Sunday, November 3, 2013

Top 10 Annoying Words About Agriculture

A few weeks ago, I emailed around a poll to my farm and Ag friends both near and far to ask them to give me their top 10 words that most annoyed them that are used in referencing agriculture and farming. I received a lot of interesting responses. There were many, many repeats which I have ranked in order from top to bottom. What it boils down to is that as a culture, we want everyone "in their place". We want to define the people whose opinions differ from ours and confine them to a box. Social media is littered with examples of people and organizations lumping together and defining those who hold different beliefs in a negative way. It is a way of stereotyping, generalizing, misrepresenting, and for some, the ulterior motive of spreading misinformation. Thanks to my friends who contributed.

Here are the results:

1. "BIG" - In the context of activist groups, "big" is a derogatory term linked to the perception that the majority of farms are corporate farms.Frankly, the term "big" used in this context sounds rather kindergarten-ish. It has little to do with size but more to the idea that family farms are small farms whereas big farms must be corporate. In fact, 96% of all farms in the US are family owned and operated.  Farms vary widely in size as USDA defines a farm as any entity generating $1000 or more per year. (Which includes my daughter's 4H projects I suppose). $1K sets the bar pretty low in terms of defining a farm.

My daughter's 4H livestock sheep & hog projects meet the $1000 USDA threshold to be defined as a "farm".
"Big" is also used negatively by some who insinuate that because "Big Ag' is seen through corporations, that some how we farmers are not able to make independent decisions about our family farms. That some how "Big Ag" dictates what we buy and what we do on our farms. We aren't beholden to any corporation. We like most consumers, look for quality and customer service. Those two elements dictate our purchasing decisions and who we do business with.

A good example of double-speak however, is Chipotle who started a "big" campaign to redefine itself as "small". Established in 1993, Chipotle has expanded to over 1500 restaurants and ranks 2nd only to Taco Bell in the Top 50 QSR (quick service restaurants) in the Mexican food segment. Chipotle's 3rd quarter 2013 profits increased 18% to $827 Million. Let's be clear, if there is "Big" in food and agriculture it is Chipotle, not the US farmers supplying them.

2. "Factory" - Activists now define climate-controlled barns as "factories". If you are defining animal agriculture by agenda driven documentaries such as Food Inc, then you have chosen to limit your perspective and specifically elected not to look for balance in the whys and where-fores of food production in the current day. Personally, my preference is to talk to farmers, and not just the ones I perceive I am going to agree with.
Photo Credit: Edwin Remsberg
On a recent farm tour, someone remarked to my friend Jen, who is a hog farmer, how much extra space there was in each of her hog pens. If someone were to take a close up photo of the hogs to sensationalize animal spacing, the hogs would look packed together. Selective photography (and photoshop)  is a method used by some to spread myths about farming. In reality, the term "pig pile" comes from their natural preference, in barns or outside, to pile together to sleep.

3. "Industrial" - in modern agriculture, industrial is a word used to demonize progress and technology. Efficiency is apparently acceptable in other sectors, but not in farming. Not all that long ago, we as consumers did not have microwaves, dishwashers, smart phones, remote controlled - (fill in the blank), home computers, the Internet, etc.... We as consumers have adopted significant amounts of modern technology in our daily lives. Farmers have done the same. So if farmers are industrial through use of technology and efficiency, then we as consumers must be "industrial" too, right? I mean if the shoe fits, wear it! So do we all want to go back and stop using our technology so that agriculture will no longer be "industrial"?

A "combine" is named such because in one piece of equipment it combines the tasks of reaping and threshing, 2 vocabulary words foreign to most people today.

4. "Douse" - A word used to describe pesticide application. This is the type of rig used to apply pesticides and fertilizer. There is a fine mist (which in this pic happens to be fertilizer) guided by our GreenSeeker to apply only what the crop needs. Our family eats what we produce. Agricultural inputs are expensive. Why would we "douse" anything we grow with pesticides or fertilizer? Our approach is to look at the soil and plant health and apply what is "prescribed" from scouting and soil and tissue analysis. Much like your visit to the doctor, farmers diagnose and treat their crops according to their health and well being.



