Posted By Cathryn August 28, 2012
In the California GMO Labeling debate, it seems everyone involved can agree upon one basic premise – consumers have a right to know. The debate occurs around exactly what that right entails.
Arguing to redefine terms such as “natural”, even to the exclusion of foods such as olive oil, proponents of the bill seem to believe consumers have a right to know exactly what their agenda-driven groups says that they do.
On the other hand, farmers believe that consumers have a right to know too. In a recent blog post, farmer Mike Haley carefully explained a side of the story that labeling loonies would prefer to push to the backburner. Walking readers through the specific actions that this law would require of him, Haley shows the hidden costs of supporting the propositions hidden agenda.
Take a minute to see the true costs of this measure. If it passes, everyone will pay.
Consumers have a right to know what they eat. They also have a right to know the consequences of their vote.
Posted By Cathryn August 23, 2012
Sometimes, it is easy to lump people into a broad category. Elitist or plebian. Enviro-hippie or pollution-spewing Hummer nut. Midwestern bumpkin or coastal snob. While these labels make for a quick, easy way to write off people to whom we would prefer not listen, they do not account for our incredible ability as human beings to become deeper, more complex individuals. .
Two starkly different articles published this week on the role of farmers in modern America illustrated the importance of transformatory voices and the shared stories of people who have taken on unexpected roles can add nuance and insight to the national dialogue. A dialogue which, particularly in this election year, has grown shallow, partisan and generally uninformed.
Mark Bittman, a New York Times writer known more for his exquisite palate than economic aptitude, took on the state of U.S. farming from the viewpoint of a frequent diner at Manhattan’s upscale eateries. Lamenting the inability of the general public to find the boutique produce his beloved celebre-chefs spend days chasing down, he boldly proposes overhauling all of agriculture to more closely resemble his Utopian vision. In Bittman’s America, everyone not only has seasonal access to the products he enjoys, which notably must not include a good steak, but also has the time and skill to lovingly coax them into gourmet dishes. The farmers whom he deems “real” likewise coax the finest heirloom tomatoes and leafy kale from one or two acres of land. He argues that that this will employ more Americans, who he presumes wish to be farmers, and will provide healthier food for all, with food stamp programs to help us all afford his posh produce.
A knee-jerk response would be to trash all intellectuals, painting them wish a broad brush as cluelessly out-of-touch with the vast majority of Americans who refuse to pay thirty bucks for a cup of soup, let alone spend countless hours in attempts to emulate it at home. Although tempting, this adds nothing to the dialogue.
Victor Davis Hanson does. In his Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Hanson writes the prose equivalent of an ode to the farmers who persevere in this year’s drought. Speaking of the character of the people who stand tall while the drought beats down upon them, Hanson champions crop insurance and agricultural productivity. A writer from California’s abundant heartland who grew up on a farm, he knows that of which he speaks.
“The mystery isn’t that we have devastating droughts like this summer’s, but that so few Americans manage to produce so much food against such daunting odds,” he explains, noting this view comes from personal experiences with his family’s raisin farm.
Eloquently weaving in references to ancient Greek philosophy, Hanson provides a look at the farmer that many would rarely see. Having more experience on the farms of California than Kansas, Hanson’s view of the farmer and modern productivity could grow with further study into the importance of ethanol, but why throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater?
Hanson says something that, particularly in this hot, volatile climate, ALL farmers need to hear. You are appreciated. Facing a natural disaster of historic proportions, he voices the support that most Americans feel for the men and women who feed them.
Conversely, Bittman also offers a valuable lesson, particularly when contrasted with Hanson. It is vital that American farmers create an open dialogue about what they do. Farmers already have an amazing story. They live it every day. In sharing it, they foster a cooperative, positive environment, something that should be valued in these divisive times.
One thing is for certain. If Manhattan’s elite chefs take charge of this conversation, a seriously skewed version of reality may gain a foothold. It would be a shame. We should celebrate reality; we should work to show the strong, resilient spirit behind modern ag innovation.
