Archives for category: Agvocacy

We are deep into election season. Many of us are weary of the relentless negativity, name-calling, and stretching of the truth (no, let’s just call it what it is – lying) that fills television, radio and print media, social media and some of our everyday personal conversations.  This year seems to be especially nasty with candidates reaching new lows in terms of angry, destructive, irresponsible speech.  To differentiate themselves and shut out their competition, candidates at the national, state, and local level are mercilessly attacking not only their opponents of competing parties, but members of their own parties.  I’m not sure if those responsible for the attacks realize the depth of damage that is occurring due to this tactic. There’s now increasingly widespread distrust of anyone involved in government at any level, regardless of party affiliation.  As an elected representative at the county level, I can attest to increased skepticism and contempt toward elected and appointed officials. The majority (true, there are bad apples in any group) of people serving are doing so to try to make our communities better, not for personal gain or with a sinister agenda. But due to the current trend, this negative generalization unfortunately paints everyone with the same brush.

There’s a comparison to be made between what’s happening now in the political arena and the current movement in the food industry. To differentiate themselves, with the goal of increased market share and to shut out the competition, food growers, manufacturers, and retailers are employing manipulative tactics similar to those in use by the politicians. The result of this intentionally misleading, fear-based marketing has been an increasingly widespread distrust of farming practices and our food supply.  As a farmer, I find myself forced to defend myself, other farmers, and agriculture in general, due to the spread of misinformation.

It’s nearly impossible to check out social media or traditional media sources without hearing or seeing a promotional message for a food item with a negative or misleading slant, disguised as fact. In order to increase sales of a food product (or related product such as a book), drive traffic to a website, or charge an inflated price, sellers are utilizing a negative, emotional advertising style.  What bothers me most is that some farmers are using these tactics against each other.  Food packaging bearing trendy adjectives has grown in popularity by placing doubt about conventional foods and some technologies in agriculture.  Unwarranted demonization of certain food ingredients and production methods is rampant in marketing.  Because 98% of the population does not live or work on a farm, has no real connection to farming, and lacks fundamental first-hand knowledge of agriculture, fear-based marketing with no factual basis and only emotional appeal has been quite effective.

Take a look at the recent advertising campaigns by Chipotle and Panera using emotional imaging and romantic idealism and one would think that the only “good” farmers are those with quaint 1940s-style red barns, wearing bib overalls and driving antique tractors. On social media and the internet, savvy marketers like the “Food Babe” prey on emotion and fear to drive business to their affiliated retailers. Stroll the farmers market and you’ll find alarming messaging stating that “food in the grocery store in poison”. Check out labels in the grocery store that bear manipulative statements such as “antibiotic-free” milk, when ALL milk is free of antibiotics, “non-GMO” wheat products, when ALL wheat in the marketplace is non-GMO, or chicken with “no hormones added”, when ALL poultry is free of added hormones.  Messages like these may be effective sales drivers in the short-term for the seller, but have a long-lasting impact by creating a lingering confusion and doubt toward an entire industry that can be quite difficult to overcome.

The fact is: we have the safest food supply in the world, enjoy relatively affordable food prices, and have a wide array of choices in our grocery stores and farmers markets to suit the budget and personal preferences of most everyone. Because of the destruction of trust due to widespread misinformation, what we are so fortunate to have could be threatened.

How about trying something different? Politicians could advertise their experience and vision – stay out of the mud.  Food marketers could promote the attributes and benefits of their product, if it’s delicious and nutritious it should be easy to sell – no need to bash the competition or instill fear.

To me, the parallel between political campaign messaging and food marketing campaigns is evident. To my friends in the agriculture industry, I wish that we’d stop the use of anti-scientific, fear-based, irresponsible marketing.  There are plenty of challenges in farming without having to defend against the myriad of false claims.  To my non-farm friends, both rural and urban, I ask that you think about the messages, the motivation behind them, and realize that not all sources have the same level of credibility.  Please be rational rather than emotional, ask questions of those with first-hand experience and not take a sales pitch as fact.  I’d like to put this election season behind me just as soon as possible, let’s do the same with negative food marketing.