5. "Pump"- The word "pump" made the list thanks in part to Panera Bread's failed @EZChicken antibiotic campaign that illustrated in cartoon manner, chickens being injected with antibiotics and that farmers who use antibiotics are lazy. "Pump" really goes in line with the word "douse" as in every thing farmers do, we're believed to do to the excess. Any good business person will tell you that makes no sense whatsoever, but I suspect most of those who throw these terms around have never run their own businesses. Its easy to criticize someones business when your paycheck is funded by "unnamed donors" to a non-profit.

Earlier this year, the FDA had to issue a response to the Environmental Working Group's interpretation of an antibiotic resistance report..  The fact of the matter is, judicious antibiotic use is an issue for everyone and finger pointing does little to further the conversation. We don't like the finger pointed at ourselves but let's face it, human users of the health care system and those who prescribe antibiotics are as much at fault if not more so than farmers. How can I say that? This article from the Wall Street Journal discusses human prescriptions of antibiotics. And this report from the CDC shows which diseases and pathogens are most associated with antibiotic resistance, the majority of which are not farm related.

Human vs Animal Antibiotic Sales are Relatively Different v2
Infographic credit: Dr. Scott Hurd, DVM

6.  "Corporate"- as I said in #1, the majority of farms in the US are family owned and operated. They may vary in size, and they may be "incorporated" for tax purposes (C or S Corp) and for liability protection (LLC for example). I'm not a fan of Mother Jones, but they recently wrote an article confirming this fact. In terms of farms owned by corporations dictating the actions of the farmer, its pretty much a myth.

Infographic Credit: CommonGround 

7.  "GMO/Frankenfoods" - Wow, this one is hot in social media these days. One of the prevalent anti-GMO claims is that the foods made from genetic engineering (GE) technology haven't been studied and are not safe. A study in the journal Critical Reviews of Biotechnology looked at a decade of research on "GMO" foods and found no credible evidence that GMOs threaten health or safety of humans or the environment. A review of the study can be found here.

GMO describes what humans have done for centuries - domesticate, modify and improve the traits of plants for a specific use, such as tomatoes, corn, potatoes and the majority of foods we consume on a daily basis. Activists use the term "GMO" and "Frankenfoods" to define foods produced through a specific technology and use it as a means for fear-based marketing. Here is a good blog about fear-based food marketing by DairyMoos.

Selling Fear1
Photo Credit: DairyMoos

8.  "SuperWeed" -Let me just say it like it is.... Weed resistance is not a genetic engineering issue, it is an agronomic issue. Weed resistance to herbicides did not begin with RoundUp or with GE crops. The chart below is from the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds. It shows that resistant weeds were occurring well before GE crops were ever on the market. Notably, glyphosate/RoundUp which receives the most media attention, is 6th in chronological increase after 5 other classes of herbicides. You should also know that glyphosate/RoundUp did not come about because of GE crops. RoundUp was developed in the early 1970's and became commercially available in the US in 1976, 20 years before the commercialization herbicide tolerant crops. Its worth repeating - weed resistance is an agronomic issue, not a GE issue.






