Corn Commentary

CommonGround Wisconsin Dishes on Dairy

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from CommonGround Wisconsin volunteer and blogger Kim Bremmer.

students with calf_8130 (2)What a fun morning in Alma Center, Wisconsin with two buses full of high school students, teachers and the school nutritionist for an informal discussion about food!  Pfaffway Farm was our wonderful host and is home to over 200 milking cows and youngstock.  Kristin Pfaff wanted to host an event about modern food production, showcase an actual farm, and be able to answer any questions the students might have about modern farming today.

The students were given donated milk, cheese curds and Craisins as they were seated on straw bale benches.  A questionaire was handed out earlier in the week at school and our discussion was focused accordingly around their answers.

We answered questions about the overall safety of food today and how technology has changed over time.  We spent a lot of time discussing GMO’s and handed out the Common Ground info-graph to everyone.  Many of the kids had concerns about the safety of GMO’s today and it was quite apparent  the influence that main stream media has. We had examples of different foods and talked at length about food labels and what they mean.  “Organic”, “All Natural”, “Hormone Free”, “Antibiotic Free” were all covered as well as r-BST, animal care concerns, and salmonella.

It was a lively group of young consumers with a lot of great questions and great discussion.  Even the adults in the group all commented on how much they learned.  Our final message was about keeping an open mind and always asking an expert when it comes to where your food comes from…the farmers and ranchers who are producing food for their own families and yours.  And more information can always be found at findourcommonground.com!

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A Bitter Rant with Bitter Consequences

Daily news stories rail against attempts by the foodie elite to dictate the diets of Main Street Americans. From parents protesting school lunch menus to New Yorkers rallying in defense of the Big Gulp, average citizens stand firmly in support of their right to make decisions and ardently defend their personal freedoms.

Yet, with carefully crafted theories and a plethora of plausible-yet-false facts, New York Times writer Mark Bittman gets away with forcing his theories about the redistribution of wealth, land and scrapping the basic ideals of the right to property and freedom of choice. He wants Americans to buy into his supposed “paradigm shift,” a regressive jump back to a pre-specialization of labor economy, and therefore aide in his effort to dictate diets not just to Americans but also to the rest of the world.

Bittman’s bitter tirade represents not only an agenda-driven, slanted view of modern agriculture heavily reliant upon idealized imagery but also an ongoing intellectual trend toward a world of pseudo-imperialism that would allow cultural dictators to rule over Americans and the international community alike. Displeased with how a dispersion of power and innovation has left their theoretical musings impotent, Bittman and his self-aggrandizing elitist posse cunningly plot to play on fear of the unknown, of all things “big,” of change, to gain support which, once firmly garnered, they would use to create their own utopia of the urban and urbane literati.

Know that this utopia does not take into account the realities of life most Americans face. It does not account for a lack of land, a lack of time or even a climate lacking the conditions needed to actually grow a crop. It does not account for land ownership, the ability of either farmers or consumers to make choices or the economic reality that those who grow food and those who purchase it know intimately.

While he hits on many touching topics, invoking the plight of the poor, the disenfranchised and the unjustly treated, he does these groups no substantial good. In forming his fix for a system he knows little about, he ignores the deeper issues surrounding food waste and productivity. He ignores personal choice and takes the idea of food security for granted in a way which early Americans never possibly could.

So, stand up! If each of us rallies against these covert attacks on the freedoms which make our country and our lives great as hard as we stand up in defense of their more obvious counterparts, we can make a difference. Theory and idealism have a place, but they do not put food on the table when they fail to account for reality and value the rights of individuals.

Tell the foodie elites like Bittman to close the doors on their intellectual imperialist dinner party. Tell them Main Street refuses to accept their invitation.

Newspaper’s Credibility At Issue

In 36 years of being directly involved in agriculture and the issues that make it so…interesting, frustrating, rewarding, and painful…I have only seen one positive story written about the issues effecting the profession, especially ethanol, in the Chicago Tribune. I remain convinced to this day that it was a mistake that slipped by editors and that the cub reporter responsible is driving a cab in the Loop and speaking in tongues.

I think it is ok to say this Windy City pub never met a farm policy or ethanol issue they didn’t like to bash, facts aside. Apparently farmers are immune to the whims of business considerations like making enough to pay the bills and plant another crop. Why else would the Trib opine that farmers are getting more for their corn after a 25 year economic drought that saw farmers getting $2 to $2.50 a bushel regardless of real world cost or demand? (Let alone make such comments in the wake of prices just dropping 40 percent).

