Posted By Cathryn April 13, 2015
Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post written by CommonGround Minnesota volunteer Kristie Swenson. It originally appeared on the Minnesota Cornerstone blog and can be viewed there by clicking here.
Fellow Farmers: Tell Your Story and Meet Growing Consumer Demand for Information
Kristie Swenson is a family farmer in Trimont and CommonGround volunteer.
Recently, I had one of the most intimidating experiences of my entire life: I did multiple live media interviews about agriculture.
Along with three other CommonGround volunteer farm women, I traveled to New York City to give TV and radio interviews about agriculture. During one of the interviews, we rattled off the eight GMO crops, and the interviewer was clearly surprised. “Wow,” he said. “I had no idea there were only eight. It seems like there are many more than that because you hear about it all the time.”
THAT is exactly why it is so important for farmers to be sharing our stories. THAT is exactly why it is so important for farmers to raise our voices and answer questions. And THAT is exactly why it is so important that we, as farmers, become more willing to connect with consumers.
Farmers have an awesome and unique story to tell. How many times have you seen the sun rise in the East, set in the West, and stars fill the night sky – all in the same day? How many times have you planted seeds, waited, and watched for them to break through the ground? How many times have you been one of the VIPs watching (or helping) a mama animal give birth, and then cheering when the newborn gets to its feet for the first time? How many times have your children or grandchildren ridden with you in the tractor and fallen asleep on the buddy seat?
Farmers are blessed with these opportunities. They may seem “normal” or “everyday” to us, but to the average consumer who has never seen an animal being born or ridden in a tractor, these experiences are nothing short of exotic and rare. Farmers are some of the select few who get to see nature’s beauty at her finest hours. We have a deep appreciation for the earth and for the cycle of life. We understand that we need to care for and respect our environment, our soil, and our livestock, because we rely on them for our livelihood.
These are things that can be difficult to understand for the average consumer. The average consumer is bombarded with information and is ill-equipped to sort through it all for a simple, clear, and straightforward answer.
Kristie Swenson, left, recently talked food and farming during a media tour in New York City.
This is where we, as farmers, can answer questions and help clear up the misinformation. Farmers can be – no, farmers should be — the people consumers turn to when they have questions about how food is grown and raised.
What’s stopping us? Too busy? Not interested in that facemail twittergram stuff? Fear?
I can relate to those things. I have two small children, my husband and I farm with my parents, plus I have a full-time job. I’m only on Facebook and LinkedIn, and it is scary for me or my family to be attacked online. But even though speaking up for agriculture can be nerve-wracking, it’s necessary.
I am fiercely proud and honored to have grown up on a farm. I am privileged that my husband and I get to farm the same land that my parents and grandparents farmed. We want our children to have the opportunity to farm. My passion for agriculture and my desire for my children to have the opportunity to farm outweigh the excuses that “I’m too busy”, “I’m not interested in social media”, and “I’m afraid of receiving hateful comments”.
Fellow farmers: Becoming a voice of truth, encouragement, and clarity is critical. Farmers have often responded to consumer demands, and one of those demands now is to simply know more about how food is grown and raised. Most consumers don’t work with it every day; they don’t know what lengths farmers go to raise safe, healthy animals and crops. So let’s meet this demand, answer questions, talk about concerns, and help build understanding in what we do and why we do it.
Will you help me? Will you be a voice for agriculture?
Kristie Swenson is a CommonGround volunteer who farms in Trimont, Minn., and also works as an ag lender. You can follow Kristie on Facebook here.
Posted By Cindy December 11, 2014
Hearing food and health “celebrities” spread misinformation about agriculture really annoys plant molecular and cellular biology professor Dr. Kevin Folta, who spoke at the CSS 2014 and Seed Expo this week in Chicago.
Folta, who has a blog where he calls himself “a scientist in a scientifically illiterate nation at a time when we need science the most,” took the Food Babe to task on social media after she made an appearance on his home turf at the University of Florida. “She misinformed our students, said stuff that was just not true, she made chemistry and safe food additives look bad,” he said. “It was a promotion for her and really an unfortunate one because I really believe her heart’s in the right place but she gave our students bad information – and not on my watch.”
Folta was prepared to challenge her at the forum where she spoke, but since she did not take questions as expected, he did a blog post to refute her and he stresses the importance of food being a social debate. “Dr. Oz has an audience of five million people every day, I have an audience of a dozen,” he said. “We have to amplify our message by getting more of us involved.”
