Going to the grocery store isn't as easy as it used to be. We're
not talking about the impossible hummer-sized shopping carts: It's
We all try to fill our families' dinner plates with healthy
nosh, but really, what's in a name? Is "organic" that much better
than "vegetarian-fed"? What about those other catchy labels?
Grass-fed, corn-fed, cage-free, hormone-free, free-range.
It sounds more like a line from a Dr. Seuss book than a grocery
list. So how do we know what's what?
Illinois Farm Families has a program that aims to help moms
figure it all out by giving them a front-row seat to life on a
local farm. Each year a group of Chicago-area moms are chosen to be
"Field Moms" who visit farms where corn and soybeans are grown and
hogs and cattle are raised.
It shows them what goes into growing crops and caring for the
livestock, and the technology and business behind farming.
"We think the best way to answer moms' questions (about food) is
to give them first-hand experiences; to let them see farms, meet
the people who grow and raise their food and to have conversations
about what happens on today's farms," says Lori Laughlin, a
spokeswoman for the Illinois Farm Bureau, one of the five
organizations behind Illinois Farm Families.
To find out what these Field Moms learned, we emailed and
chatted with 11 current and former ones. Here's what they had to
say about how the program influenced their approach to feeding
Before Field Moms: Most of the moms bought
beef, pork and grass-fed chicken. Some only bought organic and a
few had tight budgets restricting them to whatever was the most
After Field Moms: The majority of moms did not
change their buying habits, but said it was more important to know
where their protein comes from.
Insight: "I started buying different types of
meat from different places and realized that the label 'organic'
was not necessarily the best indicator of good quality. Instead of
focusing on organic, I now focus on the origins of my meat." -
Amy Hansmann, mom of two
Before Field Moms: The moms bought all
varieties of milk, including whole, 2 percent, skim, organic, soy
and raw whole milk.
After Field Moms: A couple of moms changed the
kind of milk they purchased. Both said they no longer buy organic
milk because they better understood the role of antibiotics and
hormones in dairy production.
Insight: "After my experience as a Field Mom, I
made a few changes. First, I do not buy organic milk unless I
mistakenly grab the wrong gallon. I am just not convinced it is
worth it." - Amy Hansmann
Before Field Moms: Most moms were concerned
about or unclear on food safety practices and protocols.
Before Field Moms: Most moms felt the marketing
of food was misleading.
After Field Moms: Almost all the moms felt the
marketing was much more misleading than previously thought.
Insight: "I realized that I was susceptible to
the idea of 'natural' and 'antibiotic-free' or even the status of
the name brand milk. Although the program did not specifically talk
much about marketing, some of the things I learned about made me
start paying attention to my labels and then to the overall
marketing I was seeing." - Amy Hansmann
Before Field Moms: The majority of moms were
very wary about the use of antibiotics and hormones in food.
After Field Moms: All the moms came away with a better
understanding of the regulations on hormones and antibiotics,
though some became more concerned and others felt less
Before Field Moms: The moms felt buying local
was a great idea, but many didn't know how to begin to do so or
worried it would be too expensive.
After Field Moms: The moms learned that many
items in their grocery store would qualify as "buying local."
Insight: "I think it feels even more beneficial
to minimize time and distance between the farm and my table. I like
the idea of supporting local farmers and feeling more connected to
my food. It just feels more natural." - Farrah Brown