So, following their direction, I guess all of you farmers can get off your combines and retire. Apparently you have spent your entire life, not to mention several generations, involved in the most under appreciated hobby in history. No more production of food, feed, or fiber. No more ethanol fuel because we are just going to continue to depend on prickly and dangerous oil producing nations for their finite black gold.

On a more serious note, I think the Tribune needs to be called on the carpet for the sham they have been selling to the public for years that they have a pro-business/pro-jobs position.

Despite dozens of third party experts bringing them information backed by science that exposes the errors in their thinking the Trib, especially its editorial writers, remain steadfast in their spewing of misinformation and loathing of ethanol despite its emergence as a critical economic engine in much of the U.S. Are these folks not suspicious or troubled at all by the millions of dollars being spent by the petroleum industry in recent years to damage the reputation of ethanol. One of the tenants of good journalism is to follow the money in trying to understand societal issues. Clearly Goliath is trying to squash David and somebody should be asking why.

Here are a few of the factual perversions in their latest diatribe:

  • Farmers are not planting as much corn as possible. In fact we are 20 million acres shy of planting the acres we did in the 1920s.
  • The Trib notes we use 40% of the corn crop to make ethanol. Actually we use the equivalent of only 27% of the crop because only the starch from the corn kernel is used to make ethanol. The protein for livestock feed is concentrated, easier to transport and a high value product.
  • Blaming corn for higher meat prices is also off base. Declining domestic meat consumption and the outrageous cost of transportation of all food products to market – thank you big oil – has something to do with that.
  • Plant diseases and pests are nothing new. Farmers deal with them all the time and do so very well thank you. Goss’s wilt that you reference touches only 10% of the corn crop, and is far from being devastating, unless of course you fall in the 10%.
  • And did you actually criticize crop insurance in one breath while also intimating we should take away a farmer’s ability to choose what to plant? That will make the kids want to return to the farm business.

Bridging the Gap between Farm Gates and America’s Plates

Looking at the myriad of activities NCGA and so many other organizations conduct to help share the story of farming with consumers, one might wonder about the impact on public opinion. Today, a blog post by Rajean Blomquist provided clear, concise evidence that open, real conversations between the women who grow food and those who purchase it make a difference.

Blomquist attended a dinner organized by CommonGround Colorado last month. While there, she had a chance to meet the farm women who volunteer their time and share their stories to help consumers understand how their food is grown and raised.

Speaking of that night, Blomquist recounts the impression of America’s farmers she has following her conversations.

“These farm women spoke passionately about their jobs, their families, the history of their farms – most are third and fourth generation farmers. To me, that speaks volumes of their dedication to bring us the freshest, safest food.  They spoke of feeding their families what they and their fellow farming friends grow, the best proof I need to know they won’t sell it if they don’t eat it.  Their clear skin, bright eyes, nice teeth, and hair told me they appear to be healthy from the inside out. There are an enormous amount of regulations in the farm industry. No doubt, farmers work harder than most people before many of us raise our heads off our pillows in the mornings.”

To read the full post, click here.

This may only seem like one person, but Blomquist shares her story too. Through her blog, the volunteers reach women not only across Colorado but also around the world.

The world grows more connected by the day as bloggers and social media users reach a global community on the web. The conversations about food and farming in this space have a ripple effect. One person’s impression can touch many more people in further flung places than anyone could have imagined only a few decades ago.

Someone is telling your story – the story of farming in America. Working together, we can make sure that more thoughtful, concerned voices, voices like Blomquist, hear it first from a farmer.

In a Deluge of Details, Seek Out the Substance of the Story

Menus at many of the hottest restaurants in cities from Portland to Princeton read like a carefully crafted tome of local one-upmanship. The Smith family loving raised the joyful cow who willingly ended its sunny, grass-fed existence to bring you the finest six-ounce filet that money can buy. The Swiss chard accompanying it actually comes from the Jones family down the lane and three houses to the left. Chefs and aspiring novelists have teamed up to tell the entire backstory of your meal. With so much focus on the farmers behind one’s brunch, diners continue to coo overly-emotive praise at the resourcefulness of the establishment capable of finding family farmers to provide their posh plates.

The underlying assumption is that the ingredients listed with the pinpoint precision honestly required only by a logistics manager are unique because they come from a family farm. As everyone seems to know, there are hardly any of those left.

The Washington Post boldly lifted the starched tablecloth off of the hidden truth this week explaining that, in all reality, 96.4 percent of America’s farms are family farms. The article that exposed the farming industry for what it really is, one made up of family-owned and operated businesses, explained how America’s family farmers have grown the amount of land they cultivate or increased the number of chickens in their flock through hard work and modern technology. Recognizing the ability of family farmers to adapt a rapidly-changing world, the Post provided a peak behind the farm gate many haven’t seen for generations.

