DIXON, Ill. — Katie Pratt knows that sometimes all it takes
is some mussel to initiate a conversation about farming.
Katie’s father, Gail Dallam, and her mom, Jan, were on
vacation recently in Florida when a remark about seafood led to some farm talk.
“The restaurant was not serving a certain type of mussel
because there was a type of algae in the water. The algae comes around every
year at the same time, and they don’t serve the mussels during that time. When
it’s gone, they go back to serving the mussels. But my dad and mom heard the
person at the next table say, ‘Oh, is that because of those farmers up north and
what they put on their fields?” Pratt said.
“My mom told me my dad took a deep breath, turned around and
introduced himself as one of those farmers up north. He asked where they’d heard
that about the farmers up north. My mom and dad ended up joining the couple for
dinner, having a great conversation, finding out it was just something they
heard, they really didn’t know the details. When they left the restaurant, they
left as friends.”
Those types of conversations can happen easily, but it’s the
conversations on the national stage — with the people who influence shoppers
across the nation — that Pratt has started having as one of the “Faces of
Farming and Ranching” of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.
Pratt, whose parents are grain and livestock farmers in
rural Amboy, was selected as one of four “Faces of Farming and Ranching” out of
a field of some 100 entrants.
“I was shocked. I really was shocked. I had to put it out of
my mind, and I thought I’m not going to think about it until it’s announced. It
seemed very surreal,” said Pratt, who is the Lee County Ag in the Classroom
She and her husband, Andy, celebrate their 10th wedding
anniversary this year. They have two children, son Ethan, 7, and daughter
Andy, his brother, Peter, and their father, Mike, make up
the farming partnership that is Grand Prairie Farms. The Pratts raise corn,
soybeans and seed corn.
Both the Dallam farm and the farm where Katie and Andy live
have hosted guests and tours, from visitors from Japan when Gail Dallam
constructed a farrowing house for his pigs in the early days of moving pork
production indoors to Katie and Andy hosting the Summer Ag Institute tour of
teachers from the area.
The other “Faces” are Chris Chinn, who with her husband,
Kevin, and his parents and brother are livestock and grain farmers in Missouri;
dairy farmer Will Gilmer, who with his father owns and operates a dairy farm in
Sulligent, Ala.; and Bo Stone, who with his wife, Missy, and Bo’s parents owns
P&S Farms, growing row crops, pigs, sweet corn and strawberries, in Rowland,
With the Pratt farm’s direct connection to the biotechnology
and GMO side of agriculture, Pratt said she wants that story to be part of her
message as she travels to different events.
“For a while, that was taboo. You just didn’t bring it up.
You didn’t talk about it unless someone broached the subject because you didn’t
want to enter into that discussion. I think now, ‘This is a part of our farm.
This is a tool we use to be successful as farmers,’” she said. “I’m not ashamed
of that, and I’m not ashamed of what we do on the farm.”
She also plans to talk about the decision-making process
that goes into using new technology, whether on the seed side or the equipment
side of farming.
“It’s all about telling stories of continuous improvement. I
talk about the use of technology on our farm, in our seed and in our equipment.
It’s not a decision we just take lightly. It takes time, it takes research, it
takes study,” she said. “Andy and Peter and their dad, Mike, talk to a lot of
people. They read a lot of studies. We take these decisions seriously.”
The daughter of a livestock farmer, Pratt said she is
grateful that the USFRA has brought everyone to the same table.
“I think, for a very long time, we’ve been very good about
talking to ourselves and even then, we weren’t really talking to ourselves
either. Corn farmers talked to corn farmers talked to corn farmers, and beef
cattle farmers talked to beef cattle farmers. So we’ve finally come together
around the table. I feel like that’s the first obstacle the USFRA has
accomplished — bringing together the different sectors of agriculture around the
table,” she said.
The practical side of spending the next year representing
American farming and ranching means a potentially busy travel schedule for
She was in Phoenix in January and then traveled to New York
City for a media tour, where she appeared with Chef Danny Boome from the Food
Network show “Rescue Chef.”
Pratt said she doesn’t expect the travel schedule to be too
“Andy’s reaction was OK. His mantra since we got involved
with the Illinois Farm Families project and the tours was that he doesn’t mind —
but he says, ‘Don’t make me talk.’ He said, ‘I’ll farm and you do the talking,’
and he’s been a wonderful support for it,” she said. “We both said, ‘It’s for a
year. If the travel gets overwhelming, it’s just for a year,’ but I don’t think
it’s going to be overwhelming.”
She said she’s excited to be a pioneer in this new venture
for American agriculture.
“Agriculture has never put people out there to the national
audience and said, ‘Here’s a farmer,’ so who knows what the reaction is going to
be?” she said.
She’s also been learning as she’s been teaching. She is an
Illinois Farm Families volunteer, and she blogs and is active on Facebook. But
Twitter, the world of 140-character messages, is something new for Pratt.
“I’m on Twitter now (@KatiePratt4) and trying to figure it
out. It’s a whole new language!” said Pratt, who said she is “tiptoeing” into
Twitter by devoting 15 minutes each day to social media.
Pratt said she hopes, by talking to the “influencers,” to
reach the “average Joe” consumers — those who shop in the Walmarts, the
Jewel-Osco and the County Market stores.
“I think there’s a large group of non-farming consumers who
are middle-of-the-road, average Joe, very busy. They go into a grocery store.
They get in. They get out. That’s the way I am. But then they come home and they
turn on the TV. Dr. Oz is on, and he’s got an expert and the expert says, ‘Don’t
eat this food.’ So that consumer just went to the grocery store. They look and
say, ‘Oh, my gosh, maybe I shouldn’t have bought that,’ without giving it a lot
of thought or having the time to research and really find out the details behind
it,” she said.
“Is there a good way to reach that audience? I don’t know
because I know, for me, until it affects me directly, there are a lot of things
I just push off to the side.”
Pratt said the group hopes to be able to talk to the
influencers, including the dietitians, the doctors, the food company executives
and buyers, and celebrities such as Boome, who, in turn, can have major
influence over consumer food choices.
“I think our targets are influencers. The people who, when
they say something, other people listen to them,” she said.
Pratt said she knows people have questions, including
consumers who are close to home.
“I sit down with my family, and I have family members who
have questions over family dinner or in the church parking lot or at the local
chili supper. Those are all opportunities to take ‘Well, I heard this’ and say
something,” she said
When asked why she wanted to embark on the yearlong project,
Pratt nodded toward her living room where son Ethan was playing. Ethan and
Natalie are in 4-H Cloverbuds, the kindergarten through third-grade precursor
program to 4-H.
In Cloverbuds, children do a group project instead of the
individual projects they will do later in 4-H. But Ethan already has plans.
“He wants to plant his own corn patch. He wants to plant
sweet corn and Indian corn and popcorn and different kinds of corn and sell it.
He’s got a map all drawn out, and he’s talking to his grandpa about where this
is going to go and how he’s going to do it. To not encourage that — I know he’s
only 7 and a lot can happen — but I feel like part of this speaking and talking
and listening, that’s preparing the future for them to hopefully make it a more
friendly future for them to be farmers,” Pratt said.
She said that she hopes everyone will participate, from
those who speak in front of audiences to those who “walk the walk” by making the
best management decisions for their farms, families and communities.
“I think we can all have a hand in it, whether we are
standing in front of a crowd of people or whether we are just in the tractor
planting the drop and doing what needs to be done,” she said.