By Rae Wagoner
Kentucky Soybean Board
With so much information (and misinformation) flooding the media these days, sometimes it’s hard to decide what’s true and what’s not when it comes to food and farming. CommonGround, a program founded by soybean and corn farmers and funded by their checkoff dollars, is dedicated to connecting farm women with other women who may not have access to answers to their questions.
The ladies of LeCows Dairy in McCracken County opened up their barn doors earlier this year to more than 200 people who wanted to see where their milk comes from. The answer, not surprising to those in the agriculture industry, was not the grocery store.
“It’s really sad that people do not understand where their milk comes from, where their bread comes from, or what we do with the corn and soybeans we grow here in Kentucky,” farm owner/operator Lesa Clark said. “That’s why we chose to open up our farm and let people come visit. We’re not doing anything wrong, we have nothing to hide… I think it just hasn’t occurred to farmers that we need to tell our story until people started hearing the other, sometimes inaccurate, side of things.”
Children and their parents (or grandparents) started the day with cow-shaped cookies and milk while being welcomed to the farm by owners Lesa Clark and Ellie Gore Waggoner. Lesa’s mom, Sarah Elliott, was on hand, as were Ellie’s 2-year-old daughter, Sadie, and 3-month-old twins, Grant and Audrey.
The tour had multiple stops where visitors could do everything from enjoy a step-by-step guided tour of the milking parlor (hosted by Lesa’s husband, Dan) to bottle-feed a baby calf. The Kentucky Soybean Board hosted an education station where attendees learned that soy is in virtually everything we eat. They were then let in on the “big secret” that vegetable oil, unless labeled corn or canola oil, is likely soybean oil.
Visitors got up close and personal with tractors and even a silage chopper with Ellie’s husband, Dustin. They saw the different kinds of food that cows eat, from silage to soybean meal to alfalfa hay, corn and oatage. They also learned about gestation and day-to-day life as a dairy cow.
LeCows truly is a family farm with four generations of female farmers on site every day. Lesa’s parents, Sarah and Louis Elliott, started the dairy in 1964, and someone has been milking twice a day, every day since then. Both husbands help out on the farm when they can but have careers off the farm too.
The women are the ones who tend to the dairy; they note that it is still difficult to overcome gender stereotypes in some settings.
“When we go to shows or conventions,” Lesa said, “sometimes Ellie or I will walk up to a booth and the rep immediately looks over our heads or behind us to speak to the men of the family. That’s not a good start.”
Lesa Clark stays busy farming but true to the promise of her involvement with CommonGround; she spends quite a bit of time keeping her Facebook followers up to date on happenings around LeCows. It’s not uncommon to see a post greeting a new baby calf at 3 a.m, or to see a sunrise picture shared with silos in the background.
“Our area is becoming very urban and that concerns me,” she said. “It used to be that if you had a question about farming, chances were that you knew a farmer you could ask. With most folks being four generations removed from the farm, that’s no longer the case.
“We want to be here and available to people who have questions about food and farming,” she continued. “We want to be transparent and let people know that there are good, hardworking people out there trying to make a living and trying to feed everyone. I don’t know any other way of life, and I don’t want to. This is me, this is what I do, and I am happy to answer questions.”
More about food
CommonGround is a group of volunteer farm women working to better educate consumers about American agriculture. Visit www.FindOurCommonGround.com for information about
genetically modified organisms, antibiotics and hormones, animal welfare and more.