 

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Last week I was fortunate to be able to travel to a warmer climate for a Farm Bureau conference. I missed out on the sub-zero temps, frigid wind chills, and snow that moved through the Midwest, and instead enjoyed lots of sunshine and warmth in San Diego.

In addition to the beautiful weather, one of the best parts of this annual meeting is the opportunity to connect with farmers and ranchers from across the country. It’s great to catch up with friends I’ve met along the way who I may see only once a year, as well as meet new folks in the ag industry.

Upon my return home, I was asked by an acquaintance if I ran into any celebrities in California. I did see Jay Leno there, as he was the comedic entertainment for the closing session, but I didn’t meet him, or even get up close and personal.

I did, however, personally meet, for the first time, several people who definitely qualify for “celebrity” status in the world of agriculture. And there were plenty in attendance who would qualify as a “star” in our industry.

First on the list of those who I was able to meet for the first time was Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University, who was awarded the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award at the conference. She’s an animal behavioral scientist and researcher who has had a major impact on the livestock industry; specifically on how animals are worked and handled. We’ve taken her ideas and utilized them on our own farm, setting up our equipment in suggested formation; we’ve noted greater efficiency and less stress among our cattle. Calmer cattle translate into happier humans who work with them!

Grandin

I also was able to meet Blake Hurst and his wife, Julie. Blake serves as the President of Missouri Farm Bureau, and is a talented writer. I’ve been a fan since 2009 when I read a piece he wrote in response to a book that was anti-agriculture. Thanks to social media I’ve been able to follow the advocacy efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, and it was a pleasure to meet them both in person.

Two more smart and impressive leaders I met during the course of the conference were Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, who works to build consumer trust in our food system, and Paul Wenger, President of California Farm Bureau. I had an interesting conversation with Paul about current challenges to agriculture.

Are any of them typical celebrities? No. They’re not actors, musicians, or whatever-the-Kardashians-are; but they’re accomplished, significant, and influential in the ag world, one that’s vastly more important to me than Hollywood.

Last night a woman who I like and respect quite a bit posted a rather lengthy Facebook status.  Tammy and I met several years ago at the farmers market where I’m a vendor and she is a regular customer.  Her status bothered me so much that it’s now 3:00 AM, about 5 hours after I read the post, and I’ve given up trying to sleep, gotten out of bed, and am at the computer in our farm office, trying to regurgitate the thoughts I’ve had since the initial read.

She’s a mom of two, and is making all of the food choices for her family.  Her post centered around her feelings of being torn between “seemingly opposing sides” of the “local, heirloom, organic, grass-fed, humanely raised, sustainable, non-GMO, antibiotic-free, free-range” farmers and those who farm using conventional methods.

I’ve left the comfort of my warm bed to try to explain that, Tammy, you don’t have to choose a side.

The recent round of fear-based marketing, most prominently displayed by Chipotle’s new advertising campaign introduced this week, will have you believe that there is only one correct choice and that it must be the one with the most adjectives attached.  I’m troubled by the increasing prevalence of emotionally charged fear mongering in food marketing and am especially bothered by how it’s affecting people like Tammy.  It’s beyond annoying to me when one method of production is misrepresented and put down to make another look good.  This tactic is being used not only by major food retailers like the burrito purveyor, but by farmers against one another.  It is this particular practice that makes me saddest, as the rift is non-productive and dangerous.  I would suggest that there is room for all types of production methods in today’s agriculture and that they can peacefully co-exist.  The reality is that there are plenty of markets for farmers today.  Consumers have a variety of desires and demands, from budget to niche related.  We also can’t overlook the fact that we’re facing a very real global population explosion and it will take all farmers, large and small, organic and conventional, doing what they do best, to feed it.

Winter Cow

A farmer makes the decision on what kind of crop to grow and how to grow it based on a multitude of factors, which include location, facilities, resources, market opportunities, availability of labor, personal preference, etc.  I’ll give some examples beginning with my own farm.  Here we have a herd of 60 beef cows.  It’s that size because of the amount of land, and the quality of land, that we have available.  The land where my cattle graze during the spring, summer and fall has been in my husband’s family since the 1840’s.  Because of the soil type and terrain (gravel in some spots, too wet in others) it’s not really suitable for growing a crop but makes a great pasture.  That reason, coupled with the fact that both my husband and I enjoy working with cattle, is the reason that we raise beef, and are the size that we are.  If there was more of the same type of land available we might choose to increase our herd size, but would have to consider other factors such as the need to hire more help to care for the additional animals.  Sixty cows is the size that works for us.

