Thankful Thursday – Technology

Technology. Some treat it as the downfall of our civilization, some treat it as the answer to everything. Me? I see it for what it is…a gift that can be used in many wonderful ways.

We recently planted a plot of sweet corn. What does that have to do with technology? Well, this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill Grandpa’s sweet corn. This is Bt sweet corn developed by Monsanto.

Our sweet corn seed bag from Monsanto…and I can’t wait to harvest this crop!

Now, I say “developed” because the seed itself is just a simple corn seed, it’s the traits of the corn that makes it special. This corn is more resistant to bugs, which makes it less likely that we’ll need to use pesticides on it. The corn is also hardy to herbicides, meaning that we can use the same chemical that millions of homes use everyday when needed to kill the weeds in the field, limiting the competition to the plant and improving the corn yields. That means more corn with less cost, less trips up and down the field, and less soil disturbance. The fewer times we have to disturb the soil, the better our soil health is, and the less we lose to erosion. A win-win.

This sweet corn is a great new product, but the technology is nothing new. Modifying traits in seeds has been going on for decades. Need examples? How about burpless cucumbers? (Burpless cucumbers are seedless…but without seeds, how are there more?) Oils made from seeds that are healthier? Seedless grapes, navel oranges…the list could go on. Biotechnology is a mainstay of food production throughout the world. With it, we can develop plants that can grow in less favorable conditions, produce better tasting crops and can be developed for certain health-care concerns. And that’s where my hope comes in…

It’s not just the sweet corn that has me thankful today. It’s the possibilities that this corn presents.

Our son, George, has a metabolic disorder that limits his ability to break down proteins. To sum it up in a very short statement, he can’t have meat, dairy, pastas, etc. His diet is limited to 12-13 grams of protein per day. The rest of his essential amino acids comes from here:

This is George’s formula…it stinks to high heaven and I have to hide it in different foods and stuff, but it’s what he needs. And that’s all that matters.

Yes, George is still on formula. And he’ll be on this special formula for the rest of his life. I’m thankful for this can, because without it, I’m not sure what we would have done, or what would have happened. But I don’t need to worry about that.

So what does this can of formula and a cob of corn have in common?

Imagine: if we can make a cob of corn that is resistant to bugs and herbicides, maybe we could eventually make a version of meat that has limited protein in it. Maybe we could make a dairy product that George could drink (and I’m not talking coconut beverage or soy substitute). Maybe we could make a pizza, complete with cheese and toppings, that would be easy and tasty for him to enjoy.

No, this cob of corn is not just a simple treat for my family to enjoy in a few months. It’s not just a soil-saving, resource-saving, farm-friendly crop…it’s a sign of what we can do when we take the time to investigate and do some research.

George, enjoying some yummy sweet corn!

I know what research did for us in the past. I see him every morning, waking up with an amazing smile and a great zest for life. It’s where the research leads us in the future that has me excited…and I hope, for George’s sake, that nothing stands in the way.

I am thankful that Monsanto provided us with the sweet corn seed, but please remember that the thoughts, ideas and opinions are my own…as well as those cute photos of my boys. Thank you!

WW – Some Sweet Tasters

First week of summer break is almost gone…we’ve been busy! I’ll catch up more later, but take a look at my boys enjoying a taste-test of sweet corn shipped to us from down south. I’d like to thank Monsanto for the chance to have an early bite of this delicacy…and can’t wait for our own to be ready!

The long-awaited cooler! Smelled so good!

Boiled up and ready to go!

This little boy was enjoying his first on-the-cob experience with sweet corn fully!

EJ gave the corn two thumbs up! (And was looking for more!)

Even Big Bro was excited about the sweet corn!

Our corn isn’t knee-high yet, but we’re up out of the ground…and that’s a great start!

The taste of sweet corn and the seed we planted was provided to our farm through Monsanto, but the thoughts, ideas and photos are my own.

Some Sweet Sweet Corn

My family is a big fan of sweet corn. Big fan. The only issue has been the amount of time and work that it takes (which I will admit, has mostly fallen on the shoulders of my father-in-law).