9.  "Shill" - while I consider "big" to be a rather kindergarten-ish word about Ag, "shill" is definitely a high school bully word. If you take the time to read the comments section of a polarized discussion on social media, often the first stone thrown is "you're a shill for Monsanto". Sometimes kindergarten is combined with high school and the commenter says "you're a shill for Big Ag". I wasn't directly called a shill, but the insinuation was there in the New York Times article I blogged about in Stay Calm & Farm On earlier this year. More recently, following an article I wrote for the Boston Review on Why Farmers Choose GMOs, I had the below twitter interaction with PoetryBoston who without knowing me, decided that I knew little about what I was talking about, following which they pointed out that I was one of Monsanto's America's Farm Moms of the Year for which I received prize money. I'm proud to have been selected by the American Agri-Women's Association as one of only 5 farm women in the US to be recognized. I make no apologies for the award nor am I embarrassed by it. It also does not influence my message which are data and results from our farm's experience as growers of conventional, organic and GE crops (yes simultaneously, and no... no longer organic. A topic for another day) Shill is intended to be derogatory and offensive. It shuts down any chance of meaningful conversation and civil discourse. It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable but that is rare if one spends any time reading the comments section.

From my @FarmGirlJen twitter page

10. "Agrarian" - Picture "American Gothic. The word "agrarian" brings a romantic notion of the days of old, and therefore, not being appreciative of where modern agriculture has brought our society as a whole. It demeans the profession that we love, and that somehow, all of society would be better off if we went back to subsistence farming. Agrarian, after all, is a society where the majority of citizens participate in farming, not the current 1.5% of the US population.

American Gothic by Grant Wood, 1930

My hope is that the conversation can become more civil by illustrating each of these words from a farmer's perspective. Farming is essentially a profession of many introverts and often an isolated job on a day to day basis. The story of agriculture and family farms has been told for us, often inaccurately. We as farmers don't all stand up and speak our minds publically about how we feel about these terms that are frequently used in reference to what we do.

People probably don't understand , we don't get to leave our jobs and go home at night. Our home is IS our farm and our job is a tapestry of our lives - of family, farm, and faith. Words that demean or misrepresent aren't words targeted just a me or my husband, but at my kids, my in-laws, and my 96 year old grandmother (who by the way does not resemble the woman above).

Its personal. You wouldn't want your family talked about that way.

We love our jobs, we love our farms, we love our family. We don't own a pitch fork.
We are today's modern farm family.

Photo Credit: Edwin Remsberg




62 comments:

  1. I love this!
    We are at the other end of the spectrum---we are just a tiny farm. But, these words are some of the same that annoy me. (intensely, I might add) I hate the way these terms are bandied about with no real concern for the true definition.
    What really disturbs me is the number of small-scale farmers who willingly bash larger operations using all those annoying words in hopes of making themselves look better and ultimately make a sale. For shame!
    Without large farms, the very building blocks of our food system would cease to exist. I could go on, but I will contain myself.
    Again, a great post!

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    1. hanks Barbara, I had the exact same conversation earlier today. No 2 farms are the same and what works for 1 doesn't necessarily work for another.

      I don't think that non-farmers "get" that their comments are personal attacks, offensive to the whole family whose work they are criticizing. And we don't get to leave the problems at work to go home!

      Thanks for your comments!

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  2. I have a small one-family garden plot. As a Registered Dietitian, I appreciate the work and the challenges of growing food for my little corner of the world- Can't imagine the challenges of growing food for the whole country! You are the hardest working people in the country and we should all be thankful you are willing to do this for the rest of us. THANK YOU!

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    1. Hi Kathy, I read somewhere that since food is prevalent consumers perceive that farming is easy which sadly shows how disconnected folks are from any generation in their own family that were farmers. It is hard work, it is hard to enter into as a new or young farmer, and there is huge risk every single season BUT our love of the land and being stewards of our resources makes it so rewarding. Thanks for your kind words :)

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    2. The hard work for little pay is the reason that many left the farm in the first place. With fewer hands the work did not go away.

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    3. Absolutely true. Whenever the sustainability word is tossed around (which didn't make the list surprisingly) my reply is always "A family farm is not sustainable if there is no one in the next generation who wants to farm" Thanks minnesotafarm!

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  3. Well said, my friend. Unfortunately, too many of these words have been used in emotional debates around food - so much so that many food buyers repeat them without knowing many of the points you outlined.

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    1. Thanks Michele, you're a role model for Ag-vocacy for me!