For many, the term family farm comes wrapped in a gauzy haze of sepia-toned associations. Family farms may be larger than the nostalgia-fueled diners notions may dictate suit their idyllic fantasy farm, but words have specific meanings even if one chooses surround them in clouds of self- created implications and associations.

Take a moment to find out what real family farmers are like today by clicking here. Family farms may have grown, but the farmers themselves still strive to feed every American as if they were part of their own family. Enjoy this bounty knowing that, even if it doesn’t come accompanied by a novella of names, it probably does come from a family farm.

Know It All

Everyone may be entitled to an opinion, but the trend toward steadfastly believing completely unsubstantiated claims about food has hit a new high. According to a New York Times poll discussed in an article last Saturday, 93 percent of Americans felt food containing genetically modified or engineered ingredients should be identified with a label, but most went on to affirm their belief in false facts about GMOs disseminated through agenda-driven propaganda.

Applying the thirst for knowledge a bit more liberally might benefit many Americans.

With sizeable portions of those responding to the survey expressing worry over the safety of GMOs, claiming the foods might cause cancer, allergies or were toxic, the desire among these persons for more information about the science behind their food seems lacking. Scientific studies conducted by credible researchers following established protocols continually show that there is no added risk associated with foods containing GMOs. Yet, in spite of a formidable and ever-growing body of evidence, they cling to their irrational fears.

The battle may continue over whether or not labeling should reflect if a product includes foods grown through the use of biotechnology but, as the war of words winds up, let’s not forget that simply knowing if a product contains a GMO food or not does not mean much on its own. The real key is knowing about the scientific study and regulatory procedures that ensure we have a safe, affordable variety of foods from which Americans can choose.

To learn more, click here.

Panera Chicken Claims Make as Much Sense as Hens Clucking

graceschickens5The marketers over at Panera are certainly a clever bunch. Only a few years after Chipotle upped its anti-antibiotic claims, the chain bakery decided to cluck a little louder about its use of antibiotic free chicken. The concept lack both originality and substance.

This marketing tactic relies on the public to fill in a false blank. In boasting about the use of antibiotic free chicken, the retailer leads the customer to believe that any competitor not squawking about their chicken must be pushing a product laden with unnecessary antibiotics. Yet, this would be completely illegal.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture closely regulates how antibiotics can be used in all livestock and poultry production. Federal meat inspectors, the ones so publicly saved from the sequester, ensure that meat headed to market complies with regulations that ensure no antibiotics enter the meat supply.

To learn more about these regulations, click here.

Whether you get your chicken sandwich from Panera or the peddler out front of your office, you can feel safe knowing that you aren’t getting a bonus dose of azithromycin with your lunch.

Marketing can be tricky, but educated eaters can remain one step ahead of their game. Talk to a farmer and find out about how your food was grown by clicking here.

Giving Up Giving Up Meat

NP-51-C~Cafeteria-Lunch-Tray-PostersThe cafeterias that feed our nation’s federal legislators and their staffs are giving up giving up meat on Mondays.

Surprisingly, this actually causes strife in some circles. As detailed in a recent article in Politico, the Congressional Vegetarian Staff Association (yes, this is a real thing) holds the big beef lobby to blame for this sacrilege at the altar of the PC. Some cry foul, claiming the tradition-come-lately promotes what they deem to be a healthier diet. Seemingly, Congressional staffers share the same intense interest in lunch menus as employees across the country.

Some claim the practice should have been shut down as it is promoted by the Humane Society of the United States and similar radical groups. While this argument certainly holds water with anyone who hopes to have a pet or a burger someday, there is a much simpler reason that Meatless Mondays make no sense. They take away choice.

The country faces an obesity epidemic, and everyone has a solution. But, in the end, the workplace cafeteria should not become an agenda-driven diner that dictates diets. The lunch line may not offer your personal favorite option daily, but it should not force a particular, politically-motivated nutritional regime down your throat either.

Consumers, and even Congressional staffers, deserve options. Our nation’s farmers and ranchers provide a wide variety of nutritious food options. People should be able to dictate what they put into their own bodies.

So kudos to the kitchens of Congress for recognizing that lunches should be chosen, not dictated, every day of the week.

Immigration Policy Impacts Food Affordability

Thanks to highly mechanized planting and harvesting, plus the advantage of a crop that can be stored for long periods of time, corn growers are largely able to function without the use of a migrant work force. But, even those row crop farmers who don’t directly employ migrant laborers have a reason to care about comprehensive immigration reform.

