Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hosting a Field to Fork Farm Tour

Tuesday, 9/24 was a pretty special day. As part of CommonGround MidAtlantic, I hosted a Field to Fork Farm tour. Common Ground is a group of volunteer farm women who are "agvocating", in other words, sharing and talking about our family farms and agriculture so that people have a "real" view of farming. The program is self-funded by mine and other farmer's check off dollars. I blogged about check-off dollars earlier this year. You can read that post here.

Because I am a Registered Dietitian (RD) by training, I knew that I wanted to offer other dietitians the opportunity to do a farm tour. Dietitians are highly trained professionals knowledgeable about food and nutrition BUT the curriculum offers very little in the way of "food production", ie: farming. When I was in college, "food production" was a class you took to learn cooking in large quantities in a commercial food service operation, not how to grow food. We invited members of the Maryland Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to attend and had 30 dietitians attend. It was super group of women who were very engaged with all the topics we covered. And we covered a lot of very hot topics! From biotechnology to precision agriculture, conservation and farming systems, antibiotics and animal welfare, water quality and soil erosion, diversification, market access, and preserving the farm and passing it along to the next generation all were discussed. My approach of the day was that there were no off limit topics. We as farmers have nothing to hide and nothing to be embarrassed about with our operations. We would be transparent and they could ask away. Here was the day in summary:

Field to Fork Farm Tour:

 We began at my farm where we talked about biotechnology. Here I am showing the difference between a tofu soybean plant and a Round Up (glyphosate) soybean plant.  The first question I got was if I was concerned about pollen drift. My reply - no, soybeans self-pollinate. Second question - So what makes the plant on the right GMO? Answer - herbicide resistance trait. If these were corn plants that open pollinate, then we would stagger the planting intervals so that they wouldn't pollinate at the same time.

Here you can see we are standing in the middle of the road, an advantage we have from being so rural. The field behind the group on the right side of the road are food grade or tofu soybeans we grow for a farmers cooperative we belong to. The field behind me on the left side of the road are glyphosate resistant soybeans. The two fields have similar yet different management strategies but do not require different equipment. Mainly in the food-grade soybeans, we try to control for "pokeweed" which has large purple berries and will stain the soybeans if the berries go through the combine. The end result would be purple tofu, which no one would likely buy...

We talked a lot about conservation, water quality, and precision agriculture. Due to the Chesapeake Bay, farmers in Maryland farm under an entirely different set of regulations that most farmers around the nation. Our farm has invested heavily in conservation tillage equipment, installed many, many best management practices on our farm, and have upgraded machinery to be able to do precision agriculture. Here I am explaining our GreenSeeker, which I blogged about in the spring. You can read that post here.

Some lucky ladies got to ride our combine as we are in the midst of corn harvest! Not something a lot of people get to do in their lives. One comment I heard from those who rode (besides how much fun it was): "I had no idea there was so much technology in those machines!"

Lunch was served by Sisters By Chance catering. These ladies did a superb job of serving the entire menu sourced from local farms.  They even made our machinery shop look welcoming and not so diesel smelling!

From our farm we went to Grand View Farm which is a grain and hog operation. My friend Jennifer is also a Common Ground volunteer and her farm provided the opportunity to talk about confinement operations, antibiotics and animal welfare. She shared with the RDs that they do not administer antibiotics unless animals are sick and for about 1 week when feeder pigs are first group housed. They do this because they have historical data showing that those animals routinely get sick when brought into pens for the first time, sort of like when kids first go to school and catch everything from each other.

We got to see the farrowing barn. Jennifer's farm does not use gestation stalls, the pregnant sows are grouped in large pens during their pregnancy. When they are ready to deliver, they are placed in farrowing stalls which you see above. Farrowing stalls are different from gestation crates. These farrowing stalls are designed to provide an "escape area" for piglets so that they are not laid or step on by the sow. It also provides a dry environment as the vented floor keeps the piglets dry allowing for waste to drain into the catch basin below. This reduces disease and provides more comfort. The piglets are weaned in 3 weeks and the sow returns to the group housing.

Holding a piglet was another highlight of the day. Those critters are cute when they are little, but 6 months later... not so much.

One lucky attendee even got baptized by piglet pee which I'm sure was her absolute favorite part of the tour (not)!

Then we were off to the Crow Farm, a farm that has really adapted itself in recent years to bring on the next generation and keep the farm forward-looking and profitable. From a history of dairy and grains, Crow Farm is now a grass-fed beef, vineyard and winery, with a B&B and a focus on agritourism.


The group got an overview of the beef operation followed by a tour of the winery facility. 

Followed by a wine tasting of Crow Farm's award winning wines with a fantastic view of the vineyard! Prior to boarding the bus to head back to Annapolis, the group was able to buy local and purchase for themselves Crow grass-fed beef and wine. 

To cap off the day, attendees received a copy of No More Food Fights, by Michelle Payn-Knoper to reinforce the importance of farm and food conversations

This Field to Fork Farm Tour was a productive conversation around food and farming and for me, one of the most enjoyable days I've had in a long time talking about some very hot topics. 

Maya Angelou once said "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  My hope is, the dietitians who attended will have left this farm tour feeling positive about where their food is coming from and the authenticity of the family farms producing it.

Many thanks to the Maryland Soybean Board and the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board for providing the funding to make this farm tour a great 'agvocacy" day!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Poster Girl for Crop Insurance

Risk management is critical for family farms. Crop insurance is part of that portfolio in addition to other approaches such as diversification. A few weeks ago, I was asked to do a video for the Department of Agriculture on crop insurance for grapes. Maryland photographer, Edwin Remsberg came out to take pictures and ask questions about crop insurance specifically for grapes and in general about risk management for family farms. I think he did a fantastic job!

Grapes are a very risky crop, as are many fruits and vegetables. If you have any doubts about this, read my earlier blog Rain is a good thing... The pictures tell the story of why crop insurance is so important to farmers.