The decision about how to market our beef, which is directly to consumers, was made based on the fact that here in McHenry County we’re physically located in a fairly populous and prosperous area between two major population centers, Chicago and Rockford.  Because of that proximity we can market our products direct, or choose to sell through traditional markets.  I have friends who raise cattle in North Dakota.  They’re in a remote rural area literally 100 miles from the nearest Starbucks and 80 miles from a McDonalds.  Marketing direct to consumers is not an option for them simply because the population is not there to draw from, the market simply doesn’t exist for them.  They also have about ten times the number of cows that I have.  They are that size because they have more land and more labor available; there are actually 3 generations of their family working together.  That’s the size that works for them.  It’s not better or worse than what we’re doing here.

I choose to not use growth promotants in my beef.  It’s because my customers tell me that they want it that way.  As a consequence of that choice, my cattle grow a little slower than cattle from herds where they are used, so mine will require more feed.  The cost of that feed is passed along to the consumer, thus my beef is more expensive than the more efficiently raised alternative.  I’m very aware that there are people who can’t afford my beef.  That’s OK and I’m happy that there is more affordable beef in large retail stores available to them since I believe that beef is a terrific source of necessary protein (not to mention iron and zinc), and it’s great tasting, too!  I would never suggest that there’s anything wrong with the less expensive beef that is raised in a different manner.  Growth promotants have been used for decades and are completely safe.  I personally would not hesitate to buy beef from the grocery store if I did not have my own home-grown supply.  Similarly, I do not have a problem feeding my own beef to my family or selling it to others even though it does not carry the “organic” certification.  The bottom line is that I have found a market for my beef, while other farmers have a market for less expensive, efficiently-raised beef, and yet another group finds buyers who are willing to pay extra for the organic label.  We find what works best for our own farms.

I also market my beef as “natural”.  This term on a label means (by USDA definition) that it’s minimally processed with no artificial additives.  There are no preservatives or food coloring in my beef.  Again, I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong with either of these, just going along with the preferences of my customers.  In fact, the absence or presence of a growth promotant, a preservative, or food coloring has absolutely no effect on the nutritional value, taste, or safety of beef.  And remember that all beef, regardless of the number of adjectives used to describe it, must always be handled and cooked properly.  A person can become ill from improperly prepared food, whether it’s organic, sustainable, free-range or not.   Getting back to the customer…I’m able to fit my production methods to the demands of my clientele.  These days, they tell me that “local” and “natural” are important to them, they don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about “organic”. They do like know that the money they’re spending is staying in the county.  They want to have a relationship with their farmer and know how and where their food is raised.  I’m happy to comply.  If things change and price, or something else, should become the priority, I will have to adapt my production methods accordingly.

Summer Cows

I have neighbors who grow vegetables.  Their farm is located on a state highway, perfect for a farm stand, given the amount of traffic in our suburban county.  They can market a large amount of a wide variety of their vegetables directly to consumers right from home.  I have other friends who also grow vegetables but their farm is off the beaten path, actually on a gravel road.  A farm stand at home is not an option for them (they like their quiet location, and admit that they would not enjoy hosting the public at their home on a daily basis as others do), so they’ve chosen to load a truck several times a week during the growing season and sell at farmers markets, or sell to the wholesale market in Chicago.  Another friend from the farmers market has a very small amount of acreage and grows heirloom (and other varieties of veggies that you don’t see everywhere) using organic methods.  She chooses this because it’s what her customers want; the “organic” label is important to them and they are willing to pay for it.  She’s able to comply because her small scale is manageable for her without much extra help.  Her veggies do cost more due to the cost of organic certification and market expenses, but she’s found a niche for herself and gets a premium for her products.  The neighbors with the farm stand have a large amount of land with fertile soil types.  They choose to raise their veggies using conventional methods and fairly large equipment.  They don’t believe there’s anything wrong with organic, but their choice is based on the fact that organic production requires more labor which is not readily available to them, and more importantly, their customers are happy with the variety, quality, and quantity of what they produce.  It’s the size and method that works for them.  Each has chosen what works best, not necessarily “a side”.