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  4. Thank you! This is a wonderful post.

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    1. Thanks and I'm so glad you commented so I could find your blog!

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  5. Well done. Well done. Thank you for writing.

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    1. Thanks Renee, based on retweets and shares, I apparently delivered a message a lot of farmers have been wanting to say.

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  6. Very well done! "Factory" is my least favorite term used by activists. What do they want? What do they really think should be done?

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    1. Sadly, a few bad apples has condemned the rest and agenda driven documentaries have provided the fuel. Our 500 sow hog operation was all outdoors in portahuts. Today's barns are amazing in animal comfort by comparison. Thanks Sarah!

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  7. I might be a complete #agnerd, but I plugged these terms into Google Trends to see how they compare with each other in frequency in search engines. I left out GMO because it dwarfs ALL of the other terms. It would also be interesting to make the comparison prior to and after the release of Food Inc.

    http://www.google.com/trends/explore?q=gmo#q=frankenfood%2C%20superweed%2C%20pesticide%20application%2C%20monsanto%20shill&cmpt=q

    http://www.google.com/trends/explore?q=Big+Ag#q=Big%20Ag%2C%20Factory%20Farm%2C%20Industrial%20agriculture%2C%20corporate%20farm%2C%20agrarian&cmpt=q

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    1. Thanks Ryan, what a cool feature! Had no idea it existed! Interesting trends indeed! Thanks for sharing that with me!

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  8. Thank you. I am doing a briefing for the UK press next week on the Is Big Bad ? debate, good identification of the weasel words used to attack our great industry.

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    1. Thanks Cowman, there is a lot of discussion on that very topic these days. Here is a link to a blog I wrote about farm size last year. http://thefoodiefarmer.blogspot.com/2012/05/does-size-matter.html

      And a friend of mine who is a supermarket dietitian recently wrote a blog for her consumer audience on the same subject. http://inglesnutrition.blogspot.com/2013/10/farming-is-big-ag-bad-ag.html?m=1

      I'm sure there are many others out there. Good luck on your briefing!

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  9. Thanks for the very thought provoking article! I think it is important to note that except for the words "shill", "Frankenfood", and to some extent "super weed", these words are NOT derogatory by nature. Ag bashers who attempt to monopolize the Ag conversation are the people and institutions who frame these words as concepts demeaning to Producers of the very products their lives depend on. Bloggers like you are critical to maintaining truth and productive dialogue instead of hype and fear mongering. Thanks!

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    1. It is true that the majority of the actual words are not derogatory but often are used maliciously, flippantly, or arrogantly. Most often they are used to paint a broad stroke and influence their readership with a sensational headline. Sadly, too many Americans "fall for it" so to speak and use the terminology the same way. My goal was to voice and describe those words on behalf of my farm and my farm friends (even those ones I haven't met yet!) Thanks!

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  10. Fantastic article! all of the things that I use when talking to the uniformed all rolled up in one source. Thank you for taking the time to put this together!

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    1. Thanks Lance, it took me awhile to compile and write it. It went through several iterations before I hit the "publish" button. I'm glad you can use the info and appreciate your comments!

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  11. Excellent Article, please keep writing!! :-)

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    1. Thanks MustangGT! I plan to keep writing though now not sure what I should write next since this one created such buzz!

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  12. Well written and eloquent! I'm an Animal Science student at a land-grant university. I've taken several Environmental Studies/Sustainability classes from the other point of view and heard these words tossed around by both students and professors! So refreshing to read something like this that clearly and fairly explains what goes on in Animal Ag for those who take propaganda as the absolute truth!

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    1. Thank Brianna, to me the best professors are those who have more life experience than book experience. Its sad when a place of higher learning drives an agenda that isn't balanced. I hope that the resources will give you some support to balance the discussion in the future. Jennie

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    2. Just so you both are aware, most Ag professors grew up farmers. And they cannot get through their schooling without extensive farm work. Plus their work takes them all over the country and the world doing that research and farming. They are professors because they have more experience than most and they don't just do it in one area. The land grant universities especially run huge extension services throughout their states and interact with farmers, the scientists at the USDA and FDA, as well as their counterparts at other universities. It is awfully presumptious to claim that the have unbalanced agendas. Politicians have agendas. Scientists have questions. Recognize the difference.