At NCGA, we have been doing this for many years. For those with most interest in learning about the abundance and, yes, diversity, of American agriculture, we offer links to:
Posted By Cathryn August 15, 2012
While reading convoluted media accounts of the droughts impact on any number of issues and hearing forceful statements about farming that have little, if any, basis in reality, one very simple piece of advice comes to mind. The smartest thing that someone can do is to admit what they don’t actually know.
Third-hand accounts and rampant rumors spread through poorly edited media accounts or completely unedited social media rants often form the basis for many people’s perceptions of food and farming. The overwhelming majority of the U.S. population finds itself unable to personally interact with an industry that, although vital to life, it has been removed from for generations.
Treading metaphorical water in an attempt to keep up with daily challenges, well-intentioned, intelligent men and women may forget the source of their viewpoint yet ardently support the behaviors stemming from it.
Farmers have come out and opened their gates wide in an effort to share a slice of their lives and a glimpse into how the food on our nation’s table actually came to be. Be it through a campaign such as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, the Corn Farmers Coalition or CommonGround, farmers have mobilized in an unprecedented manner to start a national conversation about the food that they grow and the profession they love.
Where does the conversation start? It starts by finding a common understanding between the people who grow food and those who buy it on what each group honestly does not know about the other.
To help lay groundwork for this dialogue, CommonGround spoke with moms across the country about feeding their families. The results show that even active, concerned parents may still have questions.
These questions can create a lot of guilt. From the nutritional value of organic foods to who actually grows food at all, real decisions are being made out of guilt that, upon closer examination, has no basis in the reality of modern agriculture. The choices can cost real dollars and cause real stress.
The solution is real conversation.
Take a moment to see if myths and misinformation cause unnecessary stress for your family or someone you know. Then, take a deep breath and relax.
Farm moms worry about what they feed their families too. They know how stressful trying to provide the best for your children can be. They want to do the same thing.
Then, take another moment to check out how these farmers want to help families across the country eat fearlessly. Literally walking consumers through what they do, the volunteers of CommonGround share what they do on their farms and explain why they do it.
An open, honest conversation about food is underway. The smartest thing that everyone can do is admit that both sides can learn so much from one another. Together, we can all become smarter about food and grow a healthier tomorrow.
Posted By Cathryn August 7, 2012
It may sound corny, but lately it seems that a lot of people talk about the omnipresence of corn. While this fact is inarguable, the negative tone of many articles on the corn-centric nature of our lives seems befuddling. This week, the Kansas City Star took a more insightful approach to exploring how people interact with the crop in their daily lives. As it turns out, a world without corn doesn’t seems like such a great place to live.
The author carefully walks through what a day without corn might look like. Unable to brush his teeth, scramble a decent egg and with his clothes falling to rags, he finds that corn actually makes small improvements to an incredible number of the items that make our lives more pleasant, healthy or comfortable.
The properties inherent to corn make it our nation’s most abundant crop for a reason. Lending useful applications to products as varied as pharmaceuticals and fireworks, corn may really be the glue the binds us together in many ways.
Another kernel of wisdom, it helps to make that glue too.
Corn is king not because it rules over us. Corn it king because IT RULES! Take a minute to check out how many great, interesting, useful ways that corn is used.
Farmers across the country work hard year in and year out to make sure there is a supply of corn so that consumers can enjoy everything from cosmetics to cola. Let’s support the great efforts of our nation’s hardworking family farmers, even if it may sound corny to some ears.
Posted By Ken August 1, 2012
As someone who has worked for both a large global corporation and a large governmental agency, I know how impossible it is to monitor everything said or posted by such a large number of employees. And “impossible” is the right word – especially if you are a federal agency with more than 100,000 employees around the world.
We have been loath to publish anything about USDA’s minor “Meatless Monday” mention on an internal publication that was posted online, but now that the debate has made its way to the New York Times, it’s time to be clear.
1. All you have to do is look at a USDA menu to see it is not anti-meat, as some in the livestock sector thought; or anti-vegetable, as those on the other side of the fence now argue.