So for Tammy, and other consumers who are struggling with food choices amidst overwhelming labels, adjectives, and headline-grabbing, myth-based marketing campaigns, I say pick whatever works best for YOU.  Don’t be mislead by fear-mongers and unjustified guilt.  Ask questions of those who are actually growing the food, and discount the opinions of those who must tear down someone else’s choice to make theirs look most appealing.  Buy what you want given your own budget and preferences.  And remember that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing; there is no rule against buying conventional one day and organic the next.  Whether you’re buying food for your family at a small farm stand, the local farmers market, Jewel, Trader Joe’s, Target, or Costco – with no adjectives or a list of adjectives as long as your arm – know that there’s a farmer at the other end who made choices too.  There’s no wrong answer.

Okay, glad I’ve gotten that off my chest.  The day is now beginning, time to start my day the same way farmers and ranchers all across the country do, regardless of the number of acres they own, animals in their care, or method of production they’ve chosen for their farm.  We’re all getting up and checking our animals; making sure they’re comfortable and secure, that they have plenty of feed, water, and a dry place to rest.  Our livestock comes first no matter the adjectives attached to the label.  No choice there.

If you know me, you know that I’m all about sharing what’s happening on our farm and I enjoy connecting people with little or no agriculture background to those directly involved in growing or raising our food, fuel and fiber. Illinois Farm Bureau helps run a program that makes this happen, it’s called “Illinois Farm Families“. This program facilitates conversations between farmers and consumers, provides opportunities for non-farm folks to have their questions answered about food, farmers and farming, and also shares the reality of what actually happens on today’s Illinois family farms.

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I was fortunate to be asked to accompany the current group of the Illinois Farm Families’ “Field Moms” on an outing a couple of weeks ago. This was the final tour for this group of Chicago-area mothers that has been meeting periodically for the past year. We met in the morning at a large grocery store in Wheaton for a back-of-the-house tour, and an enlightening discussion about retail food marketing with store management.

We then spent the afternoon at the Northern Illinois Food Bank in St. Charles, volunteering our time to sort and package food for the hungry. Last year, The Food Bank fed 500,000 people in 13 counties by distributing 50 million pounds of food. Our group was assigned to the meat department. My task was to inspect the donated packages to make sure that there were no rips, holes, or tears in the packaging, then send the meat on to other volunteers for labeling and sorting. Pallet after pallet of beef, pork, poultry, lamb and fish products were brought from the freezer warehouse, reassembled into 20 lb. boxes, to be distributed to food pantries, schools, and shelters. At the end of the day, our group was responsible for getting about 8,000 lbs. of meat ready to go. The Food Bank is a huge structure and on this particular Saturday was bustling with volunteers working to help those less fortunate. It was great to be a part of such a worthwhile group effort. I really enjoyed meeting the “Field Moms”, too, and having a chance to get to know a few of them as we worked side by side.

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The Field Moms have visited a variety of Illinois family farms over the past year. The farm tours are planned for Saturdays in March, May, October and November; timed to show the cycle from planting to harvest. They have seen farms of all types and sizes, and have met farmers who raise crops like corn and soybeans, as well as those who make a living raising livestock such as dairy cows, beef cattle and hogs. The Field Moms share their firsthand accounts by submitting photos and a short blog about their experiences.

As the 2013 Field Moms wrap up their year of interaction and learning, plans are being made for 2014. A new group will be selected soon. If the program sounds interesting, I’d encourage you to apply at http://www.WatchUsGrow.org – applications are due by December 15. Let me know if you have any questions.

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days blog challenge or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!

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This photo shows how harvest was handled on our farm in the late 1970’s. I, for one, am thankful for the improvements in technology that have made the task easier and more efficient. The photo is also a representation of early efforts to educate non-farm kids about agriculture. The children in the foreground are part of a class (kindergarten?) that came out of their classroom to visit the adjoining field and learn a little about the crops grown in their neighborhood and the harvest process.

