BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Instead of just accepting claims from
various groups and media outlets about food production as is, Amy Hansmann
wanted to get to the bottom of it.
The mother of two youngsters from Chicago suburb River
Forest took her inquisitiveness to the next level when she was among nine
selected to participate in the Field through the Illinois Farm Families
Hansmann said at the recent Illinois Agricultural
Legislative Roundtable that she applied for the Field Mom program because of the
increasing cost of trying to feed her family a healthy diet while having
questions about agriculture.
“There is so much in the press about chemicals on farms, how
so much of our food and what is in our food is bad for us and even for animal
treatment,” she said at the Illinois Farm Bureau-hosted roundtable.
“There is also a lot of what I call non-information. There
are those headlines and sound bites that are reused over and over again and make
you want to gasp and think, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t eat that again.’ But I’m never
really told why. I started really paying attention when what I was buying and
feeding was for my young son.”
It was then that Hansmann started using organic food,
“because I was afraid of the ‘what if,’ but along with what I was buying was the
obvious cost,” she said.
Her food bills bill increased with the move to an organic
“I was lucky enough that in my household I can alter or
stretch the food budget as I need, but I’m also very aware that is not true in
many households,” she said.
“For the past five years, I’ve been a very active donor and
volunteer with our local food pantry. Over this time, demand has skyrocketed. In
the last year, we cut our service area in half and the demand continues to rise.
“I’m lucky to live in a nice area and even a few of my
neighbors need help, but I’m surrounded by some of the poorest neighborhoods in
Chicago. I guarantee that for those moms finding a source for milk or getting
any milk for their kids is a bigger priority than determining whether $6.50 is
worth it for organic.
“This really made me think a little bit harder why I was
changing the way that I purchase food. It also made me feel a little bit guilty
that what I was giving to other people I perceived as good enough, while I was
looking for the best for my family.”
Becoming involved in the Field Mom program gave Hansmann a
chance to get to the bottom of her questions and fears.
“Some of my biggest fears going into the program are
chemicals used to grow my foods and what is actually being done to the food that
I don’t know about,” she said. “In a perfect world, I picture farmers planting
the seed, harvesting the results and handing me a perfect vegetable. How does it
really get to my table? Is the food actually good for me?
“The same goes for my meat. How are antibiotic used? What’s
the deal with hormones? Are these animals leading miserable horrible
Hansmann was not disappointed in her quest for knowledge
through the Field Mom program. A key part of the program is touring farms to get
a close look at production practices and meet with farmers.
The first tour stop over the course of several months last
year was to a farm that utilized the latest technology to plan, plant and
harvest corn and soybeans.
“I was anticipating that it was a fairly sophisticated
process, but what I found out blew my mind,” Hansmann said.
Livestock also was raised on the farm.
“I learned about the use of antibiotics, and it was easy to
understand that when they are used, the animals are kept out of the food chain.
To me, it’s not really an issue anymore,” Hansmann said.
“I’m sure that someone somewhere is misusing the antibiotics
in their animals, but with the same certainty I’m sure that there’s a mom or
some person somewhere overmedicating themselves or their child by demanding an
antibiotic for a common virus.”
Animal production was a major concern for Hansmann, but what
she found during the tours “was a bunch of interesting animals that seemed happy
enough to me.”
“The sow farms and the pig farms did turn me off a bit. It
was great to have an expert, Dr. (Janeen) Johnson (University of Illinois animal
scientist) with us to explain the issues and the research going on worldwide,”
she said. “I never realized the roles of a hierarchy in animals would make an
impact on the meat that I bought.
“It seemed important, in my mind anyway, the idea that
treating animals humanely is not treating them as human. So many people think
they’re house pets like they are a member of the family, and that really doesn’t
make sense to treat livestock that way.”
One of Hansmann’s biggest “ah-ha” moments in her Field Mom
journey was finding out about the “Where is my milk from” website.
“It sounds silly, but when faced with a gallon of milk
that’s over $6, it is not a laughing matter,” she said.
Deciding that organic milk was not something she was going
to invest in on an ongoing basis, she looked into the name brand, Dean’s Milk.
“This milk was only $4.99. The Jewel story brand milk was
$3.99 and the Shopper’s Value milk was $2.99,” she said. “I assumed that the
Dean’s Milk sold at a premium must be a better choice for my family. I was
shocked to discover that all of the milk I just mentioned comes from Dean’s
Dairy in Huntley, Ill.”
A frequent question Hansmann hears from others is what she
thinks of farmers.
“I don’t have any worries, and I never did. What I do worry
about is what those really nice people are doing to my food,” she said.
“I think food production, in general, has been slammed by
the media. ‘Corn is evil. They’re feeding you sick animals. You should only eat
what’s been grown within 100 miles of your home. And the world is being
destroyed by farmers.’ If you listen to everything on the evening news, I don’t
think there would be anything left to eat.
“Last month, Parade magazine in the Sunday newspapers had a
cover story on Howard Buffett who farms at Decatur. He talked a little bit about
farming and a lot about philanthropy and organizations in the U.S. that are
trying to eradicate hunger.
“Unfortunately, the article title and the headline on the
cover was, ‘The Good Farmer.’ This is the kind of thing that makes people worry
because it makes them think that maybe the other farmers are not so good. It
upsets me that people have a hard time separating the headlines from what’s
really going on, and they don’t really have the resources to do it.”
Hansmann said she loved every minute of learning about her
food on Illinois farms through the Field Mom program.
“What I found is that the issues I worry about and those
that are in the news are so complex that no one has all of the answers for me,”
Many of her initial questions were answered, and she
continues her quest for further information.
“I still have lots of concerns about the fruits and
vegetables that I eat, hoping to learn more about them in the future,” she said.
“I would love to hear more from farmers and their responses to the things I hear
on the news.
“We have a lot of schools up north, and while we don’t focus
on agriculture as much, there are a lot of moms and people who would be willing
to hear what you have to say.”
Through the program, Hansmann also learned a lot about
herself, the way she shops and how she interprets things she hears.
“I found that I didn’t really question things about my food
the same way that I question the government about taxes or legislators about
laws,” she said. “I’m a big believer in asking a lot of questions, but I found
that with my food, I was just coasting because I didn’t know anything.
“To those who espouse the evils of corn and rant about how
it’s in everything you eat, I would suggest that you don’t eat much processed
food or read the label.
“I also suggest learning what labels mean. I had no idea
that anyone could put the term ‘natural’ on just about anything. I did not know
there is a long list of chemicals and additives approved for use in organic
After she began visiting farms, Hansmann also sought out
“I had no idea how many stops food makes on its journey to
my table. I certainly feel much more comfortable of what’s happening on Illinois
farms, but I’m concerned about where it is going between your house and mine,”
“As a consumer, I think about the farmer, but I don’t have
any idea about the next level of production or processing.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity to be a Field Mom
and be able to visit your farms and to learn about everything that is done for
“I appreciate how everyone has been so candid and hope that
the farmers and ag-related industry understand that ignorance is a really scary
thing, and it’s great to finally have some answers to my questions.”