(Posted Fri. Oct 12th, 2012)

Oct. 12: This fall, CommonGround Kansas volunteers put farmers and ranchers in the spotlight. Participating in both the Feast of the Fields event and a dinner at the Kansas state fair, volunteers LaVelle Winsor, Katie Sawyer, Kara James and Nicole Small opened a dialogue about food with consumers.


Set in a historic barn on the Mertz family farm near Manhattan, Kan., the Feast of the Field event brought CommonGround volunteers together with community leaders from as far east as Johnson County to experience a world-class dinner on a working farm at Feast of the Fields – Barn Edition. In only its second full year, the biannual event has amassed its share of supporters seeking a unique dining experience and a taste of modern agriculture.


Feast of the Fields and CommonGround share similar missions. Many Americans underestimate the importance of agriculture in their lives. With the majority of Americans several generations removed from the farm, agriculture has become unfamiliar territory. Most consumers’ only exposure to the industry comes via mass media, where misinformation can be quickly perpetuated. Many people have questions, yet do not personally know a farmer to serve as a resource for making informed decisions about the food they eat. Both the Mertz family and CommonGround seek to provide farmers to discuss consumers’ concerns.


“Today, 98 percent of farms in America are family operations,” said Mary Mertz, event organizer and member of the family farm. “We’re a fourth-generation family grain and livestock operation. Across our nation, farmers are producing the finest quality and most abundant foods in the world. Many people, however, do not truly understand agriculture and its significance in their lives.”


The Mertz family tells the story using meats, produce and wines from the Flint Hills region of Kansas. Guests come from across the region to enjoy fine dining and a taste of the farm.


“Feast of the Fields highlights farm-fresh foods in a natural setting,” Mertz noted. “It is our goal to provide participants with an authentic culinary adventure that leaves them feeling positive about Kansas farms and foods.”


CommonGround volunteers supported the effort, providing additional farmers eager to open a dialogue with consumers. Through their conversations, the women opened an ongoing discussion with these taste influencers through which they hope to spread the story of agriculture and offer themselves as a resource to those looking for real answers from real farmers.


While the Kansas State Fair is often known for its educational exhibits, carnival rides, concerts and creative cuisine, CommonGround Kansas volunteers brought the element of conversation to the fairgrounds.


During the “Conversations about Food and Farming” dinner, CommonGround Kansas volunteers met with school administrators, nutrition directors, community leaders and commodity representatives. The group engaged in discussion about how farmers care for their animals and the environment, feeding the growing world population, how farming helps address school nutrition concerns and many other topics.


Like the Feast of the Fields event, this dinner introduced the volunteers to a group of carefully selected community leaders. In doing so, the women were able to open a discussion not only with attendees but also with the many people whose lives they touch.


To find out more about either event, visit the CommonGround Kansas blog, like their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter through @CommonGroundKS.