This field, adjacent to the Greenwood School, is part of the original farm that has been in my husband’s family since the 1840’s. We’re still farming here and still using the Case 1370 tractor fairly often. It was just a few years old (and Gary’s pride and joy) when the photo was taken. The Gleaner combine is long gone – we’re using a John Deere machine these days. Many of our family members are involved with Farm Bureau and try to contribute to that organizations ag education programs whenever possible. It’s more important now than it was back then as the number of people removed from the farm continues to grow.

Another great program offered by Illinois Farm Bureau is called Illinois Farm Families. “Field moms” get the opportunity to tour farms, meet the people growing our food, and get answers to their questions. If you, or any Chicago-area moms you may know want to learn more about food and farming, I’d encourage you or them to become a Field Mom. Find more info and an application here. The deadline to apply is December 15.

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days blog challenge or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!

Got milk?

Got milk?

Working at the farmers market twice a week selling beef raised on our farm, I sometimes hear negative comments pertaining to the care of livestock or the operation of larger farms. More than once someone has tossed out a casual question regarding the care of animals on our farm, or said to me, or “it’s great that you’re doing this on a small scale, you know those large farmers are abusing their animals”. I have to wonder what they think happens when a farm reaches a certain size. Do otherwise sensitive, caring individuals suddenly turn into cruel abusers when the number of animal units reaches 200, 500, 1000? Is everything automatically acceptable if it’s done small scale? I don’t believe that there is a “magic number”. I believe that those of us raising livestock for our livelihood have the best interest of the animals in our care in mind at all times. Sure, there have been a couple of well-publicized cases of abuse, we’ve all seen the videos. Of course there are a few idiots in any profession – there are bad people who are doctors, accountants, clergymen, teachers – you name it. However, you cannot paint everyone with the same brush. You wouldn’t say that all teachers are awful because of a few bad apples, and the same should not be done to farmers.  It was always my goal to have 365 cows in my herd. I’m not even 20% of the way there, and most likely won’t ever get there. My operation is the size that it is due to the limited amount of pasture and facilities on our farm. If I ever do reach my goal, would I automatically begin being abusive to my cattle?

 
Since I’ve been raising beef for a couple of decades, I happen to know many others doing the same thing, locally and in different parts of the country. Some of them just have a couple of cows or may raise a steer or two just for their own families. Others have large, modern operations or have many hundreds of cows in their herds, supporting multiple generations of farm families. The men and women farming or ranching on a larger scale are just like me, only working in a different setting.  Since I’ve been to these places and know these people, I can honestly say that there is no

"Beauty" - negligent mother or practical realist?

“Beauty” – negligent mother or practical realist?

difference in the level of dedication or quality of care provided at either end of the spectrum. Regardless of size, it’s a 24/7 job requiring attention to detail, knowledge, and devotion. I might go as far as to say that the level of professionalism is even greater when the number is animals is increased. Those farmers face greater risks and have more on the line. Often there are people on the larger farms whose sole responsibility is the health and comfort of the animals. Wouldn’t it would make sense that the animals on the larger farms are just as well cared for as those on small operations, if not more?
Here’s an example of why it bothers me when people ask me if I abuse my animals: About 2 ½ weeks ago, one of my favorite cows (#89, known as “Beauty”) gave birth to twins, one male and the other female. She cleaned both of them up nicely but soon thereafter she decided to abandon the female calf. On occasion, cows that have twins will abandon the weaker or less robust of the two. The mother cow may feel that she can’t adequately protect both from predators, that she doesn’t have enough milk to raise two, or something may be physically wrong with the one she leaves behind. I’m not exactly sure what prompted her decision, but it is noticeable that the female calf has an irregular vulva. It’s nothing that will affect the calf’s quality of life, but it is still an abnormality. Within the species, many female

Sleeping in her calf hutch

Sleeping in her calf hutch

twins born with a male twin will have reproductive issues and are often sterile.

