There are many rumors about agriculture that simply aren’t true.
Volunteers of CommonGround, a non-profit organization composed of women in agriculture, strive to bust those myths by sharing stories of their own agricultural journeys.

CommonGround is a national grassroots movement that encourages sharing information between consumers and producers.

“It’s a volunteer movement,” explained Joan Ruskamp, a farmer in Nebraska and CommonGround volunteer. “It began as an outreach to consumers with concerns about how food is raised. We have national publicity answering questions about the production of food and concerns about animal welfare.”

Ruskamp became involved with the organization to address concerns from the perspective of a producer. She noticed that much of what she saw and read in the media simply wasn’t the reality of her farming experience. “I felt like it was an injustice to farmers and ranchers to have our story told by those who weren’t out doing the work,” she said.

Her own story began with a love for animals. Ruskamp wasn’t born a farmer, but she always has cared about livestock.
She met her husband while working as a veterinary technician. Together, they revamped a family farm to cater to 4,000 cattle.

Ruskamp is in charge of vaccinations, tagging, doctoring and bookkeeping for the feedlot. She became involved with CommonGround in the spring of 2011.

“The original launch was November 2010,” she said. “There was a conference in St. Louis for American Agri-Women. I went to a training session in the spring that explained what it was about and gave us some basic skills to talk to media and get ideas put together.”

Currently, 16 states, including Indiana, and 90 volunteers are active in CommonGround. Volunteers give presentations and answer media questions about production agriculture.

“Each state sets up events within their state, and there are some national events,” Ruskamp noted. “A lot of what we do is listen to the concerns and answer them as honestly as possible. We really seek to answer from our experiences and what we know.

“We’re not a mouthpiece for an organization. For me, it is to connect an average person about what goes on in a feedlot, what goes on with hormones, how we feed them.”

CommonGround volunteers are compensated for travel expenses through checkoff funds of the National Corn Growers Association and the United Soybean Board.

Volunteers donate their time, so it is helpful to be compensated for travel expenses while away from work, Ruskamp said.

“We would love to see more women volunteer and be a part of the movement,” she said. “We have organic farmers, conventional, livestock production — every person is valued for what they give.

“We encourage people to use CommonGround as a resource. We’d love to get more volunteers and have people check out the website, There are great links on there. They can meet people and ask questions.”