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    3. Jennie w- we weren't talking about ag professors. Brianna wrote about environmental/sustainability professors. I was specifically referencing professors like Michael Pollan, who is a journalism professor.

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  13. Truly, I agree with most of what you say. But not all people who farm have the same scruples as you. And some do pack animals in and use too much and the wrong types of fertilizers and pesticides. Just as you cannot demonize an entire profession, you also cannot canonize it. I too am from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I worked for the USDA for a number of years doing environmental chemistry. The chicken farms are unbelievable. But what most critics need to understand is that it isn't the farmers fault or Perdue's fault. It is the fault of us, the consumers. "I want my chicken and I don't want to have to pay the farmer a living wage to get it." That is the statement too many people make when they are food shopping (some of them so poor, they have no choice). I try to hit the local farmers' markets and my own siblings think I am crazy for some of the prices I pay. But I can go to the farms in Sudlersville and see the animals grazing. One of the farmers I buy meat from lost a whole herd to a barn collapse in the snows of 2010. He was in tears telling everyone about it. I will pay for that kind of caring. The public as a whole needs to see those things.

    The GMO discussion is important. And that is so many blogs. I think it is very trite to say 10 years of research proves anything when we are dealing with something as long term as human health since most of us live 70 years or more. What happens when we are 7 may not manifest until many years later. The overall environmental impact of taking genes from one species and modifying to implant those genes into a species that may be from an utterly different kingdom is not clear. Not sure that I can just jump on board that one. It takes soil hundreds of years to be considered undisturbed again. We don't have the ability to extrapolate 10 years into that time frame. We as humans sure have thought that we knew what we were doing playing in these areas before and, wow, have we been wrong.

    Hybridization of plants and crossing plant lines is a totally different thing and that needs to be given to the public as education.

    Nevertheless, I appreciate your blog and I very strongly support farmers everywhere, but most especially my Shore Farmers.

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    1. I believe what I said was that the critical reviews study looked at ten years of research NOT that there is only ten years of research, which of course there is more as the technology was developed in the 1970s and used in both food and medicine.

      I do firmly believe that the number of farmers with "scruples" vastly out numbers those without, as I believe that is also true in every other profession.

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  14. Thanks Jennie, really enjoyed your article. In Australia the words are slightly different but the challenges are very much the same.

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  15. you have forgotten the word "subsidize"

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    1. Nope not forgotten, just didn't make the top 10 :)

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  16. Really great article, have many family that are farmers!

    Here's what I DO know. If society ever collapses (not predicting it like a conspiracy theorist, just setting up a potential future scenario), I am going to want to know people that know how to provide meat and veggies for the table. As a hunter that puts game on the table, I am the former, and I have a lot of great Family that is the latter. Those folks bashing farmers that are so disconnected from their food sources will be S out of luck, and very very hungry if that ever occurs.

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    1. So thanks for supporting those of us who can support society if it ever collapses! (though I hope that never happens) Jennie

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  17. This is great. I would add "artisan" and "craft," two words to describe anything that is supposed to sound like it is not manufactured in mass quantities.

    Thanks for reading my blog too. JanzenAgLaw.com

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    1. Todd, I think I have enough words to do the "2nd round of top 10 annoying words"! It does funny but sad that words are so powerful in how we use and interpret them! Thanks!

