs and organic food that I wanted to make sure I was making the best decisions for my family.”

Launched in 2012 with nine Field Moms, IFF takes moms from Chicago on tours of several types of farms. For example, last year, 24 moms, including Nicholes, participated in the program, touring farms to observe animal care, watch the planting and harvesting of crops, and ask farmers questions.

The program also includes a grocery store tour where Field Moms can talk with managers and a registered dietitian about nutritious foods. At each stop, Field Moms record their experiences by taking photos and videos, and journaling their observations online.

Natasha Nicholes

“Our research found that consumers generally have a positive image of farmers, but they have questions about today’s farming methods,” says Linda Olson, Illinois Farm Bureau consumer communications manager. “That’s likely because consumers today are several generations removed from the farm. Consumers are getting information about their food from everyone but the farmer.”

IFF hopes to rebuild consumer trust in modern farming. For Nicholes, it did just that.

“I learned why beef is given the grade that it is, and that sometimes information on packages is redundant,” Nicholes says. “I also learned that hog farming isn’t as messy as I imagined, and that farming is not big business or owned by huge corporations. Farming isn’t just one person in the family working, either – everyone usually gets involved, and I like that.”

The program has impacted moms in a powerful, positive way. Post-survey results reveal moms feel more confident about today’s farming methods after the tours. In fact, 87.5 percent say their experience as a Field Mom affected the way they choose food for their family.

“A large part of that confidence comes from seeing farms up close and being able to talk with farmers directly,” Olson says.

Nicholes enjoys shopping at farmers markets and now wants to do even more for the state’s farmers.

“It’s important to support Illinois agriculture because these are the people providing food on my table every day,” she says. “In some form, we’re eating the fruits of someone else’s labor and hard work. I honestly learned so much.”

Want to know more? Follow the 2014 Field Moms’ experiences online (and submit your own questions) at watchusgrow.org.

Learn more about the 2014 Field Moms here.

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