Friday, February 24, 2012

When Activism Goes Too Far

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend a fundraiser sponsored by 5 local county Farm Bureau committees to benefit the legal defense fund of a family who is being sued by the Waterkeepers Alliance. I introduced myself and said that while I was glad to meet them, I was sorry that we had to meet under these circumstances, that the benefit fundraiser drew them 90 miles from home to the 4H Park so that fellow farmers could rally to their side and help raise money to keep them from losing the farm. That is after all, what is at stake… the family farm.

Its sad to see another farm family go through what they’re going through – defending their way of life, their business, and the future of the farm for the next generation. What bothers me the most about this is that this family could be my family or any other farm family across this country. They are small farmers, a few hundred acres of land and 2 chicken houses. The activists call them “factory farmers”. Really?  A factory?  I can only assume that those who use that term have never been in a poultry house. There is nothing close to resembling a factory. I used to work in a paper mill. There is nothing remotely in comparison.

What I do know about poultry houses is that they are climate controlled. Heat and air conditioning. Something a lot of farm houses lack. The animals have climate control and the humans caring for them do not. Go figure. Their watering and feeding systems are automated which ensures that the water and feed are fresh. Everything about a poultry house is designed for the comfort of the birds. They are spacious, uncaged, climate controlled, and unlimited access to food and water. How do I know? I’ve walked through them. If all you know about poultry houses is from activist websites, then you do not have correct information.

The bottom line for me, is if you don’t understand something or have a question, ask me. What a wonderful world this would be if people would simply communicate. Watch the video at Listen to their story. Give if you feel led to do so. Most importantly, don’t make assumptions. We family farmers are counting on you to be correctly informed. Our livelihoods depend on it. Thanks for listening.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Have a Farm Question? Ask a Farmer, Not a Restaurant

Social Media is ablaze recently with discussion about the Chipotle commercial on family farms and the McDonald’s position on use of gestation crates for sows. Isn’t it funny how blindly people assume that because Chipotle or McDonald’s makes a statement about how their food gets from farm to restaurant, that the vast majority actually BELIEVES what they say is true? This is what highly paid marketing professionals call “framing the discussion”. They do so in ways that give them the appearance of respectability and truth. We as consumers take it in and make assumptions, misinformed, misguided, and otherwise inaccurate, based on what was presented…unless we’re astute enough to do our own research. (This research method by the way, is highly advisable, and is the crux of my blog).

Case in point – I’m guilty. For about 50 years, our family farm was a farrow to finish (birth to 250 pounds) hog farm. It takes a pig about 6 months to grow from birth to 250 pounds. Our operation was all outdoors, very labor intensive, not particularly good for control of erosion because hogs rutted up the fields, not particularly good for environmental control of manure, and not very cost-effective either. We closed up shop on our livestock production about 15 years ago due to those last 2 points – environmental regulations and the cost of raising hogs.  So when I hear that McDonald’s wants their growers to phase out gestation crates, as a former hog farmer, I actually have no idea what they are talking about. We never had gestation crates. But being the good consumer that I am, I investigate.

I called my neighbor who is a hog farmer. I asked her “So what is with this McDonald’s deal and gestation crates?” (I assumed her farm used them).

Her response?


Wow – I am GUILTY. I bought into the marketing message that McDonald’s is now advertising. I mean surely McDonald’s is correct in that ALL hog farmers’ use them right? WRONG!!!

So my point being, don’t do what I just did and what a lot of social media activists are doing which is making you believe that because there is a certain farming practice out there, all farmers must be using that practice. IT’S NOT TRUE.

Remember that marketing messages are designed to present one side of the story. It is “framed” a certain way to communicate a specific message, correctly or incorrectly. Be an informed consumer. Check out the other side of the story. If you want to understand how your food is grown, ask a farmer, not a marketing professional or restaurant chain.

Don’t know any farmers personally? I know of a great resource for you! Visit the website Click on “Food Facts” tab, and watch some really great videos from volunteer farm women around the USA who are growing your food and telling their farm’s story so that consumers understand what we farmers do to provide healthy and safe food, keep our livestock well and content, be good stewards of the land and resources we have, and provide the opportunity for our kids to own the next generation of family farms.

You can also leave me a comment and I will try to answer it. If I don't know the answer personally, I will call a farmer friend to find out for you and blog about the answer.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Amber Waves of Whole Grain for School Lunches

Michelle Obama as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign, along with USDA Secretary Vilsack recently announced a long awaited and much needed revamp to the school lunch program. If you’re a parent of a child in public school, you know exactly what I’m talking about. School kitchens no longer exist to cook food, they are simply heat and serve facilities. Several years ago, my church tried to hold a spaghetti dinner as a fundraiser for a mission trip we were taking. We rented the local public school because it has more seating capacity than our church. We were surprised how challenging it was to prepare foods in the school kitchen. There were no pots to boil water! The menus are very much less than desirable, at least in my kid’s opinions, along with the fact that there is not enough time to eat, so my kids pack every day and have for years. The First Lady should be applauded for her efforts to fight childhood obesity, not only through increasing exercise, but also by improving the school menus, a place were some kids get the majority of their calories each day.

Of the many changes that will be taking place, adding more whole grains to the menu is one of the changes. Why is fiber important? Well besides the fact that it is crucial to maintaining regularity, fiber is also lowers blood cholesterol levels, reduces the risk of heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes, and diverticulosis.

