Chicago Mom Sees the Power of Food

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Diane Letson

Diane Letson once sold food to restaurants and hotels for a major food company. Now, she works with retailers to secure food donations for the hungry through Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger relief charity.

Meanwhile, she gardens as much as her urban yard allows on the north side of Chicago. And she loves to cook and bake, especially from scratch. The actions express love and care for her husband, Matt, and daughter, Brooke, 9.

Without a doubt, food is her forte.

“I do believe that food is very powerful,” Letson says. “Food can delight, it can comfort, and obviously sustain and boost energy.”

Diane Letson

Yet, she was missing an element: how farmers grow and produce food. Letson served among 24 moms in the 2013 class of Field Moms as part of the Illinois Farm Families (IFF) program. She filled some of that void as she toured four Illinois crop and livestock farms.

“I wanted to learn more about challenges farmers face, how food is grown and how livestock is kept and handled,” she says. “It’s been a great learning experience, not only for me as a shopper, a cook and as a mother, but it also gives me a better appreciation for how our food banks work with the agricultural community.”

She discovered that farmers use global positioning systems and other technology to provide nutrients and protect plants based upon needs. She witnessed the farmers’ commitment to land stewardship and families. She learned even winter months become busy with repairs, maintenance and records analysis.

“It strikes me that it is much more scientific than I think the average consumer or American would know,” she says. “I’ve also been struck by the commitment of the farmer and the families on the farm to being incredible stewards of the land, water and air.”

Diane Letson

She took the information back to Chicago, where she told her friends and colleagues about the hard work, science and complexity of today’s farms.

“I look at our food a little differently now in the grocery store,” she says.

To learn more about IFF, go to WatchUsGrow.org.

Food Insecurity

  • The most recent statistics show 15.2 percent of Illinoisans and 22.2 percent of Illinois children are considered food insecure.
  • Eight Feeding America food banks serve all Illinois counties through 2,599 charities, such as food pantries, low income youth programs and shelters.
  • Illinois Farm Bureau’s (IFB) Young Leaders program, made up of Illinoisans aged 18 to 35 with a passion for agriculture, gathered 68,715 pounds of food, donated nearly $787,000 and volunteered 2,006 hours for Feeding America last year.
  • The American Farm Bureau Federation recognized IFB’s Young Leaders for collecting the most funds donated and as runner-up among other states in hours volunteered.

Sources: Feeding America, Illinois Farm Bureau

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