Imagine my excitement when a late-night Facebook conversation turned into an offer to test an acre of sweet corn? And not just any sweet corn…but sweet corn that could be planted with our field corn, without having to worry about killing it? I was beside myself with joy!

Now, if you haven’t put two and two together yet, this isn’t your regular sweet corn. It’s Round Up Ready sweet corn that’s been developed by Monsanto. (Wow, I was able to say Monsanto without thunder booming, clouds rolling and some menacing creature showing up.)

Now, that last comment was just me being funny. I have no problem with Monsanto, or any other seed development company. And no, I’m not on the payroll. I’m just simply a mother of four working on new ways to feed my children. Monsanto is just one of the companies that we purchase seed from, and they have no say in what we plant, where we plant it, or other management-type decisions that Boss Man makes.

So what about biotechnology? Aren’t I afraid of the unknowns? The simple answer is…well, simply no. Advancements are how we were able to increase food production, while we decrease our carbon footprint, lower soil erosion and improve our environment overall.

Every where I look, I see where technology (especially biotechnology) has made improvements in our world. Need some examples? How about burpless cucumbers? Seedless cottonwoods? Tomatoes that don’t soften after harvest?

I have no problem with any of these things.

So, in this instance, the sweet corn that we planted has a trait built in, that will help it stand up to insects, and makes it possible for the plant to survive if treated with herbicides (those are chemicals that we sometimes use to eliminate weeds in our fields). Now, before you get ahead of me, let me tell you that we have no desire to spray our corn with herbicides, unless we have to…and sometimes that happens.

Our fields were treated right before planting, so the weeds out there presently should die soon. We won’t have to reapply any herbicide until later in the year, and only if we have a weed issue. (Trust me, we don’t apply chemicals unless we have to…and that’s after a discussion with our crop consultant AND checking out each field ourselves.)

So, here we are, sweet corn in the ground, waiting for some rain and excited to see where the year takes us!

This is the sweet corn we planted!

Getting ready, making sure equal amounts of seed are in each.

Going in the ground!

Look at those rows! Love it! See the residue left from last year’s crop? And the weeds that are there should be dying in the next day or so.

I’d like to thank Monsanto for providing us the opportunity to test out a new product (Obsession II). Although the sweet corn seed was provided to us, the thoughts and photos are my own.

Poor Man’s Lobster – Boiled Northern

My dad had a slight stroke last week…we use the word “slight” because he’s still here to tell about it. But, in reality, it could have been so much worse. He was lucky…and with determination, he came home without the walker they were predicting and he’s almost back to normal…whatever that is.

He asked Saturday evening if Big Bro could go with him fishing on Sunday, and although we usually go to church and Sunday school before any other events, I gave him a pass to spend the day with his grandpa. And he thought it was worth every minute!

The fishing was great, they were biting heavy, but better than that, the memories will be amazing for them both. And when they came home with four decent-sized northern, Big Bro was proud as a peacock.

I’ll share with you my new favorite recipe for northern…and it’s super simple:

Cut up your northern into bite-sized pieces.

All you need is fish and beef broth. This fish is fresh, so there are bones in it. (My Dad doesn't have his de-boning technique down quite yet.) Be careful with those!

Bring about 3 cups of beef broth to a boil.

Bring broth to boil, drop in fish.

Drop in fish and let it boil for about 5-10 minutes. Enjoy!

Fish are cooked through, moist and so yummy!

It’s a very simple, great-tasting dish, sure to please everyone! You can add other seasonings if you wish, but my family prefers it straight from the broth!

Not a laughing matter

A few days ago, a close friend of mine sent me a message on Facebook, directing me to a conversation that was taking place on a specialized sheep page. The message was shocking, and laughed in the face of all we’ve been doing to educate and show consumers where their food comes from…but it was far from funny:

You are a Joke! a Fraud! you can not sell meat! What you are selling is wrong! Meat comes from the grocery store meat departments where they grow it for us to eat. You are one sick individual who says you will sell lamb meat from those cute fuzzy animals! you are gross! Milk comes in a powder that the grocery stores mix with water! Why are you lying to people! you are a sick person who claims to sell meat, milk and cheese that comes from poor helpless lambs!