Interview with Kevin Folta, University of Florida professor
2014 ASTA CSS & Seed Expo photo album
Posted By Cathryn December 4, 2014
Today, Corn Commentary features a post from guest blogger and CommonGround Minnesota volunteer Wanda Patsche that originally ran on her blog Minnesota Farm Living as part of a month-long series.
Day 29 of my 30 Days of Ag “All Things Minnesota Agriculture” is a fairly new organization (nationally – 2010) – CommonGround. CommonGround is a group of volunteers, mostly women and moms from the farm, where our purpose is to have conversations and answer questions other women have about their food. Questions such as how there food is grown or raised. And who better to ask than a farm mom. It’s through CommonGround where conversations take place.
This organization is truly one of my favorite organizations that I volunteer for. It is funded by farmers through the corn and soybean checkoff. Checkoff monies are deducted from every farmer’s check when they sell corn or soybeans. The checkoff monies are highly regulated by the USDA and can only be used for certain purposes. And thank goodness CommonGround is one of those approved activities.
There is both a state and national organization. In Minnesota we have about 18 volunteers.
What kind of activities is CommonGround involved in?
CommonGround Minnesota is involved in events, conferences or activities where there is a high probability of other women in attendance. They have been to Women Expos, Mom’s Conventions, Dietetics and Diabetes Conferences. They also have put on an influencer event where volunteers can connect to people who have an influence on food decisions. Read more about Minnesota’s last influencer event.
Social Media Sites:
National CommonGround Website: CommonGround
Facebook: CommonGround Minnesota and CommonGround (National)
CommonGround volunteers (Wanda on left)
How do moms get their questions answered?
CommonGround volunteers are available. Questions can be asked in person during an event where CommonGround volunteers are present or a question can be submitted on theCommonGround website. The organization supports ALL types of farming practices, as well as all types of crops and livestock.
Why do I love CommonGround?
Yes, I am a CommonGround volunteer.
I love CommonGround for many reasons. First, I love the organization’s purpose. Never in our history has there been more of a disconnect between agriculture and consumers. Many consumers want to know more about their food. And rightly so. CommonGround is just one tool consumers have to give them access to those answers. And I love talking to consumers about what I do and why I do it!
I love the people involved in CommonGround, all the way from national to state. We have a wonderful coordinator in Minnesota, Meghan Doyle. She puts in all the behind-the-scenes work for our events. As volunteers, we have input into the events we participate in, but for the most part, we just show up to the events because Meghan does a fantastic job coordinating our events. And I love the other volunteers also. Everyone has the same goal – talk to consumers about the truth behind their food. And when you belong to an organization where everyone has the same passion, enthusiasm and goal, it truly makes volunteering fun and fulfilling.
And I love that the Corn and Soybean growers have given their trust to this organization. And if there is one message I could give those in the “decision making” capacity in these organizations, it is “We are making a difference, one conversation at a time. And sometimes it’s more than one conversation at a time. We continue to find new ways to make these connections. And all of us bring something different to the table, which makes us more visible, our voices stronger and more effective. We are better today than yesterday and we will be better tomorrow than today.”
Enjoying conversations about food with consumers
Posted By Cathryn November 12, 2014
Conversations about food between the women who grow food and the women who buy it are having a real impact as indicated by a recent post authored by Denver blogger Mama Bird. Originally an attendee of CommonGround Colorado’s launch event, Bird has developed a real relationship with the farmer volunteers in her state. What has grown from that initial encounter is a real understanding that she shares with many others in the Denver area.
In her post on GMO labeling bills, Bird shows the incredible importance of having open, honest conversations about what farmers do and why they do it. Focusing on the need for consumers to make informed choices, she empowers readers with real information.
So often, farmers hear the call to share their stories and open the farm gate to Americans interested in food. It can seem overwhelming. Does anyone really care?
The answer shown in Bird’s story is a resounding yes. Whether we grow food or buy it at the store, Americans all benefit when they come together around the table to learn more about one of the most essential parts of their collective experience – the foods that they eat.
From volunteering with a program like CommonGround to helping a Facebook friend off the farm find out more about a food question, farmers can create positive, real change in how America views food. To find out more, click here.
Posted By Mark October 17, 2014
As a former journalist I have a deeply ingrained sense of outrage when the public is being misled, bilked or fooled. This is especially true when misinformation is used to strip away their hard earned cash.
