Members of CommonGround Nebraska brought their farming and food message to more than 200 bikers on tour through rolling farm country in late summer. The farmer-driven, volunteer organization, aimed at enhancing trust and awareness between urban consumers and farmers, co-sponsored the "7 Cities Century Bike Ride" across a 100-mile route in northeast Nebraska along with 18 other organizations.
CommonGround volunteers, Diane Becker and Dawn Kucera, both from Madison, discussed farming issues and fielded agriculture questions from bikers. CommonGround was deeply involved in the ride, sponsoring a lunch for bikers at Neligh, sponsoring two emergency service trucks along the route, and posting "Burma-Shave" style signs covering important farm topics over part of the ride. The organization's service trucks sported signs like, "Bikers AND Vehicles Fueled by Farmers."
Through her work with CommonGround, Becker has engaged consumers on many levels and in varied venues, including meeting food bloggers from Chicago who had no idea what a farmer did for a living. "I have been to food shows, Moms' groups, booths at festivals and received a lot of questions from people there about everything from Monsanto to asking if farmers have to work seven days a week," she says.
The bike ride was a different experience altogether. Spurred on by the topics raised on the "Burma-Shave" signs, bikers asked Becker and Kucera about what the word "GMO" means, what kind of cows are grazing in the pastures and who owns all of that farm land.
"I love that the bikers are not just at a grocery store asking me about producing food," Becker says. On the bike trip "they are on the farmers' roads, looking at the corn swaying in the breeze and seeing for themselves that God makes plants grow, and farmers just try to do the best they can to make the conditions favorable."
Bikers see agriculture up close and personal, she says. "They see cattle looking up at them from the pastures and they get a few drops of water blown on them from irrigation," says Becker. "They are appreciative of the beauty of the back roads of Nebraska that few people get to see." Bikers on the ride seemed most impressed by irrigation systems they passed, the scenery and farmsteads, as well as the fact that farming still takes tractors, wagons, sprayers, feed bunks and a lot of work, according to Becker.
She says that farmers need to look at other ways to get people out in the country. "We're all busy and can still find time to invite school groups out to see a dairy or a cattle-working demonstration or combining," she says. "We need to make more connections between the field and the consumer."
You can learn more about the bike ride and CommonGround by visiting www.commongroundnebraska.com.