And no, I can’t make stuff like that up.

So why does it matter? It’s just one loon out there, shouting lies and slinging mud at whomever will listen, right?

Wrong.

One of the reasons that agriculture is being slayed in the media the way it is, is that for too long we figured that people would “get it.” That they would understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and just leave us alone to get the job done.

That’s not the case any more, and I don’t think it ever will be…and shouldn’t. We want people to have a connection to their plate, we want people to understand the power of their input at the grocery store. But they also need to understand that farms are businesses, we provide a product, we need to make a profit and we prepare for the future as well.

There must be a middle ground, a place where we don’t raise our voices, don’t shake our fists and don’t make it personal…I just don’t think we’re there yet. I read a comment recently that stated that farmers need to remember that they are more than just a farm, they are people, too.

Our barn is dated from when it was built. That's a history we can't forget.

But I have to say, from a farmer’s perspective, that’s pretty hard to do. It’s not just a building and some animals, this is our heritage and our family name. It’s the work of previous generations, resting on our shoulders to see it through to the next generation. And it’s up to us to be the communicators to protect not only the future, but the history of our farms as well.

The way I see it, the fact that we’re getting responses such as the loon above, and the other slew of media backlash, must mean we’re heading the right direction.

And if we’re willing to be talking, we better be willing to listen as well.

Walking a mile…

During the course of the last few weeks, (and when I look back, it’s truly months) there has been a lot of air-, print- and cyber-time given to criticize our food choices. Everywhere I look, I find articles that declare that we should not eat this, definitely not that, and the latest articles declare that red meat will bring your premature demise.

Wow, that’s some tough stuff.

I wonder how this study was funded, and how they came up with participants. Did it go something like this: “Hey, would you like to eat some meat and I’ll record when you die?”

OK, I’m going overboard a bit, but can we order up a dose of common sense, please?

In a country where we boast the most freedoms in the world, we certainly do like to spend a lot of time telling everyone what they should and should not be doing. Here’s the only thing I know for certain: Don’t eat anything…and you will die prematurely. That’s a guarantee. And there are those in this world who die from that every day. And they wouldn’t bat an eye at the red meat that supposedly kills you early, or the nutritionally-sound-but-poorly-named “pink slime,” or fresh vegetables, or bagged lettuce, or whatever else we’re supposed to be afraid of on our plate.

Consumers have a right to know about their food, and a right to question the methods, geography and cost of what they put on their plates. What I don’t appreciate is mainstream media’s drive to push misleading and incorrect information to the masses. They certainly do enjoy inciting mass-hysteria, but I have yet to see them stick around for the clean-up.

In a world where we are all about conserving resources and making the most out of what we have, I’m surprised that a method of being able to save a few more pounds of healthy beef is chastised instead of celebrated. (And it really, truly is beef, not some mystery liquid.)

Here is the bottom line: if you don’t want it, don’t buy it. Simple as that. We’re living in a country where we have food choices that each person can make. But we also have to make sure that there are choices available, not just for the affluent and “foodies,” but for John Q and those that have limited budgets. And when we have sources that are nutritionally sound and more economical, why wouldn’t we use them?

It seems to me that those that are speaking the loudest, are the ones that are able to make the most choices. They don’t have to worry about feeding a family of five on less than $10 per day, they don’t know what it’s like to not have money left for food. They’ve never had to collect commodities at a local office, wondering what they were going to make with gifts they’ve been given.

And that’s a mile I pray that I never have to walk again.

Meet the Corporate Head of our Factory Farm

Yesterday, I heard a lot of talk about the #OccupyOurFoodSupply movement. I read a lot of articles on the downfall of our modern agriculture practices, the need to “get back to the basics,” and the need to reconnect to our food supply.

So I thought that instead of blaming some unknown enemy for placing my farm in a bad light, or blaming consumers for not taking the initiative to actually visit where their food comes from, I would show you, just as I have for the last year and a half.