So I thought I would send an open letter to Jason Mraz, a singer/songwriter and niche celebrity, who also spends a lot of time and money working on causes he finds important including the environment.
If you don’t have time to read any further I have two messages for the obviously talented Mraz, who played to an appreciative crowd at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis last night:
Scientific experts say organic foods are not healthier that food grown using conventional methods contrary to what Mraz told the audience last night.
2 – Good for you for having the conviction of your beliefs. I appreciate your willing to use your celebrity to help a cause. But please keep your personal politics off the stage unless you do it through your songs themselves, that way fans know what they signed up for going in.
Using the interlude between music to espouse lifestyle choices, support political candidates, or give advice on something as personal as food is just bad form. Most people go to concerts, movies, sporting events, etc… to get a mental break from the headlines of the day or meditating on philosophical issues. I have never been a Jason Mraz fan, in part due to lack of exposure, so didn’t know too much about him. Still, I admit to being very surprised when a photo of his personal garden popped up on the stage and he proceeded to espouse the benefits of organic food production.
My hat is off to Mraz for trying to live a health-conscious lifestyle, but I went to hear music not visit a lifestyle coach, let alone one without real credentials. You have every right to your opinion but please try being more selective in how you use your notoriety and bully pulpit.
An article in “Real Clear Science” earlier this summer points out the majority of Americans believe that organic foods are healthier than food grown through conventional methods. The majority of Americans are wrong. Science has shown that organic is neither healthier for you nor better for the environment. In fact, it’s not safer, more nutritious, not does it taste better. These are all notions promoted by organic food proponents who have a lot to gain or were just misled. Given the markedly higher prices for nearly all of these products, the public has a right to know they are being hoodwinked.
Posted By Cathryn September 17, 2014
From suburban dog parks to Park Avenue, people are buzzing about the Food Babe. Using crazy videos filmed in low-cut workout clothes, she has garnered quite a bit of attention seemingly overnight. Television being a visual medium, talk shows book the petite brunette with the telegenic face. She is getting more attention than counterparts whose credentials outshine their smiles.
All of that is changing though. Today, Bloomberg news compiled a growing list of media critiques of the Food Babe and her pseudoscientific comrades. The article, based on the premise that public conversations on food should actually include credible data from certified subject matter experts, dissects how she rose to internet empowerment and how the food industry is responding. While the article approaches her from a less biased, more respectful place than she uses in her own work, it shines a spotlight on something that has been missing from her pseudoscience stunts – the truth.
“They are attacking the messengers who are spreading the truth,” she vented to her Facebook fans in August. “They are hoping I, along with other activists, including you, just give up.”
Ms. Food Babe, the truth is not a flexible concept. A computer scientist has no business pretending engineering classes qualify her to speak on food chemistry and public health issues. Every ingredient that you cannot pronounce, which notably you might be able to if you were an actual expert, does not secretly cause death. Your own personal ignorance does not provide a substantive basis for your public indignance.
People spend years upon years studying the vast array of subjects necessary to form a well-qualified, thoughtful opinion on food issues. From doctors to dieticians and nurses to nutrition scientists, credible, scientifically sound data does exist.
Cash hungry charlatans touting trumped up theories provide more flash than facts. Don’t fall for their hip hype.
Serious conversations deserve serious participants. In conversations about food, too much is at stake to substitute pseudoscience for the real thing, even if it comes in a prettier package.
Posted By Cathryn August 18, 2014
Personal experience provides the lens through which we view the world. Looking out at the road while driving by, every person tends to make analogies. Maybe a house looks like the one in which he grew up. Maybe a certain tree reminds her of a great day in grade school. The visual evokes a mental image and thus creates feelings wholly unrelated to the actual object.
While this may be waxing the philosophical, it actually explains something very important when trying to understand how consumers have come to believe that so many farms are actually owned and run by corporations.
Heading up Interstate 55 from St. Louis to Chicago, signs with the names of seed companies line the fields. To a farmer, these markers indicate something clear. To someone who may live in a city or may have not ever been on a farm, they look completely foreign.
So, how does that exacerbate the Big Ag misperception? Because when faced with something foreign, most people subconsciously make an analogy that provides context for the current situation. Looking out at the fields, the signs look like a corporate advertisement tacked onto the side of a building. The seemingly logical conclusion leads that person to believe the corporation on that sign must own that farm or, at the very minimum, have advertising rights.
