Illinois Farm Families Program Helps Connect Consumers to Farmers
If you have a question about your food – how it’s grown, what all those labels attached to your food mean or how to add more locally produced items into your diet – the Illinois Farm Families (IFF) program seeks to be your go-to source for information.
Launched more than a decade ago, IFF serves as a coalition of farm organizations including the Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Beef Association, Illinois Corn Marketing Board, Illinois Pork Producers Association, Illinois Soybean Association and Midwest Dairy. IFF’s simple purpose is to link you with Illinois farmers, according to Gracie Weinzierl, who serves on the IFF coalition in her role as consumer engagement manager with IFB.
Those connections occur both in person and virtually. Through digital and social media, IFF introduces you and others to farmers who can talk about such items as the role of antibiotics in raising livestock or discuss genetically modified food products. Chicagoland parents and nutrition professionals have visited local farms to learn the meaning behind the labels for organic and conventional milk, viewed the pastures and feedlots where beef cattle are raised, and even prepared dishes alongside farmers who raised some of the ingredients, sharing their experiences on the IFF website and other digital channels.
Ask the Source
Weinzierl says consumers say you’re interested in knowing more about production practices and how those practices translate into the labels attached to ready-for-market food. Organic, grass-fed, grain-fed, raised without antibiotics, hormone-free – those types of labels have different meanings, Weinzierl says, and IFF information helps consumers ask their questions to the guy or gal at the start of the food chain: the farmer.
In the past year, IFF has launched a YouTube docuseries entitled “Innovation Grows Here.” Each 3- to 5-minute video features interviews with a producer on the farm and an expert on the chosen topic. A recent video on pollinators and the declining number of monarch butterflies featured White County grain farmer Don Duvall, whose pollinator plots are part of the more than 100,000 acres Illinois farmers have dedicated to such habitats. The video racked up more than 30,000 views in just one week. Other topics included the possibilities of bioplastic products made from corn and the conversion of corn and soybeans into biofuels.
Focusing on the environment is a way for farmers and consumers to easily connect, Weinzierl says. “We (in the ag sector) know farmers are good stewards of the land, but it doesn’t always look that way off the farm if we don’t think about a consumer’s definition of stewarding,” she explains. “Plus, the earth is our shared space.”
Championing Farmers, Providing Answers
In a world still heavily impacted by COVID-19, Weinzierl predicts consumers’ preference for locally sourced food will continue.
“People are redefining that moment in the kitchen by cooking from scratch,” Weinzierl says. What’s still unknown, she says, is how many people will subscribe to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or perhaps buy a quarter hog directly from a farmer. .
However we purchase food, one thing that won’t change is IFF’s commitment to championing farmers. Weinzierl notes agriculture was one of the essential services and workforces considered “critical” during the pandemic shutdown.
“We wanted to communicate that farmers can’t hit ‘pause’ and that it’s not just a day job,” she says. IFF’s goal of providing relevant, trustworthy information didn’t pause either. “Providing answers has been our challenge for the past 11 years, and we’ll be looking to continue doing that in the future.”
Find Illinois Farm Families’ videos and other content at watchusgrow.org.