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  18. Dear Jennie, first off, I enjoyed this article. And many would likely see me from the "other" side, that is, I'm an organic farmer. The friend who sent me a link to your blog expected me to "react" to it in a prescribed way. But first, I'm a farmer and there are in reality many more similarities than differences between folks who make their living farming. I am a vegetable farmer and neighbors with a conventional dairy farmer. We have been friends for 20+ years now. Our kids went through school together. We both work hard to improve our soils, water quality and overall health of the land we are stewrads of. I appreciate the fact that they have added buffers on their land that mirror my own buffers to try to reduce potential drift. I appreciate their use of clover/alfalfa in their crop rotation with corn and beans. We often find common ground. We also disagree on a number of things, and we accept that.

    So, not to get on my soapbox" but...I'm sending along a couple links that you might find of interest.

    The first is to Dr. Joel Gruver of Western Illinois University who has been looking at soil in regards to organic vs. conventional ag. I've taken several soils classes taught at the annual Organic Conference in LaCrosse, WI and he has a great perspective. http://www.wiu.edu/cbt/agriculture/farms/organic/index.php

    The second link is to Jeff Moyer, Rodale Institute Research farm Director. Again, I've taken several classes from Jeff (as he wishes to be called) and he is working to make that bridge that often seems to exist between organic and conventional ag, in other words, organic family farms need not be "hippie" gardens but can be large-scale modern farms. Here's two links to his work that you might find of interest. http://rodaleinstitute.org/2013/ask-the-famer-breaking-free-from-pro-gmo-myths/
    http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/organic-no-till/

    And lastly, I invite you to attend the annual MOSES organic conference. One of the things that I find the most beneficial is eating breakfast and lunch with farmers from all over North America; corn/bean farmers, dairy farmers, pig farmers, small grain farmers, orchardists, veggie folks....from big farms to small gardens, organic to those thinking there might be a little bit saner way to produce our food in the future. http://mosesorganic.org/

    Thanks for your blog, I'm bookmarking it so keep writing. Steven Spickerman - Hermit Creek Farm http://hermitcreekfarm.com/

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    1. Hi Steve, We are very familiar with Jeff and the research at Rodale and have attempted replication of some of it ourselves as we are always trying to build our soil and be more productive with fewer inputs. To that end, we were organic for 7 years of which 3 of course were transition on about 100 acres of our ground. Our farm practices include crop rotation, multi-species cover crops, green manures, no-till, conservation till, IPM, manure, etc... and we consider these to be standard operating procedures. They are applied on all our ground, whether it is biotech, conventional, or organic. We used a crimper/roller to do no-till organic but Rodale's research on this with their soil types are very different from ours. When combined with all of the practices normally credited toward organic, what it came down to was synthetic vs organic pesticides. Some organic pesticides are more toxic that their synthetic counterparts (Pounce vs Pyrethrum or BurnDown vs Glyphosate are 2 examples that come to mind). Likewise, some synthetics are more toxic than their organic counterparts. We want to choose whats most appropriate and not be restricted as to whether its synthetic or organic, thus we decertified our 100 organic acres... besides the fact that side by side, there was a yield loss of over 100 bpa in the organic field.

      I'm familiar with MOSES as well, we've sort of "been there, done that" and we went for what we believe to be the "saner to produce food"

      As far as your Rodale link to GMO myths, I will share my article in the Boston Review: http://www.bostonreview.net/forum/truth-about-gmos/farmer-choose-gmos Our farm data demonstrates year in and year out that biotech out yields conventional and certainly out yielded our organic ground.... using all the same agronomic practices I listed above that Rodale promotes I might add.
      thanks
      Jennie

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  19. Wonderful! I am reposting on my Facebook...!

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    1. Thanks! Appreciate the repost and continue to be amazed at the mileage this blog is getting!

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  20. Nice summary. I get sick of reading the same arguments over and over. Thanks for putting it all together and showing how these same terms looks so overused!

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    1. Joni, it did take me quite a few weeks to compile the graphics and references and really communicate clearly what my friends and family had communicated to me that bothered them most. I wanted to do their concerns justice. I think it worked!

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  21. What a great blog! You've so well expressed what so many feel and just have a hard time communicating.