Jenny, author of the blog Prairie Californian, provided a great post today that helps describe what these signs really mean in terms that make sense whether or not you have ever set foot in a field. To read it, click here.
With farmers’ numbers constituting less than 1.5 percent of the American public today, it becomes increasingly imperative that they share their story. Everyone eats. The vast majority of people want to know where their food comes from and what all of the terms that they hear mean. Share your story. What American farmers have to say is overwhelmingly positive and powerful. So speak up.
Posted By Cathryn August 7, 2014
Today, Corn Commentary shares a post from CommonGround Wisconsin volunteer Kim Bremmer. To find more posts on a wide variety of subjects authored by CommonGround volunteers, click here.
It’s Time to Speak Up!
One of my favorite ways to start the day is at the counter of my favorite coffee place, ordering a grande triple shot caramel macchiato and a spinach and feta breakfast wrap. But I ALWAYS ask them to use regular eggs instead of cage-free eggs.
I am usually met with looks of question, not only from the barista but also from all the people in line with me. The response is always a disappointed, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that, ma’am.” I then smile and ask them to please pass on my message to the corporate office that I would like the choice.
But the best part is that I then have a captive audience for the next 20 seconds or so.
I use that time to explain that I prefer eggs from chickens grown in cages. I used to raise chickens outside, and I know how much they like to eat things out of the dirt, including bugs, grubs and more. I also have friends who have some really nice chicken barns, where they raise very healthy, happy birds in cages.
It’s time to speak up.
With less than two percent of the population actually farming today in the United States, we have opportunities every day to talk to about food production with a very large audience that has never actually “been there and done that.”
We now live in a time when the opinions of journalists and marketing that plays on emotions trump solid peer-reviewed science every single day.
All of this well-funded creative marketing wants consumers to buy the latest and greatest trend: organic, natural, GMO-free, rBST-free, cage-free, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, humanely raised, responsibly produced and the list could go on and on. Consumers are led to believe that the latest buzzword must be good and conventional food production must be bad. But, all of these strategically worded labels come at the expense of consumers’ trust in agriculture. The story of agriculture is being told by people selling stories, not by those actually involved in agriculture every day.
Well, it’s time for us to sell our story.
Another one of my favorite things to do is go to the grocery store either on Friday afternoons at 5:00 or Sunday mornings right after church. Some of my very best conversations about farming and food happen then!
It is so easy to strike up a conversation with someone comparing labels in the dairy aisle or meat counter and ask if they have any questions. I tell them I am simply a mom who understands the importance of feeding my family the healthiest food.
I also tell them I get the great opportunity to work on different farms every day. I can share my perspective on the different food-production practices because I work with all of them. The real tragedy is how truly scared people have become of food, even though we are producing the safest food in history, using fewer resources than ever before. My mission at every visit to the grocery store is to give people permission to not fear their food.
It’s time to speak up.
I am proud of conventional agriculture and not afraid to feed my family conventional food. I see how the animals are raised every day and how the land is cared for. I have friends who are organic farmers, but I would never pay more for the food they produce.
The biggest misconception is that a label means something is safer or healthier. A great example of this is the fact that added steroids and hormones aren’t even allowed in poultry production in the United States, yet consumers continually pay a premium for “hormone-free” chicken in the grocery store.
I believe that it doesn’t matter which production method a farmer uses because it is really the human element that makes all the difference. I always encourage people who have questions about agriculture to visit a farm instead of just “Googling” it.
Or ask a farmer by contacting a farmer-volunteer at www.findourcommonground.com. I could take you to visit a beautiful 35-cow dairy or a beautiful 3,500-cow dairy. Both use very different management practices, but both provide safe, high-quality food. If the farmers I see every day choose to do their job by responsibly using antibiotics, GMOs, rBST, cages and barns, I feel they should be able to. I don’t ever want to be forced to pay more for food with a fancy label when I understand the safety of conventionally raised food and get to see how it’s produced every day.
I am proud of agriculture today. You should be, too. Share the real story.
It’s time to speak up.
Posted By Cathryn August 4, 2014
With only one percent of the population still farming, it can seem politically expedient to propose faux-fixes to odd or unique problems that impact the farming minority. Yesterday, The Washington Post joined in the fracas with a piece on intersex fish. The story, heavy with aqua-explicit imagery and short on hard numbers, noted several sources of possible chemical contributors but failed to suggest any fix larger than moving piles of poo.
Polishing that strategy into a gem that makes the masses feel better without taking responsibility for the role they may play makes something akin to shinola.
