Farm women volunteers involved in the CommonGround outreach program, along with state and national staff, met in Charleston, S.C., to share their experiences with the program and welcome new members last week. Over the course of three days, the participants worked intensively on the tools that they use to share their personal story and that of modern farming with urban and suburban moms through sessions on social media, public speaking and interview skills. CommonGround is a joint program of the United Soybean Board and the National Corn Growers Association.
“The energy and passion these volunteers bring to CommonGround is inspiring,” said NCGA First Vice President Pam Johnson. “The farmers leading our organization have seen first-hand the importance of connecting with modern consumers, and, after having a chance to really interact with the people who truly are the CommonGround movement, I have faith that their enthusiasm, sincerity and dedication will connect with women just like them who have concerns about the food that they serve their families every day.”
Johnson, who closed the seminar in a joint speech with USB Chairwoman Vanessa Kummer, fostered volunteer development by sharing her personal experience as a female farmer in leadership. Support for their efforts was reinforced through presentations from NCGA CEO Rick Tolman and through one-on-one interactions with NCGA Grower Services Action Team Chair Brandon Hunnicutt.
The conference offered the volunteers and staff a chance to share experiences gained through program participation over the past year, during which the involved states hosted more than 40 events in seven states, generating 6.5 million media impressions. Building upon these prior successes, events launching the program in several new states are planned for later this year. Since it began only two years ago, CommonGround has more than tripled its size, with active participants now in 15 states.
Social media use among volunteers has also grown during that period, with 26 now actively tweeting, 27 blogging and the movement as a whole making more than 85,000 impressions on Facebook. To foster this growth, national staff provided informational sessions on effectively using these and other outlets to reach out to consumers.
To emphasize the importance of the role social media now plays in many grassroots movements, Brains on Fire’s Eric Dodds spoke on how his group uses a variety of new media to build deep relationships with broad audiences through new media. Stressing that such activities can play a deep role in important causes, he showed how simple, honest interaction can truly influence and educate on a broad basis.
Attendees took time to explore subjects of importance to consumers, such as food safety science and poultry production, during presentations from Carl Winter, director of the FoodSafe Program and an extension food toxicologist in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California at Davis, and Ohio Soybean Council Program Coordinator David Blankenship.
Winter shared his accessible, energetic approach to food safety education with participants while also explaining the processes and science involved in the development of food safety regulations. A strong advocate for communication in both the scientific and agricultural arenas, he gave the volunteers copies of simple songs explaining a variety of food safety issues which he uses in programs targeted at education elementary school-aged children.
Blankenship, a state staffer involved with the CommonGround program, showed a recent video series he created to answer questions frequently asked about poultry production. The simultaneously humorous and information series sparked many questions from volunteers and launched a lively discussion of modern poultry farming.
“CommonGround really is these volunteers and that is what makes it so powerful,” said Johnson. “At the conference, I got to spend quality time with the women who, through their hard work and sacrifice, have built this strong, grassroots movement. Their sincerity in wanting to start a real conversation with consumers that is open and positive comes from not only their concerns as farmers, but also from their empathy as mothers. Like any other parent, the volunteers want the best for their children. These women want to help lift a little bit of that load by providing their first-hand knowledge of modern farming to interested consumers.”
The CommonGround program is now moving forward in 15 states, including Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and South Dakota. The movement is on track to grow and expand nationwide.