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  22. An excellent post. Thanks. You might consider a post about the hazards of being a farmer; I know it's long been a dangerous occupation. In my youth I visited a farm in Central Kansas, and spent a week in the community. One of the neighboring farms was owned by a single mom, with her teenage daughter and son. They lost the "man of the house" some years earlier due to the jack slipping (as I recall the conversation) while he was working on the combine in the field, … alone … as most farmers likely operate even today (if I read and understood your words correctly). My time in Kansas was eye-opening and I've not forgotten it, even after all these decades.

    We now live in the Cincinnati area and have a number of friends who farm, including the family that has to haul water in dry spells to keep the crops watered, and who log many miles a season to take freshly picked produce to the farmer's markets around the area.

    Many of the derogatory terms are used intentionally to cause division. It's true anytime activists set their minds against something. I'd like to see them in the 19th Century environment: perhaps their attitude toward hard work in the fields and hunting (among other things) might change.

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    1. Sadly, I know of several farmers whose lives were cut short through various farming accidents.It does and will take all size farms to supply our food. It less about which type or size farm they are and more about the family who holds it together. Your examples are perfect. Thanks for sharing!

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  23. I agree that words matter. We need to tell it like it is. I have friends who shake their fists at the "big factory" farmers out there. I laugh because I met a woman who viewed any farm big enough to have milking machines as a factory. She grew up in the day when you had a few cows and milked them all by hand.

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    1. Sorry for the late response Julie, somehow the comment notice slipped by me. What you say is true, it's a matter of perspective. What is "annoying" is the double standard people have about how they defines things for themselves and how they want to define things for others. If our use of technology makes us "industrial" then the same applies to folks with iPhones, computers, anything that has made them more efficient. Thanks for the comment!

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  24. Isn't interesting that consumers buy tires, lumber, diapers, toothpaste, medicines, cars, clothes, shoes, and computers made in a factory and yet a farmer can't be allowed to use the same economies of scale afforded these other enterprises. It sure is easy to look down one's nose when your belly is full, and you have a choice. In some areas of the world they would be happy for just some food.

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    1. Completely agree! As I responded to Julie, many people have a double standard, one for themselves and one how they want others to conform to their way of thinking. Having lived in rural Botswana, farming the Kalahari is difficult. Our food attitudes with unlimited choice and access do not extrapolate internationally. It reflects our luxury to be finicky. Thanks for your comment.

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  25. Thanks for sharing your perspective and experience as a farmer! It is interesting how these terms are used today without those of us who aren't farmers necessarily understanding their full meanings...

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    1. Thanks Emily, words are very powerful tools. Sadly in social media, too many adults are choosing to be bullies in the way they use words. I try to say what I believe with compassion. As they say, you catch more bees with honey than vinegar...!

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  26. Jennie: your perspective is greatly appreciated, but as a consumer, I cannot trust bloggers to tell me what is really going on. Even if you are sincere, how can I trust that you actually have broad-based as opposed to anecdotal evidence?

    Your blog makes it seem as if farmers have nothing to hide, and yet farmers are asking governments to ensure that consumers do not know that is happening on the farms:

    http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/states-move-ban-hidden-cameras-farms/story?id=18738108

    Farmers are mostly good people, but you are not saints. Just as with any other industry, the way to build trust with your consumers is to be transparent. We shouldn't have to "just trust you". I don't just trust doctors or lawyers or restauranteurs or anyone else. I depend on sophisticated systems of regulatory bodies and third-parties to ensure that I won't get sick due to unsanitary restaurants or malpracticing doctors. If the Ag community has comparable standards, they are not very well publicized and you'd be better off publicizing them rather than just saying, in effect, "trust us, we're good people." It's not you, the good people, that I'm worried about, just as it isn't the good doctors that I worry about when I go to the hospital.