So a primer on fiber:

Fiber is only found in plant-based foods. There are 2 types of fiber: soluble fiber found in fruits, vegetables, beans, and oat bran; insoluble fiber found in whole grains, wheat bran, beans, fruit and vegetables.

How much fiber do you need? Women should be getting between 25-30 grams per day, men should consume 30-38 grams per day, children and teens should consume 19-26 grams per day.

The average American only eats 15 grams per day…. That’s a reflection on some poor dietary choices in my mind!

Reading those food labels:

High fiber – these items will contain 5 grams of fiber or more per serving.

Good Source of Fiber – these items will have 2.5 to 4.9 grams of fiber per serving.

Read the Ingredient list: Look for words such as whole, whole grain, whole wheat, stoneground whole, oats, oatmeal, brown rice, wheatberries. These items mean that the grain has been minimally refined and still retains most of the fiber. Words like “multigrain” do not necessarily mean that those grains are “whole” so read carefully. Whole grains should be the first or second ingredient in the list to make it truly high in fiber.

Fiber from Field to Fork:
Does the farmer do anything to change the fiber in your food as it goes from farm to fork? No. The grains that are harvested, leave our farm “whole”. The grain has all its “parts” – the bran, the germ and the endosperm. At the flour mill, grains go through various stages of refining which effect the amount of fiber. According to the Whole Grains Council, a bushel of wheat that leaves my farm, will make enough whole wheat flour to bake 60 loaves of bread. That same bushel when refined into white flour will make only 42 loaves. The difference in the number of loaves of bread a bushel makes is related to the amount of refining of the wheat into flour.

So how do you make sure you get enough fiber?
  1. Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
  2. Read labels. Look for 2 or more grams of fiber per serving.
  3. Read ingredient list. Look for whole grains listed as the first or second ingredient so that you know the majority of what was used in the food was whole grain.

Amber waves of whole grain. Let’s hope they sweep through the school systems across this country and improve the nutrition of all our kids.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Super Bowl NEEDS Agriculture!

There Would Be NO Super Bowl Without Agriculture! Huh? I’m guessing that is what your response may be. You're probably thinking “What on earth does agriculture have to do with football?” Well, think about the number of items used or consumed at a game that have to be grown by a farmer. There would literally be NO football game without AGRICULTURE!!

Here’s why –

  1. The actual football is referred to as the “pigskin”. Why? Because originally, the ball was made from an inflated pig bladder then covered in leather. While the “bladder” is now synthetic, the football is still covered in leather. OK, football = pigs & cows = livestock = agriculture. Check.
  2. Uniforms – While most of the actual uniforms worn on the field are synthetic fabric, many of the other articles of clothing utilize some percent cotton. Certainly a lot of our clothing is made in part from cotton. OK, so clothing = cotton = crop = agriculture. Check.
  3. If Sunday’s game is cold, you’ll bet the players have nice wool hats to keep their heads warm when standing on the sidelines. OK, so hat = wool = sheep = agriculture. Check.
  4. Shoes! Whether on your feet or the players’ feet, most likely are made from leather. OK, so shoes = leather = cows = agriculture. Check.
  5. How about that beer? Whether you’re drinking it at home or at the game, beer is made from barley & hops. OK, so beer = barley & hops = crops = agriculture. Check.
  6. How about that soda? Unless its diet, it’s sweetened with one thing – sugar, derived from either corn as syrup or sugar cane or sugar beets. OK, so soda = corn/sugar cane/ sugar beets = crops = agriculture. Check.

The Concessionaire is calling Popcorn! Peanuts! Hot Dogs! Can Any One Say Agriculture?

  1. Are you munching on nachos or popcorn? Oh, well, they’re both made from different varieties of corn, but still, are corn. OK so nachos/popcorn = corn = crop = agriculture. Check.
  2. Those yummy salted peanuts the concessionaire called out? OK, so peanuts = crop = agriculture. Check.
  3. How about those hot dogs? Hot dogs are made from chicken, beef, or pork or combination thereof. How about the bun? The ketchup? The mustard? The relish?
    1. OK, so hot dog = chicken/beef/pork = livestock = agriculture. Check.
    2. OK, so buns = wheat = crop = agriculture. Check.
    3. OK, so ketchup = tomatoes = crop = agriculture. Check.
    4. OK, so mustard = crop (yes a real farmer grows mustard) = agriculture. Check.
    5. OK, so relish = cucumbers = crop = agriculture. Check.
  4. Umm, this is probably obvious but OK, so potato chips = potatoes = crop = agriculture. Check.
  5. What about the program? I know you’re thinking I’ve lost it now but trust me, I have not. Many printers have converted to soy-based ink for printing. While I searched online and cannot confirm that the Super Bowl 46 programs are printed with soy-ink, there is a good chance they are. OK, so Ink = Soybeans = crop = agriculture. Check.
  6. Unfortunately, the playing field at the home of the Indianapolis Colts is artificial turf, but 18 out of 31 NFL Stadiums still play on grass. Maybe you don’t think of turf grass as a “crop” but a farmer does grow it and care for it, harvests it, and sells it. It’s a crop, plain and simple. OK, so Professional turf grass = crop = agriculture. Check.

So you see this Sunday’s game is brought to you NOT by all those corporate sponsors running really funny and amusing advertisements between downs. It’s brought to you by the American Farmer, who grew all the crops that made all the products that players, sports fans, and those who only want to watch the commercials will be using and consuming.

Thank you American Farmer for bringing us the Super Bowl!