Corn Commentary

A Sign of the Times

SIGN CORN SKAGITPersonal 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.

It’s Time to Speak Up!

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!

Kim BremmerOne 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.

Are Farmers Scapegoat in Fish Fix?

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.

Chuck Norris: Stick With What You Know

Chuck_NorrisLet’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.

In the Drone Debate, Watch What You Wish For

Grist published another gripping piece today on the important role drones can play in the “fight against Big Ag.” The post, based on a blaring inaccuracy at its core, posited that “If you were privy to everything that went on inside a factory farm, you might never want to eat again.” Then, it proposed drones were the answer to getting behind those “closed doors.”

Putting aside the note that gates would create a more accurate analogy, let’s look at the base issues.

Gates paint a more accurate picture not only because they are what actually encompass most farms. They are also more similar in that you can see through them.

Farmers and ranchers across the country ARE opening their farms to show how they grow and raise our food. A wide array of groups, including programs like CommonGround, organize farm tours where bloggers, dietitians and just regular families can visit a wide array of farm and ranches to see ag in action. Simply pushing these efforts aside seems cynical or intentionally obtuse.

Next, the basic reasoning that agenda-driven cynics have a right to enter private property to see exactly what is “going on” makes little sense. In implying that anyone denying them immediate, complete access to the place where they not only work but also live, the author sets up a standard to which I doubt she would hold herself.

Simply, Samantha, do you ever write from home? As you work at home and I am skeptical of what may be “going on” there, may I come on over? Take a look around? I think people want to know if your work area creates mental confusion that comes through in your writing. Personally, I like to look through people’s medicine cabinets to get a clearer picture.

Better yet! Why not just have drones hover outside of your windows looking in at all times? That is what you propose for farmers and ranchers. Constant surveillance.

Farmers and ranchers do want to have a dialogue with the public about how food is grown and raised. They don’t want to invite people ideologically opposed to modern agriculture into the very place that they live. It isn’t because they have something to hide; it is because they know that their open, honest efforts are often met with closed minds and a blatant refusal to consider the validity of their statements.

Unless anti-ag activists feel perfectly comfortable being under constant drone surveillance themselves, it is radically hypocritical to promote doing so to someone else. And, for those who take this side of the argument, there is another question. How long until someone turns the drones on you?

In Battle Against Misinformation, Barbre Leads by Example

NCGA President Martin Barbre put pen to paper this week to correct an anti-ethanol article run by the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Taking decisive action to address the misinformation published, Barbre not only shed light on an important subject for readers but also led by example.

To read “Opinion Piece on Ethanol Gets Three Things Wrong,” click here.

So often, farmers see, hear or read fallacies about their industry perpetuated in the media. It is easy to fall victim to inertia. It is easy to get worked up among one’s peers. It takes greater effort and even a bit of hutzpah to speak out publicly, answering back critics in a respectful, well-considered manner. Yet, it is only in using your voices, your energy and your knowledge that you can become an advocate and shape the world around you.

Newspapers accept letters to the editor and opinion pieces every day. Likewise, calling the local television or radio newsroom producer can yield results too. So, take the initiative. Write a letter, offer to speak as an expert on a news program and provide a farmer’s point of view. The first step away from that resting position is the hardest; realize it gets easier from there.

Support Solid Science, Speak Out for Solid Journalism

This weekend, The Washington Post stood up to the fear-fueled tactics of anti-GMO activists in a brilliant editorial, “Genetically Modified Crops Could Help Improve the Lives of Millions.” The piece, which points out the incredible benefit GMOs offer for both farmers and anyone who depends upon them, denounces the anti-GMO movement for its promotion of mandatory labeling and outright bans.

Noting that consumers wishing for whatever reason to avoid GMOs can do so by simply buying food bearing the “organic” label, the Post brings common sense back into a discussion where it often has been sorely lacking. Furthermore, the piece focuses on the real victims of the anti-GMO movement – the starving and malnourished stating:

“The prospect of helping to feed the starving and improve the lives of people across the planet should not be nipped because of the self-indulgent fretting of first-world activists.”

Discussing both the anti-GMO laws passed in Oregon and other states, and proposed labeling that would “stigmatize products with a label that suggests the potential for harm,” the editors take a straight forward position in defense of this important technology saying:

“Voters and their representatives should worry less about “Frankenfood” and more about the vast global challenges that genetically modified crops can help address.”