    You say that there are just a "few bad apples" who make you all look bad. But are they 1% or 5% or 10%? What evidence is there to let us consumers know? And why are farmers asking for laws that would make it harder to collect evidence rather than easier?

    Summary: I don't need assurance that you are good people. I need evidence, and as much evidence as possible: video evidence of well-treated animals, third-party inspections, certifications, strict regulations, "bad apples" driven into bankruptcy.

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    1. Paul, I am a dairy farmer. I farm with my 3 of my brothers and our families. We are incorporated for simplicity and liability purposes. It is a saying among dairy farmers that cow comfort is king. The less stress on our cows, the more profitable they will be. From my experience most of the best farmers thrive, and most of those that try to cut corners fail. People don't get ahead by trying to do poor work.
      We love our cows. On our farm we have a zero tolerance policy on violence on our animals. What benefit would there be in having video cameras mounted everywhere? We graze our cows, so you would have to have cameras mounted over hundreds of acres. Probably not practical eh?
      Do doctors make mistakes? Yep, everyone of them. Should they have their licenses revoked? In fact the sue happy, self-righteous that are out there are the major reason health-care is so expensive. Do people get sick from going to restaurants? Yes, every day. Should every restaurant someone gets sick at be driven into bankruptcy?
      We are under regulatory bodies, as much as anyone. We produce food. Our milk is tested everyday. Our animals are tested when we ship them. Regulation is not the answer. I know of many instances where it actually has only caused more problems. And often causes less profitability. We live in our communities, why would we want to destroy our environment/communities? Because we are stupid and don't know as much as the regulators?
      Probably what gets at the heart of the matter is the question as to who gets to judge who. And why are you suspicious? As you said you don't trust that people are perfect. They aren't, I can tell you that straight away. That includes you and me. How would you like a video chronicling your thoughts and actions, broadcasting them to the world as you walk down a city street, or at work, or at home, in the bathroom, in your bedroom. It would be inappropriate, and no one else's business. Or if we really want to know who you are we can spend time with you, and eat with you, and get to know you. That would be much better, and we would probably find out that neither of us is perfect, but we can enjoy and trust each other...or not, and we can both go find someone else to befriend.
      As farmers we don't have jobs, we have livelihoods. I reject the idea that you think you are an authority over us to judge our lives and livelihoods. There is One Eternal Judge, and you are not Him. I am very much accountable to Him and thankful for His grace. On the other hand, I would be happy to have you come visit our farm and see how it is run. Heck, come work for me. I would love to have someone as conscientious and concerned for our animals welfare as you appear to be helping to care for our animals. If you really want to know how people are treating their land and animals befriend some farmers. Maybe go work for, or with a farmer or two. Take the time to actually get to know them well. Then you can make some judgements about who we are and what we do. Of course by then, you probably won't be so suspect of us.
      You don't need "evidence" and self-righteousness, you need relationship and grace. Those lead to trust.

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    2. I hope you took note of the fact that I'm a Registered Dietitian as well as a farmer. I'm not just "blogging" about food with no real expertise. As far as "evidence", it sounds like you need to spend some time visiting some family farms, choosing a variety of types and sizes in order to get a real look at the "evidence". Your welcome to visit here any time, we regularly host folks. I'd also point you in the direction of Maryland Public Television who is running a 13 week series on Maryland Farm & Harvest. http://video.mpt.tv/program/maryland-farm-harvest/

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  27. Great article!

    You say 96% of all farms in the US are family owned, but acknowledge that the bar for being considered a "farm" is set pretty low. Given that, wouldn't a more useful statistic be looking at what percentage of farm-grown food in the USA comes from family owned vs. corporate farms? I have absolutely no idea what the real numbers are, but if one giant corporation runs more farmland than a hundred average family-owned farms, then that 96% statistic is pretty misleading.

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    1. The majority of farm land is owned by family farms, the 2nd largest landowner in the US is the federal government (BLM, National parks, etc...) http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/377487/eib92_2_.pdf

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  28. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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