The female twin immediately became my responsibility when the cow walked away with her bull calf. I gave her some colostrum (a commercial version of the cow’s first milk containing the antibodies that the calf needs to survive) from a bottle, then ran out to the feed store to buy a bag of milk replacer (powdered milk that we reconstitute with warm water) for the calf. After that first feeding, for the next week and a half, the little heifer refused to drink from a bottle or pail, so we had to feed her two or three times a day using a feeding tube. This is a fairly difficult and time consuming process, having to thread the proper length of small flexible plastic tubing past the sharp teeth, down her throat and into her stomach all while she’s moving around. The esophagus is very close to the trachea leading to the lungs, so it’s imperative that the plastic tube goes down the right way. If we make a mistake and put liquid into the lungs, the calf will die immediately. After a couple of days of constant attention, the heifer was still weak, not thriving, and not responding to any of our attempts to get her going (such as adding electrolytes or probiotics to her milk), so we called in our veterinarian. Dr. Morrissey examined her, administered medication, and left some for us to give her three times a day. We spent several more days hovering and following the doctor’s orders. Finally, last Sunday she regained her ability to

Mid-day meal

Mid-day meal

suck and began to drink from a bottle. For a week now she’s been doing much better, drinking milk three times a day, drinking some water from a bucket, and nibbling on a tiny bit of grain. She’s filling out and her coat is shiny. She has her own space, a “calf hutch” outside near the barn where she can go to be safe and dry, but she can also go into the barnyard and out to the pasture to be with the other calves and cows whenever she wants to. It’s great to see her doing well, she recognizes me now as her food source and comes running when she sees me with the bottle.

I tell this story to bring up an example of care and concern that farmers show their animals every day.  When something goes wrong (and there are very few days without some kind of surprise) we know that there will be extra time involved, constant worry and concern, and often added expenses. Some may say that it’s only done in the interest of making a profit. It’s definitely not – in the case I just described the cost of the vet visit alone has removed any chance of profit from this animal. Why we do it is because we care.  If we didn’t like working with animals, we certainly wouldn’t be in this line of work.  In this case, I don’t know any farmer who would have done it differently – large scale or small.

I’m a livestock producer. I’m getting used to frequent attacks by animal rights and other anti-agriculture groups. I still cringe each time they strike, and I fight back however and whenever it’s appropriate, but I have to admit it’s getting easier to respond. They keep spewing the same myths, regurgitating the same falsehoods, so my replies are ready, no research required. I’ve got experience, passion, facts, and good, solid science on my side.

However, I have to say that twice last week I was caught off guard. First of all, there was the USDA newsletter promoting “Meatless Mondays”. I had really never anticipated an attack from the department responsible for promoting all facets of agriculture. But I got on the phone and called my reps in Washington, helped to rattle some cages. Quickly, there was a retraction from USDA.

Then again, on Saturday morning I was thrown another curveball. At about 4:30 I was listening to WGN radio out of Chicago. Like many midwestern farmers, I have WGN on a lot, they give frequent weather and market updates. I was anticipating the “Morning Show” with popular ag broadcasters Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong that airs at 5:00 AM on Saturdays. I always tune in for that and listen while I’m getting ready for the farmers market. What I was hearing at 4:30 was apparently a taped broadcast of a Bill Leff show from earlier this month. Bill’s the overnight host, a former comic who seems like kind of a goof-ball. I don’t listen to him much, but when I do it’s usually a pleasant enough show. Bill was interviewing Lily Raff McCaulou, a woman living in Oregon who had written a book about hunting, “Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner“. She’s a journalist, an urbanite who also has background in the TV and movie industry and moved from New York City west to Oregon. She apparently fell in love with the outdoors, took up hunting and has now written a book extolling the virtues of the hobby.

Ms. McCaulou explained how she feels closer to nature and a part of the ecosystem when hunting. Fine, I thought, I’m not a hunter myself, but I have nothing against those who choose to do so. As long as it’s done legally, with the proper licenses, and safety precautions in mind, of course. Problem was, she didn’t stop there. The author went on to state that hunting is ethical, as opposed to farming and ranching, which is not. That’s what initially got my attention. It was another first; a hunter opposing production agriculture. She stated that hunting casts a “light environmental footprint” but farming causes erosion, and “all kinds of pollution”. Hmmm, similar to the typical animal rights message, but with a new spin. She also went on some about how hunted animals are free to move around and live good lives, unlike farm animals, and the general “misery of factory farming”. This was where Bill Leff chimed in with his thoughts about how livestock is “inhumanely treated”. Up until that point, I was hoping that Bill might wake up and question the legitimacy of some of these erroneous statements, but he was much too busy setting himself up for pithy one-liners.

