Corn Commentary

Fellow Farmers: Tell Your Story and Meet Growing Consumer Demand for Information

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.

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.

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.

Science Babe vs. Food Babe

If you put the Food Babe and the Science Babe in a ring together, I’d definitely put my money on Sci-Babe.

sci-babeScience Babe Yvette d’Entremont is an analytical chemist with a background in forensics and toxicology – and a big attitude that does not tolerate any BS when it comes to science. And that is where she has a big issue with the self-proclaimed food critic Vani Hari, aka Food Babe. Sci-Babe just wrote a scathing piece on Gawker (caution: Sci-Babe uses profanity liberally) that rightly takes the Food Babe to task for being “the worst assault on science on the Internet.”

“Reading Hari’s site, it’s rare to come across a single scientific fact,” writes Sci-Babe. “Between her egregious abuse of the word “toxin” anytime there’s a chemical she can’t pronounce and asserting that everyone who disagrees with her is a paid shill, it’s hard to pinpoint her biggest sin.”

food-babeHari’s rule? “If a third grader can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.”

My rule? Don’t base your diet on the pronunciation skills of an eight-year-old.

Sci-Babe notes that Food Babe is famous for calling anyone who questions or criticizes her “haters and shills, racist or sexist” – including anyone in the scientific community like Dr. Kevin Folta with the University of Florida. “If her arguments had merit, she could engage in a battle of wits with her detractors instead of making insidious accusations,” says Sci-Babe.

At the same time she labels most real scientists like Folta “shills” for the biotech industry, Food Babe is making her own fortune shilling for herself and her pet products like Suja organic juices.

The good news is that Food Babe is getting some serious negative press lately, like this article in the NY Times last month. One can only hope that some of this can get through to any of her loyal followers that have more scientific knowledge than the average third grader.

Better yet, how about a Boxing Babe Beatdown where the last babe standing wins? I’d still bet on Sci-Babe even against a whole #FoodBabeArmy.

CommonGround Volunteers Take Stories from behind the Farm Gate to Consumers Over Breakfast Plates

Today, Corn Commentary shares a guest post authored by Iowa farmer and CommonGround volunteer Julie Kenney. The narrative, which discusses her recent work taping an episode of “The Balancing Act” on GMOs, originally ran on her blog www.farmeatscitystreets.com.

TV Interviews and Kid-Friendly Sloppy Joes

I have been traveling a little bit lately. Not a ton, but just enough to scratch the itch of getting out of town for a while and being around some amazing, brilliant people (and great friends, too!). I couldn’t pass up the opportunity last week to travel to Florida to tape an interview with The Balancing Act on Lifetime Network. The host, Julie Moran, asked me all kinds of questions about food, farming and GMOs.

Kelsey Pope, a rancher from Colorado, also did an interview about her ranch and how they care for their cattle. I hadn’t met Kelsey before, but was so impressed with her and loved hearing about her ranch. I’m thinking a trip to Colorado for a nice, juicy steak on her ranch might be in order.

balancingact-juliekenneykelseypope

Working from home and around the farm these days doesn’t lend itself to getting dolled up much anymore, so having someone do my hair and makeup was an added bonus! After the interview, Julie Moran gave us a tour of her dressing room and wardrobe collection. If she wasn’t an itty bitty size 2, I might have asked to borrow something. Kidding (kind of).

balancingact-juliemoranjuliekenney

My interview is scheduled to air on Lifetime Network in April and Kelsey’s will be on in April and May. I’ll let you know when the exact dates are set.

To read the full post, including how Kenney sets her family up for success at the dinner table while she shares stories from the farm with consumers at their breakfast tables, click here.

Interested in CommonGround and how it brings together the women who grow and raise food with those who buy it? Visit www.findourcommonground.com to learn more about the women at the heart of this program, which is supported through a collaboration of NCGA, USB and their state affiliates.

Instead of Praising Passing Platitudes, Push the Girl Scouts Achieve Greater Goals

A few years back, I took a look at how the Girl Scouts profit from selling quite a few cookies that contain HFCS while teaching about its so-called “evils.” (Click here for part one, here for part two and here for the final installment.) Today, a story came across that gave me pause. After reading the whole piece, I want to share it. Everyone should have a clearer sense of how their cookie crumbles.

In a well-intentioned story by the Genetic Literacy Project, the group discussed how the Girl Scouts “reject attempts by anti-GMO parents to use fear in their kids campaign.” The author praises the group for, to this point, rejecting calls by a group of agenda-driven parents to ditch GMOs. While certainly a praiseworthy position, the Girl Scouts response exposes the green motives cleverly disguised behind the customary green uniforms.