Predictably, a small but vocal contingent of science-eschewing activists launched an immediate assault in the comments section. Clearly, the level-headed, clearly constructed piece pointed out both the logical fallacies in their arguments and the real results their proposed policies would inflict.

Take a stand in support of The Washington Post’s editorial staff. Click here to make sure the voices of farmers and those who depend on them are not drowned out. The Post took a stand which many have longed to see in mass media, one that is supported by science and un-intimidated by the fringe. Let them know that their efforts did not fall upon deaf ears.

Women Finding “Common Ground” Through Food and Talk

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from CommonGround Minnesota volunteer and social media maven Wanda Patsche. In her post, Patsche offers links to common questions CommonGround volunteers hear and offers the inside scoop on the group’s recent dinner event.

Women Finding “Common Ground” Through Food and Talk

Cooks of Crocus Hill.

Cooks of Crocus Hill.

What happens when 24 urban women join 5 farm women and cook a meal together?  Let’s just say you would have seen a roomful of conversations, joy, and camaraderie. Food is an emotional topic for many of us and this night of talking about food and preparing it was no exception. We talked, laughed and truly enjoyed each other’s company and at the end of the night, learned a little more about each other. Yes, we found common ground through food and talk.

CommonGround is a volunteer organization of farm women who connect with other women answering questions they may have about their food. CommonGround invited a cross-section of women from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to participate in a cooking class held at Cooks at Crocus Hill. These women represented academia, mommy bloggers, nutrition and dietetics and media.

Cooks of Crocus Hill is a kitchen cookware and gadget store in St. Paul.  In addition to their retail store, they also provide cooking classes. Their cooking philosophy surrounds two words –joy and connection. And that describes our evening as we cooked and enjoyed a meal together. The evening started with wine and appetizers, followed by a short introduction of the CommonGround volunteers. We immediately broke into five random groups, where each group was assigned to cook a certain portion of the meal. Just imagine a large kitchen with nearly 30 women cooking and preparing a meal together! You may think chaos, but it was the exact opposite. The cooks of Crocus Hill had everything in place and were very helpful in keeping us on task. Here is the menu that we prepared (along with recipes and pictures!):

Warm French Herbed Potatoes

Roasted Root Vegetables with Gremolata

Boston Bibb Salad with Walnuts

Pork Medallions with Mustard-Braised Leeks

Fresh Berry Mini-Shortcakes

As we were preparing the meal, the chefs gave us cooking tips and information. I must admit I grilled Chef Mike on how he cooks pork. Let’s just say he knows his “pork.” When we finished, it was time to eat. And I must say, the food was fabulous!

There is no question there is a food movement happening in our society.  People are wanting to cook more healthy foods in their own homes and even though I am a “church cookbook” type of cook, I would definitely make these dishes again. My favorites were the pork medallions (they were so moist and tender they practically melted in your mouth – cooked the way pork was meant to be cooked) and the berry shortcakes (can you say heavenly?)

After we finished eating, the CommonGround volunteers sat together in front of our guests for a Q & A forum. With food being such an emotional topic, no question was off the table. The majority of the questions centered around animal antibiotic use and GMOs (genetically modified organisms). There were great questions and we as CommonGround learned a lot also by listening to concerns and questions our guests had about the health and safety of food. Something we all share.

On a personal note – I don’t think you can downplay the openness and connectedness that I saw with this roomful of women.  Another observation was the genuine passion for agriculture showed by the CommonGround volunteers. It really took me aback as I listened to the other volunteers speak . I am proud to be a part of this group.

At the end of the night, I was pleased how well the evening went. I had never been to a cooking class before and somewhat sheepishly, I must admit that I am not very adventurous in my cooking endeavors. But that may change! The only problem of the evening? It ended too soon! Great comments of the night were received and many of them told us they hoped to be invited again. And I do too.

Do you have food questions? Be sure to check out CommonGround  or Minnesota’s CommonGround for answers to your questions!

Here are a few more links to other questions you may have about your food.

Why It Is Okay to Feed Your Family GMOs

Top 5 GMOs Myths From a Mom’s Perspective

Why I’m Pro-GMO

Antibiotics are Rampant in our Food Supply

CommonGround is a program to increase awareness among urban and suburban consumers of the value of modern production agriculture in their lives.  As the name implies, the program emphasizes that urban and farm families share the same values and concerns and that urban consumers can trust the process and the people that provide their food.