The dairy industry is very dependent on a stable work force – year round, not just seasonal – and Dairy Farmers of America Board Chairman Randy Mooney made some pretty compelling points during a USDA forum on comprehensive immigration reform held Friday in Kansas City.

dfa-kc“We know from experience that too few domestic workers want these jobs and the issue is bigger than dairy,” said Mooney. Highly perishable specialty crop producers obviously need these workers, but Mooney says corn, bean and wheat farmers do as well, to meet the needs of the farms that buy their products. “For example, the U.S. dairy herd consumes more than 133 billion pounds of feed in the form of corn, corn silage, soybean meal and alfalfa each year,” he noted.

“Because of America’s farmers, we enjoy abundant, safe and affordable food in this country,” Mooney said. “In order to ensure that continues, we need Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Mooney added. See Mooney’s remarks at the event in the YouTube video below.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was the keynote speaker at the Kansas City event. “We are blessed by the most productive, most innovative and most hard-working farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said. “American agriculture is the greatest in the world, but we risk that if we don’t have certainty in our farm policy and we don’t have comprehensive immigration reform.”

The comprehensive immigration bill being considered by the Senate – with a final vote expected possibly this week – includes provisions for agriculture including a new “Blue Card” program for current experienced farm workers and a new agricultural visa program to meet future labor needs. The provisions in the bill were the result of an agreement reached between farm worker groups and agricultural organizations.

Let’s Talk About Food

For years now, the National Corn Growers Association, along with a broad array of other agricultural groups, has stressed the need for farmers to tell their own stories about food and farming. Time and time again, they have tried to direct attention to the growing public desire to understand what happens to the food on their tables prior to its arrival at their grocery stores. Through programs like CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, they have created pathways for farmers to reach broad audiences and offered training tools that help increase the effectiveness of their efforts.

The everyday business of farming and ranching often saps the time and energy of the men and women who grow our food though. With so many demands already placed upon them, the task of volunteering these precious resources for something so seemingly apparent to those involved in agriculture seems daunting, if not impossible.

Last week, the attendees at BlogHer Food 2013 had the opportunity to meet real life farmers and have honest, open discussions about food. Their incredible interest and insightful questions served as a strong reminder that this need for dialogue is not only real, but it is actually growing.

CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross and Morgan Kontz, who farm in Iowa and South Dakota respectively, saw firsthand how great this need for an open dialogue with consumers is. As bloggers, many of whom have thousands of avid followers, stopped at the booth, they warmly received these real-life farmers. Many expressed gratitude for the chance to talk about what happens on modern farms and ranches. Even those who disagreed with some practices came to these conversations with an open, respectful spirit and an honest desire to not only express their own viewpoints but to also truly listen to what these women had to say.

Ross and Kontz met with a steady stream of interested bloggers over the course of the two-day event.

Ross and Kontz met with a steady stream of interested bloggers over the course of the two-day event.

Friday night, Ross and Kontz joined USFRA Faces of Farming and Ranching winners Chris Chin and Will Gilmer, along with other hog and cattle ranchers, to share a meal with a group of approximately 40 bloggers who took time away from the conference, foregoing a night of fun on Austin’s Sixth Street, to visit an urban farm and learn more about how the foods about which they write are grown and raised. The incredible variety of bloggers who attended was astounding. The interest that they brought was genuine.

The USFRA-hosted dinner allowed farmers and bloggers to share a dialogue along with a delicious dinner.

The USFRA-hosted dinner allowed farmers and bloggers to share a dialogue along with a delicious dinner.

From Google Glass-wearing hipsters to DC policy wonks, the dinner attendees illustrated how diverse the demand for dialogue about agriculture has become. While these women and men brought a myriad of interests and perspectives, they shared two main commonalities. They wield significant influence on broader consumer opinion through their work, and they want to know more about what happens on America’s farms.

Volunteers like Ross and Kontz have taken on the challenge, giving of themselves to become a part of that conversation. As the demand from consumers for a greater understanding of farming grows, so to must the supply of farmers and ranchers willing to become a part of that conversation.

CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross (left) and Morgan Kontz (right) share their story of farming. Do you?

CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross (left) and Morgan Kontz (right) share their story of farming. Do you?

Today, less than 2 percent of the population is directly involved in agriculture, but 99.999 percent of the population eats. Learn what you can do to help make the math work by visiting the websites for CommonGround or USFRA.

Conversations about food and farming will happen regardless of farmer involvement. Show consumers that you care about their concerns and want to share with them the amazing story of today’s American farmer.



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