Meet the corporate head:

Ooh, he's using technology, too!

His name is Mark…and we’ve been married just about 11 years. He eats, sleeps and breathes this farm and this land. There is not a thing that he would ever do that would jeopardize it for the future. Not for his satisfaction, though. No, he has a contract with a group that has his number…and he doesn’t like the consequences of messing that up. Here, meet them:

Our boys...and the future of this farm.

A pretty rough looking bunch, eh?

But the real nasty one to work with is the one in charge of our seed selection, the one that forces what we plant, when, where and how…the one that determines whether or not we can farm next year. I’d like for you to meet:

Mother Nature

That’s right, Mother Nature.

You see, there isn’t a corporation, a seed company, a conglomerate of some epic proportions that determines how we farm. That decision lies solely with us. But, unfortunately, we’re not alone in the game. No matter what we decide, Mother Nature can always turn the tables, and we’ll need to react.

You could ask Mark today what his plans are for this spring, what he intends to plant where, and when he plans to start…and his answer will be, “I’m not sure.” You see, spring is not here yet, winter is not over, and Mother Nature can change a lot between now and then.

Do we have seed ordered? You bet. If you don’t order ahead, you risk not having what you need available, when you need it. Does any company tell us what to plant? No. That decision lies solely with this farm, but we do ask and receive recommendations from several different sources. Including our crop consultant, who tests our soil, tells Mark exactly what is needed, and what his recommendations are for each field.

Our farm is exactly that…it’s our farm. And I’m trying to let the public know that we raise their food on our farm. But we also are raising our farm’s future. And we would never jeopardize either for the sake of the other.

So, go ahead and #occupyourfoodsupply, but please don’t mind if it’s a full room…our farmers are already there.

*Added: Want to learn more about what others are saying? Check out these links:

Organic Romance

To buy or not to buy organic? That is the question.

But why does it have to be?

I thought about this question alot, while preparing this post. In fact, most of my posts are written in a very short amount of time, usually 10 minutes or less. Sometimes it’s as if the words were already there, I just needed to type them out. But not today.

As a farmer, I am proud of almost every aspect of agriculture. I truly value the organic movement, because anything we can do to continue to provide food is important. We NEED every farmer, every type, every size, to continue providing food for our world.

Over the weekend, a slideshow by WebMD was brought to my attention. At first, I was kind of excited about it…hoping it was going to put to rest some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding conventional and organic foods. But it didn’t. In fact, it went a step or two further than most articles. And I feel the need to set some “facts” straight.

1) It was stated in the slide show, that fruit and vegetables such as apples and peaches should be bought organic whenever possible, to reduce the exposure risks of pesticides.  The site said, “If you can’t afford to buy organic apples, scrubbing their skins under running water can help reduce pesticide residues, too.”

Well, to tell you the truth people, no matter where you get your apples, you should ALWAYS wash them. Period. The same is true for organic, just as it is conventionally grown fruit and veggies.

2) Directly quoted from WebMD, “According to the Organic Trade Association, livestock on an organic farm cannot be given antibiotics or growth hormones unnecessarily — a common practice in conventional agriculture. Some experts think using antibiotics this way may contribute to the rise of superbugs. And although the risk to humans isn’t clear, added hormones do show up in supermarket beef.”

Let me shed some light on what happens on our farm (since I can’t speak for everyone, but know that most follow the same type of protocol). We give antibiotics only when necessary, such as when an animal is showing sign of being sick. We would never consider giving all of our animals antibiotics on a set schedule for many reasons, including: a) cost, b) time and feasibility and c) we need those antibiotics to work when we truly need them. To say that most conventional ranchers use antibiotics unneccessarily is simply not true.

And on the hormone subject…let me break down the actual facts for you:

4 oz. beef from steer given hormones: 1.6 nanograms of estrogen

4 oz. beef from untreated steer: 1.2 nanograms of estrogen

4 oz. beef from non-pregnant heifer: 1.5 nanograms of estrogen

4 oz. raw cabbage: 2700 ng estrogen

4 oz. raw peas: 454 ng estrogen.