With more Americans growing up in urban and suburban areas, miles from farm life, there is an increasing disconnect between consumers and the people who grow their food.  CommonGround is an effort to tell the truth about modern agriculture – that thanks to modern American farmers, U.S. families enjoy the safest, healthiest and most affordable food choices in the world.

CommonGround is a shared collaboration between the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates.  It is built upon broad messages that promote modern agriculture of all kinds.  It does not focus on corn or soy issues necessarily, but rather works to promote the importance of our country’s efficient and effective system of agriculture.

To find out more about CommonGround, click here.

Binging on Earth Day Irony

dead dolphinOk, I admit I love irony. So I had to chuckle a little bit as everyone was getting fired up about the arrival of another Earth Day. The irony lies in the fact that this momentous occasion occurs two days after the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

To refresh your memory this was the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, estimated to be up to 31% larger in volume than the previously largest, the Ixtoc I oil spill. Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a sea-floor oil gusher flowed for 87 days, until it was capped on 15 July 2010. The US Government estimated the total discharge at 4.9 million barrels.

That’s 210 million gallons of oil and we don’t even want to talk about the 2 million gallons of toxic chemicals they call dispersants which were either to:

  • Hide BP’s Faux Pas and remove it from public display
  • or allow nature to recover faster

The irony gets tastier if you are my age because I am old enough, ok more than old enough, to have celebrated the first Earth Day and remember how this whole affirmation of Mother Terra Firma began. It started 44 years ago after a US Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, witnessed the ravages of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.

Well the Earth Day recognition has lasted but the public consciousness and the leadership of our elected officials lacks a little staying power. Today, the oil industry continues to be one of the largest polluters in the world. And because of their deep pockets and political influence they have been allowed to blithely go about their business with little or no consequences.

The BP spill offers a great case in point. Big oil responded initially and spent money for clean-up efforts and they put on a contrite face while the cameras were on. But take a closer look today at their efforts in court to dodge any more clean-up costs and the fines that were imposed. They say their job is done even as the number of dead dolphin washing up on beaches topped 900 last week. Kemp sea turtle have been nearly ravaged into extinction in Gulf waters.

And to add insult to injury petroleum interests are now spending millions to mislead the public. Big oil is poisoning the system as well as the environment. They are doing everything they can to keep a death grip on the liquid transportation fuel market.

That’s why today—Earth Day — you should take few minutes to educate yourself regarding the sheer audacity of oil. It’s as simple as going to OilRigged.com to shine a spotlight on the oil companies’ dirty tricks and dishonest attacks. Americans deserve to know how oil companies have rigged the system to make us pay more at the pump—sending their profits up while our air and water quality goes down.

Energy Independence No Greased Pig Fantasy

There is an old saying…”make hay while the sun is shining.” Dating back to at least 1546 this traditional farmer logic translates into grab opportunity while you can. This has never been truer regarding the nation’s energy situation. A new report by the Energy Information Administration makes that abundantly clear. EIA says the greased pig fantasy of energy independence in the US is real.

We’ve reduced our dependence on foreign oil from 60 percent to 45 percent in the last few years. This is real, quantifiable progress brought on by smaller, high mileage vehicles, less driving due to a sagging economy, 15 billion gallons of ethanol capacity and domestic oil production on steroids.

Net oil imports to the U.S. could fall to zero by 2037 because of robust production in areas including North Dakota’s Bakken field and Texas’s Eagle Ford formation, according to this Department of Energy projection released this week.

Most days I am just numb about government studies and gasoline prices. I pull up to the pump, try to ignore the price and move on about my day. But there are other days too when I am angry about being held hostage by oil companies, and especially about their cavalier approach to crushing any real competition.

And that is exactly that they are trying to do with ethanol today.  So, here is a novel thought. Let’s take this time of energy abundance to think big and invest in a more sustainable energy future rather than waiting until the wolf is at the door. Because, rest assured petroleum remains finite and the next generation will wonder why we squandered this brief respite from oil piracy.

Oil imports have fallen to about 5 million barrels a day from a peak of almost 13 million barrels in 2006, thanks in part to advances in techniques such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in shale rock. Despite this, we continue to spend $1 billion a day protecting our assets in foreign oil. And there is no getting around that gasoline is bad for our health and the environment.

make-hayNow would be a great time to call your Congressman and Senator and ask them to show some vision regarding biofuels and our energy future. The rapid growth in ethanol production has shown us the promise of a bio-based fuel future. It’s time to make hay!

 

 

 



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