2. When the newsletter was pointed out to the USDA, the agency did the right thing, and did it quickly.
3. When Mark Bittman of The New York Times picked a new fight after the brouhaha, by asking USDA a when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife kind of question (“Is it more important to support meat producers than those who produce other crops?”), USDA did the right thing yet again … and gave the right response.
Now, it’s time for everyone to stop talking about it. And we will do the same, unless the attacks and idiocies continue.
Posted By Cathryn July 30, 2012
Can you imagine the feeling of waking up in the morning and realizing that it would be 13 months before you got another paycheck? The drought has farm families across the Midwest pondering just that as relentlessly hot, dry conditions turn the nation’s heartland from a breadbasket into an oven.
In a recent story from Voice of America, DuBois, Ill. farmer Alan Bowers Jr. explained what many family farmers in the central and southern Corn Belt feel as they watch the crop that they invested time, sweat and money in this spring wilt. Blowing away, the corn becomes part of the dust that normally yields the most abundant crop in the world.
Using a simple, yet eloquent analogy, DuBois compared his corn and soybean crop to a paycheck. Drawing on this common idea, he places in stark perspective how dire the situation facing many farm families may seem.
This candid look at farming stands in contrast to the multitude of mainstream news stories promoting the fallacious idea that farmers do not care about the crop. The emotional toll of seeing hard work wither due to circumstances well beyond human control aside, crop insurance ensures that family farmers like DuBois can make ends meet until the next season. It ensures that natural disasters do not cause our nation’s agricultural sector to disintegrate.
Crop insurance places exists because Americans value their abundant, affordable, safe supply of food and the farm families who produce it. Americans understand the integral role these hard working individualists play in the fabric of our national character and in our economy. Maintaining their ability to farm next year when confronted with such enormous, unstoppable obstacles makes sense. Understanding their frustration in watching the crop slip away does too.
As drought conditions persist, remember that the people who grow food, the people who raise it and those who eat it all must endure these trying conditions together. Looking toward one another with understanding and compassion can ease the stress placed on one another, even if it cannot ease the stress placed on the crops.
Posted By Cathryn June 28, 2012
As temperatures across the Midwest soar into the triple digits with little chance for rain or relief in sight, talking heads have started to blabber on again about how the drought will hit consumer’s wallets. Adding further pain to the heat-induced misery, these armchair economists stoke the fires of already burning financial concerns.
Yelling “fire” in a crowded theater may grab attention and cause alarm, but it is illegal to do so for a reason. Causing panic for the sake of causing panic does not have a public benefit.
A more cynical commentator might note that it does help drive rating and generate revenue. But instead of focusing on the fray, take a look at the facts.
According to a newly released study from National Public Radio’s Planet Money series, Americans today spend less on groceries than they did 30 years ago, nearly a full five percentage points less. Prices have declined across the board with some staple items, such as butter and chicken legs, down by 35 percent. Even a steak costs 30 percent less.
Will a drought impact America’s corn crop this year? Almost certainly. Does this spell dire circumstances that will leave the grocery consuming public taking out loans to feed their family with healthy, safe food? Almost certainly not.
In today’s America, what is truly in jeopardy is a sense of perspective. Banners flash before already stressed eyes on the evening news making dire declarations. Weary from battling real issues all day, these prophets of pain become an echoing chorus of doom drumming away basic sanity. Frantic feelings froth to a frenzy as the spiral of sustained stress with the prognosticators acting like an emotional succubus that feeds on America’s anxieties.
Stay calm. It may be hot outside, but cooler heads can prevail. Calmly, remember that America has the safest, most abundant, most affordable food supply in its history. The percentage of income needed to eat well has dropped to one of, if not the, lowest level in the developed world. Through innovation and hard work, farmers prove, time after time, that they can and will feed America, no matter what challenges they face.
Posted By Cathryn June 21, 2012
As temperatures rise and an array of fresh, vibrant produce options fills grocery baskets, the Environmental Working Group issued its annual summer scare list with this week. Deemed the “dirty dozen,” EWG again drags out its pseudoscience in the hopes of terrifying consumers, maligning nutritious foods and filling its coffers with donations from a frightened and misinformed public.
