Corn Commentary

A Recipe for Relationships

This week, CommonGround Maryland volunteers took to the airwaves in our nation’s capital to discuss upcoming events where people who have questions about food can have real conversations with the women who grow and raise it. Sharing an incredible recipe for roasted sweet corn and blue crab gazpacho, Paula Linthicum and Jennifer Cross reached out to the audience of ABC News Channel 8 to help residents of Washington DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia understand that they can enjoy food without the fear.

To view the clip, click here.

This Friday, Common Ground will host a crab feast at NCGA President Chip Bowling’s farm in Newburg, Maryland to begin that same conversation with DC media and Congressional staff. Working together, the volunteers who make up this grassroots movement are gaining momentum in their effort to get Washington buzzing about the real story behind American farming – one they live every day.

Check back next week to find out more or go to Common Ground to learn more!

 

Who Said Conventional Production Is Sustainable?

When you look at the facts, conventional agriculture scores higher than organic on sustainability. What system generates these results? The new Responsibly Grown labeling system developed by Whole Foods.

According to a multitude of media reports, the system will rank produce on a variety of criteria including water use, pesticide use and sustainability. Then, the data will be used to award produce selections with a label of “good,” “better” or “best.”

For one example, from Fox News, click here.

From early reports, conventional farmers have placed much higher than the growers using organic methods.

The system reflects a shift in the industry as a whole. While organics may have grown in popularity, many advocate a more scientific approach to assessing the impact of food production. Whole Foods spent three full years developing the Responsibly Grown program. Instead of simply applying a label to market the produce, they provide information on the true impact of growing practices.

Farmers, whether conventional or organic, strive to care for their land. It has provided a livelihood for their family for many generations in most cases. In about as many, they hope it will continue to do so for many generations to come. Keeping it healthy only makes sense.

Conventional production can be more sustainable than organic. Soon, the proof will be clearly labeled at a Whole Foods near you.

IFF Takes Chicago Moms to the Lab to Investigate GMOs

Recently, I had the pleasure of joining a group of Chicago-area moms for a tour of a major biotechnology provider’s research center. These women, who came as a part of the Illinois Farm Families program, had voiced concerns about GMOs and wanted the chance to see first-hand what biotech really means for their families. After an incredible afternoon of learning and discussions with women who work in biotech, women with families and lives much like their own, these influential thought leaders found that there is less to fear about food than they previously suspected.

Starting early on a Saturday morning, the group of about two dozen boarded a flight to St. Louis. These moms, busy women with hectic schedules themselves, showed not only the importance they placed upon learning about GMOs but also the value they place upon the Illinois Farm Families program as a whole. They embraced the idea of exploring agriculture and actively seeking knowledge upon which to base their judgments on a topic we all value- feeding our families the best that we can.

Sponsored by Illinois Farm Families with additional support provided by the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, IFF invited all the women who participated in traditional IFF farm tours since the program began in 2012.  Nearly half of them signed up for the GMO tour that was designed specifically for IFF alums.

After leaving, the participants filled out surveys to help IFF evaluate how the tour impacted their views. The results were clear; the day was a success for farmers and consumers alike.

Delving into the data, the numbers backed IFF’s approach. The moms reported a 26 percent reduction in their overall concerns about GMOs. What did they gain? According to the women themselves, they left with a much better understanding of the human safety of GMO seeds and crops after the tour.

The knowledge they gained furthers IFFs goal of dispelling the many myths, perpetuated by the media, which lead to food fears. With so many removed from the farm, the concerns of these women are understandable. They only want to feel good about the decisions they make for their families.

More so than knowledge, the women began building trust. Sitting face-to-face with scientists who share their values and having open, honest conversations establishes a relationship. These experiences and connections bring us together and establish a mutual understanding both stronger and more satisfying than pop culture propaganda could ever be.

Don’t take my word for it. Be like these moms and find out for yourself. Over the next few months, the women will blogging and share their experiences on their personal social media channels. Check back with the IFF website, www.watchusgrow.org, and explore their worlds like they explore ours. 

The New Recipe for Growing Sales While Growing Waistlines

Today, Panera Bread Co. announced they would join the anti-everything parade of restaurants phasing out ingredients en masse in what they believe to be an attempt to gain a marketing advantage over competitors. While this sort of food snobbery may be trendy, it does little good for actual consumers and pushes the food conversation even further into the realm of unrealistic, self-righteous ridiculousness.

First off, Panera presumably hopes that consumers will assume that the exclusion of ingredients on their “no-no” list leads to a healthier product. With items like the steak and white cheddar panini, this couldn’t be further from the truth. At 1050 calories and a whopping 46 grams of fat, this purportedly natural option will naturally lead to an ever-increasing waistline for the average American.

Simply, just because an ingredient is hard to pronounce does not mean it is bad. Just because it sounds “natural” does not mean it is the healthy option. It is easy to fall into the natural trap, but easy is not always best. Healthy eating requires actually reading about the nutritional value of food, not casually complying with the latest fad.

Also of note, what about their beverage options? The press releases thus far have stressed what they will cut from their foods, but it is hard to imagine that they will hold their beverages to the same standards. If the company truly holds that these ingredients should not be served in their establishments, they cannot then hypocritically offer the soda options that most people enjoy to wash down the sometimes dry sandwiches.

By 2016, Panera will have half-heartedly bought into the hypocrisy of marketing their food as healthy without actually changing the nutritional value of their menu. The information of actual importance, such as the calorie, fat or sodium count, doesn’t have to change by their logic – only consumer perceptions. Emotionally, it might feel good for some. In terms of actual impact, it could be a dietary disaster.

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

 



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