She walked me to her backyard, pointing out her neighbors’ gardens and chickens wandering around (I’ll elaborate more urban chickens another day) where she explained is the only place she gets a few eggs for her family. Otherwise their main protein sources are tofu or peanut butter.
My longtime girlfriend Laura picked me up at the airport in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio. I had a few hours before my colleague would arrive and we would drive that evening to our destination for the next day’s round of client related commitments. I was elated to finally have time to hang out with Laura on her home turf with little to no schedule for a few hours.
After visiting with her three young sons (who are ages 3, 2 and 1…and busy) and her husband, Laura and I decided to capitalize on the first one on one time we’ve had together in over ten years. Laura has never called me Katie. She only calls me Dakota. We met at the University of Georgia and my roommate was named Katie. Being from North Dakota, Dakota stuck. I refined it to Dacotah.
Laura was my suite mate in college. We shared a bathroom and were immersed in one another’s lives years ago but life since then has been hectic, such as between the two of us having 5 babies within 2 1/2 years. We’ve always had a unique connection and despite miles between, years a part, we picked up right where we left off, laughing and talking as if we did this on a weekly basis.
Before we left her house located in “Clinton” area of Columbus, near The Ohio State University, to walk to dinner, she asked what and why I was in Ohio on business. Laura knows I am from a farm, she knows about my work in agriculture but why suddenly was I in Ohio. She wanted to know.
I explained that I am working with farmer led groups to communicate to consumers, like herself, about the food that raise and produce.
She smiled and said, “Dacotah, you know I’m meatless now, right?”
Laura has an undergraduate degree in dietetics, a graduate degree in health education and is a middle school health teacher. She is an educated, strong woman that I respect and love as my friend, as a mother, wife and daughter.
I knew I was about to learn and soak in knowledge I wouldn’t have otherwise thought if I hadn’t stopped my work travel for a visit with her.
As we walked to dinner, she explained how 3 1/2 years ago when she was pregnant with her first child, she was concerned about hormones and antibiotics in her milk and meat, so she quit and cut it out of her diet all together, never looking back. She said growing up she never really loved meat or got really excited about ribs on the grill like one of her brother’s did. But she always ate it. Then, the unknowns about it just gave her more questions than answers in her first pregnancy. It was easier to cut the meat and milk from her diet than deal with the unknowns.
As we continued walking, Laura talked about watching the movie, Food Inc. and said it probably belonged in class she once took called “Political Radicalism” but that it did impact her.
Then I explained more about our family farm, our farming practices, why we grow some genetically modified crops for disease tolerance and that there are more hormones in the spinach and peas I eat than there will ever be in a beef filet I eat.
We didn’t argue science. Both Laura and I agreed you can always find the science if you want (even junk science) to back up your emotionally fueled argument.
We agreed it really comes down to trusting where our food comes from. We are immersed in different environments yet we are rooted in the same values.
Laura trusted that the beet and rice veggie burger was better for her that evening at dinner. She didn’t think there was anything secret in it.
I told her about the California rice farmers I know and the leafy greens I have seen growing in California farm fields. I agreed to tasting her veggie burger but told her next time I was throwing some bacon on her burger.
She laughed and without hesitation she said, “we’ll see.”
I chose a Thai chicken wrap, recommended by Laura, who normally gets it with tofu instead of meat. She didn’t know where the tofu comes from, nor the chicken but she trusts tofu over chicken.
I said to Laura, “Have you ever met a farmer in Ohio?”
“Never.” She said.
“If you could connect with farmers, understand their farming practices, would you trust your food enough to feed your kids meat and milk products?”
“Yes, I think so.” Laura replied.
And that’s all I needed to hear. Somehow my inner farm girl felt peace. Sure we, as in every stake holder in the food, farming and agribusiness community, have work to do so all of you can believe in and trust American farmers.
But our family farm’s livelihood is not threatened by food purchasing moms like Laura. She just needs to more information to reach her through people and via mediums she trusts to make her food decisions.
Dinner was delightful.
We talked global impact of food production.
We talked meat.
We talked cheese.
We talked buying food at the grocery store and not really thinking about where it comes from.
We talked buying local and what that really means.
We talked organic, affluence and affordability.
We talked farmers.
We talked about farmers going out of business.
We talked family.
We talked kids.
We talked husbands.
We talked marriage.
We laughed until we cried.
We hugged and promised to do this again soon. Very soon.
Laura wants to visit the prairie and our GriggsDakota family farm in the next two years.
I told her we are going grill out, cook, bake together and we don’t have any tofu in our grocery store. We have a garden. But we don’t have chickens. There would be no shopping malls within 100 miles or a Starbuck’s.
Laura laughed, smiled and said she’s game.
Who knows how her visit to the prairie will impact her? Time will tell.
Until then, I am going to live, laugh and love my vegetarian girlfriend and keep sharing farming stories with her. I might even have to make a return visit to Ohio to have her meet some tremendous family farmers I have met through my work there.
Time will tell.