Hormones naturally present in animal excrement do not hold up so long in nature as those made by humans to prevent unwanted little humans. Do I propose getting rid of birth control? Absolutely not. Do I propose considering its environmental impact instead of taking the easy way out? Absolutely.
If we as a people consider the intersex fish phenomenon to be of importance, we should treat it with equal respect. Consider the sources in a more measured manure. Document what might and might not have the impact scientifically significant enough to move the needle. Weigh the impact of those actions on our fellow persons. Simply, act like we are less mentally confused than those fish are physically.
Washington in general needs to expect more of Americans. We are up for the tough conversations. We don’t want to take meaningless stabs that impact the fewest people so that we can rest better at night. We want to actually solve the real problems.
Farmers, like the rest of the country, want to be part of the solution. First though, let’s make sure the solution makes sense.
Posted By Cathryn July 30, 2014
Let’s all admit it. Chuck Norris jokes are still funny. The idea that he is an unparalleled butt kicking machine elicits a fond memory and a good chuckle. He holds a soft spot in many hearts. My dear grandmother lusted after Walker Texas Ranger until her dying day. He holds a special spot in our nation’s popular culture.
So, it may sound blasphemous to some and dangerous to state to others, but Chuck Norris’s mental prowess does not equal his physical.
Like many elevated to celebrity by their appearance or a physical or artistic talent, Norris assumed the role of political activist this week. Blasting GMO’s in an op-ed published in a variety of newspapers and online, Norris sprayed clichés and echoed hollow arguments in an attempt to persuade his fellow countrymen to roundhouse kick ag biotechnology in the ballot box.
Spouting unconnected factoids like karate chops, the martial artist slays logic with a series of numbers and statements with clear sources and zero context. Referencing hard facts such as the number of biotech acres, he attempts to put his “deep knowledge” on display. It’s about as convincing as a guy at the bar asking if you like the “gun show.”
Norris belies the baseless nature of his beliefs in his inability to explain anything further than those factoids. He confuses discussions over regulatory controls for products with expiring patents with the idea that there would be no regulatory or approval process. Whether he does so due to lack of information or lack of verbal acumen is anyone’s guess.
He goes on to draw additional erroneous conclusions. Clearly, Norris does not understand the difference between the approval process for biotech traits in the United States and that used in Europe. In America, products are approved using only scientific criteria following a long and detailed rigorous scientific testing process. In Europe, biotech faces not only scientific hurdles when seeking approval but also political. Basically, one is based in real, factual information and one places a greater value on fear-based conjecture almost completely devoid of factual basis. Thus, while biotech events may have been approved under the Obama administration, Norris’s attempt to link a president which he opposes with the bureaucratic approvals of products which have been in development more than a decade makes little sense on this side of the Atlantic. Assuming the EU somehow gets labeling “right” just because they eschew science when confronted with emotionally-charged propaganda seems a bit less than brilliant too.
Yet, it makes perfect sense that Norris would draw such inaccurate conclusions given his utter confusion over the scientific facts important to this argument. No, “almost all genetically engineered foods” have not been “engineered for one purpose: to tolerate higher levels of pesticides.” Actually, one currently available trait has been developed to tolerate a pesticide. Why? Because the herbicide to which hea actually means to refer is less intense and spends a shorter time in the environment than its predecessors. In short, it is better for the environment.
Ridiculous rants about Monsanto and black helicopter conspiracy theories aside, Norris advocates for consumers to demand labeling without any reasonable argument as to why. He does not site a credible study showing a risk to human health. No such study exists. He does not cite additional information about nutritional content or allergenicity such a label would provide. As these are the two criteria used to determine mandatory labeling information in the United States, he would need to show the real benefit to consumers. He can’t.
Instead, he argues that all battles be fought in the arena of public opinion. He fears GMOs because he does not understand their safety or their benefits to the environment and human health. He wants a label that would create fear without increasing knowledge. Why? Because he is Chuck Norris, and Chuck Norris gets what Chuck Norris wants.
Humorous adages about Norris’s omnipotence aside, Americans need to tell Norris to either stay in the gym or do some serious academic conditioning. Using his celebrity to push poorly conceived policy makes U.S. consumers and family farmers into Chuck’s proverbial punching bag. Science-based policies benefit our water, our soil, our air, our health and our pocketbooks. Don’t get blindsided by the hit we will all take if we get in Norris’s corner.
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