I wasn’t expecting to hear HSUS/PETA-style fictitious nonsense from a hunter. Hunting is OK; why blast agriculture? Her talk of the negative “environmental issues associated with farming” wasn’t only aimed at livestock producers, she made sure to include “farms growing vegetables or greens”. When she stated that it is hunters who are a “part of the food chain” with a vested interest in animals, and they are the ones who understand that a life was actually taken to supply them with food, I’ll admit I got mad. Farmers and ranchers know this, too. In fact, I believe that we respect this fact more than anyone else. This is not our hobby, not a way to spend the occasional weekend, it’s our livelihood! We care for our animals each and every day, and are grateful for what they provide us. If all of the hunted animals in the woods become ill or die, the hunter can simply go home without filling his or her tag, and stop off at the grocery store for food on the way. If the animals in a farmer or rancher’s care become ill or die, the farmer or rancher’s family and employees go hungry. And eventually, the grocery store shelves become bare.

Ms. McCaulou threw a few jabs at bird watchers and hikers too, saying that they, in addition to farmers, don’t contribute to conservation. Her view is that hunters pay for conservation because they purchase licenses and tags, and ammo has extra taxes associated with it. I would have to argue that farmers are land owners who pay property taxes which are used to fund conservation programs. Aside from that, there is no one with a more vested interest in land conservation than the farmer or rancher. We are stewards of the land and practice conservation every day. It is a responsibility that we take very seriously. The survival of our businesses and way of life depend on it.

And to you Bill Leff, I would suggest that you need to spend some time with your colleagues, Orion and Max. Or better yet, hop a train or drive an hour and a half west to where I am. I’d be happy to take you to visit farms where you can see what’s really happening out here.

Whether it comes from animal rights activists, the USDA, or hunters, it’s time we farmers speak up for ourselves and stop the spread of this fiction. Before it’s too late.

Did anyone happen to catch The View on ABC yesterday morning? I don’t tune in regularly but had the TV on in the background as I was puttering around the kitchen. Rachael Ray was a guest, there to promote her new cookbook that features burger recipes.

 As a beef producer who enjoys preparing beef for my family, that caught my attention so I sat down briefly to watch her segment expecting to perhaps pick up a new idea or two. I did not expect to be confronted with misinformation regarding beef; its production and preparation to be exact. As Rachael Ray displayed samples of finished product from her new book, the ladies tasted and commented. One of them remarked that some of the ground beef was red or pink and wondered if it was safe to eat. Rachael Ray replied that it’s fine if it’s “grass fed” or “organic”. The truth is that all ground beef must be cooked to reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F in order to kill bacteria. The color of the hamburger is irrelevant. Bacteria are everywhere in our environment. Whether the beef is raised using conventional or organic production methods has absolutely nothing to do with the safety of the hamburger. Whether the beef is fed grass, hay, corn, soybean meal, or Krispy Kreme donuts also has nothing to do with the safety of the hamburger. Whether the beef is processed in a large facility, local butcher shop, or at home the same rules apply.

 She also went on to state that the beef “scares” in the media recently were all due to “mass produced” beef and that if you know your producer and where your beef comes from you are guaranteed a safe product. Again, not true. She also stated that beef is OK to consume “once in awhile”. In reality, recent studies have shown that beef can be, in fact, eaten every day as part of a healthy diet. There are 29 cuts of beef that meet nutritional guidelines for “lean”, each with less than 10 g of total fat per 3 oz. serving. In addition, there is 7 times more vitamin B12, 6 times more zinc, and 3 times more iron in beef than the same size skinless chicken breast.  You can find more info on the benefits of beef here:  http://www.beefnutrition.org/CMDocs/BeefNutrition/HeartHealthyFactSheet.pdf

What troubles me is that Rachael Ray, who has built an empire from food preparation, is not aware of basic food safety or nutrition information. I am bothered when celebrities attempt to influence or lecture us common folk about topics that they are so obviously not experts. However, she wasn’t attempting to give her input on the political scene or give an economics lesson, she was speaking on a topic on which she should be well-versed. The public should have a reasonable expectation of accuracy on this topic from her. In reality, Rachael Ray is a popular and very influential celebrity with her own television show and magazine, but she is terribly misinformed. Also bothersome to me is that not one of the ladies on the set with her thought to question what she was stating. I wonder how many people watching yesterday took what she said as gospel. What she said was irresponsible as well as dangerous. I’ve written her about this. Let’s see if she will correct it….