“At the current time, there are genetically modified agricultural crops (GMOs) in Girl Scout Cookies. Our bakers determine whether to use GMOs in Girl Scout Cookies based on a range of market-related factors and depending on the specific cookie recipe.”

The group sites serious science in the following paragraph, referring WHO and AMA assessments of GMO-safety, and even references the importance those groups place on GMOs as an important tool in the fight to feed a growing world. But, what they do not say seems to speak most clearly to the reality of the situation.

Of the full statement, one phrase seemingly contradicts the others – “market-related factors.” Basically, while the Girl Scouts acknowledge the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting GMOs, they could be swayed. A small group of activist parents may not be enough to do the trick. Driving down profits does have a downer-effect on the organic-only cookie crusade. But, much like they did in the case of HFCS, these pillars of courage and strength (according to their own credo) can cave.

The Girl Scouts stand for building strong, independent young women who think for themselves, stand up to peer pressure and excel both in character and academic achievement. Sadly, this admirable aspiration can seemingly be swayed by the mercurial motivation of collecting more of consumers’ cash. Science, something so-oft advocated as a crucial area of increased achievement for girls, is up for sale when it comes to the Girl Scouts.

Yes, organizations such as the Girl Scouts require profits to pay for their excellent endeavors. But, one must consider the cost. Teaching young women science only matters when it pays the rent may not be the best lesson. Science matters to persons of character, from Galileo to Servetus, because they desire truth, knowledge and character more than the fleeting favor of the en vogue estimation.

Standing up against the crowd may not be lucrative. It often proves the more challenging option, and it often brings consequences that seem unjust at the time. Yet, for centuries now, it has been seen as the rock upon which true character is built.

The Girl Scouts aspire to high ideals. They push young women to challenge themselves. As an organization, they too must live up to their goals. Standing by science, steadily supporting tools that will feed the world, they can. Now, the question that remains is if they will.

NPR Highlights Scary Story behind Food Babe’s Public Prominence

National Public Radio considered both the accuracy and impact of the Food Babe in a recent post on its Salt blog, “Is The Food Babe A Fearmonger? Scientists Are Speaking Out.” The results, based on conversations with a wide-array of respected experts, found her credibility with consumers far superior to the facts upon which she bases her opinions.

In short, the Food Babe creates confusion and fear because she is herself confused. Her lack of scientific expertise leads to flawed assumptions. Yet, through clever marketing, she has a bullhorn that broadcasts her deluded diatribe and amplifies her alleged authority.

The post notes that “when the Charlotte Observer asked her about such criticisms, Hari answered, ‘I’ve never claimed to be a nutritionist. I’m an investigator.’”

While this response, similar to one given by Dr. Oz during testimony before Congress earlier this year, attempts to clarify her self-professed area of expertise, it does not sit well with the experts interviewed by NPR.

“That lack of training often leads her to misinterpret peer-reviewed research and technical details about food chemistry, nutrition and health,” Kevin Folta, a professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida and vocal online critic of Hari, explained to NPR. “She really conflates the science. If anything, she’s created more confusion about food, more confusion about the role of chemicals and additives.”

The post clearly lays out a wide array of arguments against the Food Babe’s pseudoscience propaganda given by a variety of experts.

“What she does is exploit the scientific ignorance and fear of her followers,” Kavin Senapathy, an anti-pseudoscience blogger who frequently challenges the assertions in Hari’s posts, explained to Salt. “And most of us are in agreement that we simply can’t accept that.”

Kudos, NPR, for journalism that looked beyond the hype and found credible information consumers can use. The Food Babe may seem attractive on the surface, but her flawless façade conceals an ugly truth about how pretty packaging can trump solid science in our nation’s great food debate.

CommonGround: Where Meaningful Food Conversations Take Place

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) 

Twitter: @CommonGroundNow

CommonGround volunteers (Wanda on left)

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

Enjoying conversations about food with consumers

 

Best of Times for Agriculture?

Dr. Lowell CatlettCorn prices may be lower but eternal optimist Dr. Lowell Catlett says it’s still the best of times right now for agriculture.

“Historically, there’s never been a better time to be in agriculture,” said Catlett this week at the Bayer CropScience 2014 Corn and Soybean Future Forum being held in Germany. “The world has never known so much wealth, we’ve gone up 20 fold in the last 20 years.”

And that means more protein, which is good for corn and soybean producers. “We got to double meat protein production because of world wealth in the next 25 years,” said Catlett. “And if we double that, we’ve got to do it with some feed products with animals that are grown intensively – better health, better feed efficiency, and less impact on the environment.”

