Dale Drendel, left, hosts many different groups to help share his unique story of agriculture. Here, a group of Illinois Farm Families Chicago area Field Moms listen to what he has to say. Photo courtesy of Illinois Farm Families
HAMPSHIRE — With so much conflicting news about what is healthy to eat, Cortney Fries had no idea where to turn for accurate information about the food she was feeding her family.
“I would do research, but I would get answers on both sides of the question and didn’t know which side I could trust,” she explains.
“So, when I saw the ad to become an Illinois Farm Families field mom and talk to farmers first hand about how they produce the food I eat, I jumped at the opportunity.”
The program involves Chicago-area moms touring modern farms to speak with farmers.
“I love that I get to see what happens on a farm first hand,” Fries says.
“We don’t have that kind of contact in Chicago. I mean the only farm I have ever been on is a pumpkin patch.”
So far, the moms have been to a hog farm and a corn and soybean farm.
“My favorite part of the tours is the honesty that farmers have,” Cortney notes. “They are very forthcoming during and even after the tour.”
While on the corn and soybean farm tour, the farmers said they used pesticides, but a much smaller amount than the general media reports, she says.
“The farmer explained that the amount of pesticides used is the amount of a small Coke can. It was a very truthful answer, and I really didn’t think they would admit that to us.”
Dale and Linda Drendel, dairy producers near Hampshire, believe this is the best policy when the field moms visit their farm.
“This will be our third group of field moms and by just telling our story honestly, the moms always seem to walk away with a better understanding of what a modern dairy farm is like,” says Linda, who is a seventh-generation livestock and crop farmer, and whose husband is a fifth-generation dairy farmer.
Since 2006, when the Drendels started doing farm tours for the public on their Kane County operation, they have had many visitors.
“We have hosted five dairy breakfasts totaling more than 8,000 visitors on farm for just those five events,” Dale notes.
From school-age children to moms and dietitians to reporters, each have their own questions, but there are some topics that always seem to come up.
“Raw milk, mobility, access to pasture, removing the calf from the mom and environmental are some of the most-common questions we get,” Linda notes.
“But, we just tell our story and what we do on our farm. Usually, they at least understand why we do what we do.”
Later this month, the field moms will visit the Drendels, who have been farming for 40 years.
And, Fries will be able to ask her question, which is another common topic during tours on the Northeast Illinois farm.
“The biggest question I have is one I have always had about milk — should we be buying organic?” Fries says.
“It is almost double the price but with all the information on the Internet, it seems we should be buying it. But, I want to know from the dairy farmers is why I should be buying it to make sure I am doing the best for my family.”
By attending various tours, the field moms have come to understand farmers also are consumers, mothers and fathers. They want what is best for their family, so if it isn’t safe, they won’t do it on their farm.
“Seeing really is believing,” Fries notes. “Without the field mom program I don’t know if I would have pursued a farmer to ask them questions.”