My friend Sue has an organic farm in our area. She grows a variety of flavorful and healthy vegetables and sells them from a stand on the farm, and also at a few farmers markets. This is where our paths crossed several years ago and we struck up a friendship that has endured. Sue’s great; intelligent and fun to talk with. Our conversation topics have been wide ranging; from current events and politics, to county issues and business, markets and vendors, mutual friends, and family. We have much in common.

Recently, Sue mentioned an issue that irks her, and it also bothers me. It’s a behavior that certain members of different segments of agriculture seem to have adopted. That is, attacking each other for the methods they’ve chosen to implement on their respective farms. It sometimes seems that it’s the conventional farmers vs. the organic farmers. I’ve heard organic farmers demonize conventional farmers and even go so far as accusing them of “poisoning the planet”. And conventional farmers speak of organic methods dismissively and with contempt. I’m of the opinion that this negative talk is unproductive and potentially harmful for both sides.  There’s room in the ag community for everyone.  For example, in addition to beef, my husband and I also raise conventionally grown crops on our farm.  There is demand for our products and the methods we choose make sense for our particular operation.  It enables us to be sustainable.  There’s a demand for what Sue grows, too.  Sue has found her niche in organic production.  We can co-exist by simply taking care of our different, respective customers.  The worst thing would be to eliminate one or the other.

It’s all about choices for the consumer.  Americans have long enjoyed abundant and affordable food, and want to have the ability to choose products that work for their particular situation.  We as farmers need to provide what they desire, and what a consumer may want will vary depending on a number of factors, including economic.  Let’s face it, organic or non-conventionally raised products do tend to cost more.  Some simply cannot afford to pay higher prices and find conventionally grown products a better fit for their budgets.  That’s their choice.  So, let’s stop the polarizing name calling and look at the big picture.  With the projected increases in world population looming on the horizon, it will take each and every farmer working in all segments of agriculture to help feed the world.

Now is the time to put aside our differences and focus on what we have in common.  Our goals are the same.  One is to provide a safe and wholesome product to the end consumer, whether they’re our neighbor at the local farmers market or folks around the globe.  Another goal is to take care of the environment, to leave our farms in the best condition possible for our children, or those who come after us.  We’re all farmers; we’re committed to what we do, work hard, and take tremendous pride in it.  We tend our crops with care, regardless of the crop or methods used.  If we think about it, we have a lot in common.  Just like Sue and me.

Seems like everywhere I turn I’m hearing and seeing an increasing amount of inaccurate, negative information about agriculture.  Whether it’s in newspapers, on TV or online, or even during face to face conversations, suddenly it’s fashionable to bash modern ag.

Animal agriculture is taking the majority of the hits these days.  The proliferation of these falsehoods and myths is damaging, and frankly irritates me to no end.  Because of this, and since we livestock producers are so few in number these days (especially in my part of the world), I’ve decided to join the “agvocacy” cause by starting this blog.  Agvocacy is a newly coined word for advocating for agriculture.  It’s time we farmers and ranchers started speaking up for ourselves.  Our detractors are well organized and mightily funded and are not being fair or truthful.  In the past we attempted to “take the high road” by simply ignoring negative or false comments put out there.  We thought that by avoiding controversy the erroneous message would grow old and hopefully fade away quickly.  We now see that such a routine has failed miserably.

With this new blog I’m going to try to tell the real story of farming, from my perspective and of my own operation, and that of some of my friends involved in production agriculture who might do things a little differently, too.  I hope that my non-farm friends and neighbors, and perhaps some curious consumers out there might gain a little insight into modern food production.  I also hope that this might become a place to begin a conversation or have some questions answered.  I love to talk ag, so please feel free to contact me any time.  I’m by no means an expert on every subject, but I do have lots of contacts and resources in the ag community.  Please check back with me often, I’ll be sharing my story here regularly.