3 oz. soy oil: 168,000 nanograms of estrogen

3.5 oz. of soy protein concentrate: 102,000 nanograms of estrogen.

3 oz. of milk from cow given rBST: 11 nanograms of estrogen

3 oz. of milk from untreated (non-BST) cow: 11 nanograms of estrogen

Data from Foodstuffs Foodlink

Hmmm…so those extra hormones are a problem, but raw peas have 400% more estrogen in them. Perhaps we need to lay off the peas? I’m kidding, of course. That would be obsurd. Right?

3) This one I found funny. Broccoli. Yep, you should grow your own organic broccoli. Have any of you grown broccoli? I have no problem with growing your own food, even broccoli. I just appreciate the ability to choose not to. I don’t like the extra protein.

Mmmm...worms.

 
Well, those are just a few of the examples in the slide show…there are 29 slides to go through, all with varying degrees of ridiculousness. What’s funny to me is that it wraps it all up with this advice, “One thing the experts agree on: Regardless of whether you choose locally grown, organic, or conventional foods, the important thing is to eat plenty of produce. The health benefits of such a diet far outweigh any potential risks from pesticide exposure.” Oh, so the first 28 slides are supposed to make you terrified of all food not organic, and the last one says, “Eh, the risks aren’t that great, just eat.” Whew. I was worried for a minute.
 
Let’s cut to the chase. When it comes down to it: eat. Eat what you want, eat sensibly and get it from whatever source you have available. Supermarket, farmer’s market, online…just eat. If you have the desire and time to grow your own, do it. If you have the desire and time to shop farmer’s markets, do it. If you are a busy person with limited time and whatever is at the one-stop-shop is what you can grab, do it.
 
It’s time we stop making parents feel guilty for what we eat and just relish in the fact that we can feed our children. And by that, I mean HEALTHY foods, not just fast food.
 
That all being said, I respect organic farmers and see a true need for their products. There isn’t a single method of agriculture that isn’t needed for our future. I have not one problem with their product. Not one.
 
Organic farmers: thank you for all you do and the food you provide. Conventional farmers: thank you for all you do and the food you provide. WebMD: quit making me scared of the people that feed me, they’re nice.
 
I know, because I am one.

It only takes a spark…

Today has been a banner day, but not always in a good way. I’ve been happy, I’ve been sad, I’ve been frustrated and I’ve been downright ticked…and that was all before noon! Actually, today’s emotions had a lot to do with social media and perceptions.

To begin with, McD’s has launched a campaign called #MeetTheFarmers. It’s all about improving their image, after some pretty damaging stuff has been spread like wildfire throughout the internet world. Now, I don’t blame them one bit…I do have to agree that it’s about time we take responsibility for our own actions, including what we put in our mouths.

But what I don’t like is the impression that McD’s is doing something cutting edge by introducing farmers to their consumers. It’s something that’s been going on for years, and it doesn’t take a marketing genius or billion dollar budget to accomplish.

I’m all for the interaction, and welcome the conversations that are starting because of it…and I’m hoping and praying that the trend continues. But remember, these conversations have been going for quite some time now, and many have started without the big-name push.

For example:

  • A dairy farmer in Alabama…a true salt-of-the-earth type of guy, with a great family and an uncanny ability to make a song about cow poop sound catchy.
  • A Prairie Mama in North Dakota, who I had the pleasure of meeting through social media, and shudder to think of what my life would now be without her. Who tells the story of ag from a first-hand view, yet has spent enough time in the corporate world that she makes it seem so polished and effortless. She has connected Rockin’ Rural Women from across the country. Not only is she an inspiration, but her mother is as well, blogging from the farm and bringing the outside world a little closer to the field…truly connecting the farm to the plate.
  • A busy mom, with 3 Kids and Lots of Pigs, who took an idea and ran with it, and turned it into a GREAT way to connect women and introduce others to life on the farm.
  • A dairy mom, who recently had baby #3, writes a great blog and is willing to step out of the box and do unheard of things…like sell a pig on Twitter.

