Finding CommonGround

Women consumers are typically the decision makers of the household, especially when it comes to decisions about the food their families consume. With a world thriving on information, it is no wonder there is so much misconception about our food that no one can be certain about what is true about the products they are consuming.

One program has taken the initiative to combat the spread of misinformation and provide consumers with the truth about where their food comes from.

The program, CommonGround, began in 2010 and is funded by the United Soybean Board and National Corn Growers Association. Its purpose is to create a connection between farmers and consumers while also providing conversations about myths and misconceptions.

Stephanie Pruitt, the Texas Corn Producers Board Communications Director, and Texas coordinator for CommonGround said these consumers are hungry for information about where their food comes from.

According to Pruitt, creating the connection with consumers is important in conveying the information they want about these controversial topics.

“CommonGround is all about women on the farm and being able to connect with consumers,” said Pruitt. “More than 80 percent of food buyers are female, which is why it is so important that we make those connections.”

Pruitt said she thinks when it comes to food, food activists are the loudest voices in the room. Consumers are often not aware of the misconceptions and misinformation about agriculture, and they usually believe what they see on social media and what they hear about from friends and family. Then, consumers are making choices based on misinformation.

Volunteers Join the Conversation

Bobbie Black, a CommonGround volunteer from Muleshoe, Texas, said before she joined the program, she questioned her choices because of her children.

“I am a mom. When I started having kids I started worrying about the food I was feeding my kids. I thought, ‘Maybe I need to buy organic or maybe I need to look out for GMOs,’” said Black. “But that didn’t go with farming. I see where the food comes from and we aren’t doing harmful stuff, but then you see all this information floating out there and you think, ‘Am I making the right choice?’”

Black joined CommonGround last September after attending a LAND program hosted by TCPB with her husband in Fort Worth, Texas.

“After I went to LAND,” Black said, “I realized I was probably hurting more than I was helping because I wasn’t being involved in the conversation.”

CommonGround Comes to Texas

In the past year, the program has made its way to Texas and several volunteers have come together to provide true information to everyday consumers through social media conversations and events such as the Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics convention.

“That is where CommonGround puts it together,”Black said. “We come in and say ‘You do have safe food and you don’t have to worry about all of these things that are floating out there and that people are randomly putting on Facebook.”

Pruitt said these women are already having a national impact and are making a positive move in the industry.

“It’s all about finding that mutual value,” said Pruitt, “and being able to create a connection.”

The program enables volunteers to be involved while being an advocate in their own networks. The goal of the organization is to provide the transparent information needed so consumers can make educated decisions for their family.

“We have a lot of people who have moved away from the farm,” Pruitt said, “and so we are really trying to bring that transparency back.”

One of the ways the volunteers interact with consumers and have conversations is through social media. Black said she is trained to converse with others on public forum Facebook pages about controversial topics.

“On Facebook, someone will post about organic versus conventional on some of these pages and so Stephanie will email me and ask me to chime in,” Black said.

But before she joined CommonGround, Black said she would see the controversial conversations online but would never comment or join in on the conversation. Now, with the opportunity the program is providing, she hopes social media can be used more positively to advocate the true information about agriculture.

“I don’t know if we are changing peoples’ ideas,” Black said, “but I am hoping we are making them think and that they will go look into it more.”

Online Advocacy

Many of the conversations on Facebook originate from consumers who are the food-buyers of the household and are confused, have questions, or are even mislead about GMOs and organic versus non-organic choices. The volunteers are trained to provide fact-based answers to questions and to simply chime in with a comment that presents factual information or insight to what really happens on the farm.

They’re just telling the story that is their life day in and day out.

Stephanie Pruitt

On social media, where misinformation can be so easily shared, the farmers who actually see what is happening every day have been given a voice and are being advocates for themselves through CommonGround.

“All of these volunteers have taken the initiative to be active online and to get involved,” Pruitt said. “It means so much more to consumers and people who are making those decisions when they hear it straight from the mouth of a farmer.”

Pruitt said one of the most important aspects of the program is the volunteers’ ability to give consumers the facts so they can base their decisions off what is happening on the farm rather than what activist groups want you to think is happening on the farm.

“They are making a lasting impact on an industry that needs a voice right now,” said Pruitt. “They’re just telling the story that is their life day in and day out.”