Listen to a quick interview with Dr. Catlett from Germany here: Interview with Dr. Catlett

Of course, if you have ever seen Dr. Catlett in action, you know he is not only an optimist, but a funny and informative entertainer – listen to an excerpt of his remarks this week here: Dr. Lowell Catlett Remarks

Entertainers Should Entertain, Not Preach

jason mraz 2As 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.

Orange Corn for Better Eyesight

orange-cornResearchers at Purdue University have identified a set of genes that can be used to naturally boost the provitamin A content of corn, which could help fight vitamin A deficiency in developing countries, as well as macular degeneration right here at home.

The human body can convert provitamin A carotenoids into vitamin A, which plays key roles in eye health and the immune system, as well as in the synthesis of certain hormones. Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness in 250,000 to 500,000 children every year, half of whom die within a year of losing their eyesight, according to the World Health Organization. Insufficient carotenoids may also contribute to macular degeneration in the elderly, a leading cause of blindness among the elderly in Europe and the U.S.

“This study gives us the genetic blueprint to quickly and cost-effectively convert white or yellow corn to orange corn that is rich in carotenoids – and we can do so using natural plant breeding methods, not transgenics,” said Professor of Agronomy Torbert Rocheford. Identifying the genes that determine carotenoid levels in corn kernels will help plant breeders develop novel biofortifed corn varieties for Africa and the U.S. The dark orange color of these corn varieties also makes them more culturally acceptable to consumers in African countries where yellow corn is generally fed only to animals, Rocheford said.

Note that he said this can be done by “natural” plant breeding, not “transgenics” which is another word for genetic modification. Genetically modified Golden Rice, which has been around for a decade now, was developed specifically to address vitamin A deficiencies in developing countries yet has been maligned and protested by GMO critics. Let’s hope they can speed up the “natural” process and get orange corn out there before too many more hundreds of thousands of children die.

Read more about orange corn from Purdue.

Dr. Oz, Again? Can Someone Hand Me the Remote

ozLet’s get one thing straight from the get go. Dr. Oz is a professional celebrity who hawks his opinions for money. Whether fear-mongering or shilling for “magic pills,” he makes exaggerated, even unsubstantiated claims to get attention. Attention turns into ratings. Ratings turn into money.

There is one reliable way to stop his bogus claims. Turn off your television. Tell your friends how bogus he is. Explain that he is not watching out for their best interests. Repeat the above paragraph.

If everyone ignores him, he will go away.

With that said, Dr. Oz still basks in the glow of the Oprah-effect. Her blessing radiates like a golden halo around his head. She has sprinkled fairy dust on his tongue and now his words come out as if proclaimed by an angel sitting on its tip, chiming like golden bells in the ears of many.

What makes his brand of show business particularly heinous is that he capitalizes upon this image and on the M.D. behind his name.

Today, he will air a show bashing what he calls “GMO pesticides.” From the information already online, it appears to focus on Dow’s Enlist product which is still in the regulatory process. The episode’s preview shows children eating fruits and vegetables, flashes words like “president” in red type and contains the great Oz’s melodramatic warnings of an oncoming Armageddon.

The fact Enlist is meant for use on row crops and not fruits and veggies aside, the heavy-handed tactics employed conjuring the imagery used in dramatic interpretations of conspiracy theories.

The blatant fear mongering relates back to a letter sent to the EPA by a group of scientists. The “evidence” to which they point has been discredited time and time again. Yet, they trot it out another time as if facts do not matter; baseless fear trumps fact in their logic.

Some might be blinded by the signatories’ titles. Reading to the very end of the document, find the very last line.

“The signers of this letter have done so in their personal capacities. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes and do not imply any institutional position.”

The signatories have not been given the backing of their respective institutions in this matter. They are acting on their own behalf on this one.

Dr. Oz flashes the names of terrifying illnesses on the screen. He magnifies their claims and ignores the incredibly stringent standards any pesticide must meet to gain EPA approval.

Why would he do this? If you do not wish to simply refer to the first paragraph, consider what Dr. Oz said himself when testifying before Congress on some of the claims made on his show earlier this year.

“I actually do personally believe in the items which I talk about on the show. I passionately study them. I recognize that often times they don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact.”

Passionate or not, he clearly understands that what he says does not always pass for fact. He willingly creates panic and stress amongst those who place their trust in him. His credentials may have meant something once. Now, they seem sullied as he breaks his oath to “first do no harm” every time he misrepresents his program as factual advice provided by a caring doctor.

Together, let’s turn him off. Then, tell those we care about to do the same. Dr. Oz relies upon our complicity to promulgate his propaganda. Shutting him off will shut him down.



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