I could go on…the list would probably be in the hundreds. People, farmers, that I’ve met and make it a priority to share their story, and the story of agriculture, with others through social media.

And they do it without an endorsement deal, they do it without promised reimbursement and they do it out of passion and love for an industry that provides them a great way of life and a lifestyle that many could only dream about.

No, it may not be the golden arches, but I’m confident that although #MeetTheFarmer may be a trending topic on Twitter, the connections that are made will continue to grow and be built through the hard work of dedicated producers.

I’d bet a Big Mac on it.

Watching out for #BSLabels

So, what’s a #BSLabel? Well, it’s one of those things that make a REAL great marketing plan…but don’t have much fact behind it. Or maybe it’s something so elementary that it isn’t needed on a label.

Like boneless bananas.

Or perhaps gluten-free fruit.

You will find these labels everywhere. And unsuspecting consumers fall for them. A lot.

Today I’m going to shed some light on one I found in my own grocery store. And it’s pretty comical…in a what-won’t-you-say-to-try-to-make-a-buck sort of way.

Check it out:

Here are two different cereal’s. One is a “natural” cereal, made with renewable energy and packaged in a box that’s recyclable! (Let’s just take this one step at a time, don’t jump ahead of me now!)

Well, maybe Mom's Best isn't really her best effort. But great marketing!

The other is a store-brand version of the same cereal (even same shapes!):

Just a plain-old sugar-sweetened regular cereal.

Let’s start off with one of it’s number one claims. (For comparison’s sake, we’ll call them Mom’s and Treasures.) Mom’s has NO high fructose corn syrup. Treasure lists HFCS on its label. But wait a minute…upon further inspection Mom’s has evaporated milled sugar, dextrose AND regular corn syrup.

So what’s the difference between HFCS and regular corn syrup? Well, basically just one chemical process. Where regular corn syrup is concentrated, making the sugar content higher, necessitating less syrup for the same amount of sweetness. That’s about it in a nutshell. (It’s way more complicated and scientific than that, but you get the picture, right? If not, Google it.)

Well, let’s take a further look at the nutritional breakdowns. That’s where I become a little surprised.

Compare the two labels...it's a little shocking to read the difference.

Here’s the breakdown:

Cereal type                  Mom’s                               Treasure

Vitamin A                        0%                                   10%

Vitamin C                         0%                                   10%

Calcium                           10%                                   10%

Iron                                     4%                                   50%

Vitamin D                          0%                                   10%

Thiamin                              8%                                    25%

Riboflavin                          2%                                    25%

Niacin                                  0%                                    25%

Vitamin B6                         0%                                    25%

Folate (Folic Acid)          2%                                    50%

Vitamin B12                       0%                                    25%

Zinc                                        2%                                    25%

So “Mom’s Best” might not actually be the “best.” But let’s move on. Hmmm…serving size the same? Check. Well, then the other information, like calorie count and stuff must be way off, right? Wrong.

According to the packaging, Mom’s has 120 calories, which includes 10 calories from fat. The same goes for Treasure. What about total fat? Same. Cholesterol? Same. Sodium? Same. Potassium? Same. Total carbohydrates? Oops. We have a difference here. Mom’s has 24 grams…and Treasure has a whopping 25 grams. Protein? Same.

Hmmm…well, the packaging. That makes a difference, right? Mom’s advertises that the carton is made from 100% recycled paperboard, with a minimum of 35% post-consumer content. That must blow Treasure out of the water, right? Wrong again. Treasure has the exact same label. Mom’s does say that the carton, “Can be recycled when it’s empty. Dig in!” Well, guess what? So can Treasure.

Guess what?!? They can BOTH be recycled!

So what’s the problem? People are free to market as they choose, right? And I completely agree. But it’s also our responsibility, as consumers, to sort through the garbage and figure out which labels have true value and meaning, and which ones are #BSLabels. And don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with choosing either one of these cereals…if you know why you’re choosing them.

If you don’t think there’s a difference, I have some boneless bananas to sell you.

Want to read more? Check out this post on peanut butter by The Farmer’s Life.