Almost any sound, reputable source stresses the incredibly important role that eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables plays in a healthy diet. Instead of promoting this, the EWG joins the ranks of similar charlatans who base fad diets on trendy tidbits. Based more in sound bites than sound science, the misinformation found in the list pushes well-intentioned eaters off track.
This year, ignore the EWG. Frankly, it annoys them more than engaging with them. Instead, consider the facts.
Farmers value food safety for the same reasons consumers do. The food from their farms feeds their families as well as yours. Regular moms and dads with the same concerns, farm families strive to bring a broad variety of safe, nutritious foods to their tables and yours.
True scientists, the kind who hold respected positions in academia or publish in peer reviewed journals, have stepped forward, speaking out against this fear-based, anti-ag propaganda. With prominent professors from University of California at Berkley leading the charge, real food safety experts deem the
EWG list an unscientific hype piece that actually has a detrimental effect on the conversation about food.
So be fearless about food and ditch the dirty dozen’s baseless babble. An open, honest conversation between the people who grow food and the people who buy it is building. Find out more by clicking here.
Posted By Cathryn June 11, 2012
Have you ever heard about the Corn Farmers Coalition and wondered who actually sees this stuff?
Sure, the ads catch attention from a mile away. Sure, the beaming family farmers, on their real farms, convey powerful, impactful messages about today’s farm. Sure, these ads appear to be something that would draw any normal reader into a short ag literacy lesson. But, where do people actually come into contact with them?
As always, the innovative minds behind the campaign have found new, thoughtfully selected venues that reach those outside of rural America want to find their information- where they already are.
This week, the campaign launched its fourth year with fresh faces and facts both in traditional venues, such as the DC Metro, and in other places that pack a punch, like the online version of the Washington Post. The award-winning informational series has, yet again, even more finely honed its choice of channel to include the online news sites that, according to the papers themselves, have greatly impacted how Americans consume news content.
Like the stories covered by journalists, the Corn Farmers Coalition paints a clear picture of farming, an industry with which 98.5 percent of the population has little or no contact. Like the feature stories, it provides answers to the questions most prevalent in readers’ minds. Like the hard-hitting exposes, it shows the truth, unbiased and in all of its glory.
Take a moment to check out what legislators, regulators, their aides and many other inquisitive inhabitants of our nation’s capital will be checking out themselves this summer. Then, join the featured families taking the voice of the corn industry to Washington with a letter on why real farmers, just like the ones in these ads, need a real farm bill in real time by clicking here.
Posted By Cathryn May 30, 2012
Online parodies have long poked fun at the self-righteous rantings of the food elite. Now, a scientific study proves what many with foodie friends have long known. Eating organic can actually turn you into a jerk.
In all seriousness, the study, published in the Journal of Social Psychological & Personality Science, found that exposure to organic foods can “harshen moral judgments.”
Why doesn’t the earth-loving, nurturing persona used to market these foods encourage their target market to act in kind? Because, to no small extent, the feeling of superiority and wholesomeness conferred by their dietary choices leads to self-congratulatory self-righteousness. Taking the old saying “you are what you eat” to heart, organic devotees look down from their pesticide-free pedestal on those who have not committed to living a similar lifestyle.
What moral quandaries do those who partake in the halo effect ignore?
For many Americans, organics simply are not an option. The price premium placed on these products may seem small to the Whole Foods set, but the majority of ordinary folks in line at the local Aldi’s call the place “Whole Paycheck” for a reason. An average family, already coping with the remnants of a recession and ever climbing prices at the pump, already makes hard choices about what must be foregone just to get by. Paying extra for foods that are nutritionally identical makes little sense to the common shopper who still has common sense.
Moreover, these supposedly earth-loving ecovores show little concern for the planets other inhabitants. The world population will grow to more than nine billion people by 2050. To keep up with that growth, more food will have to be produced over the next 50 years than has been during the past 10,000 years combined. Given that this must be done using finite resources, biotechnology, and other un-trendy technology, provide the yield increases and input decreases necessary to feed these new humans. Promoting starvation might seem harsh, but turning a blind eye while bashing the tools that might feed the hungry really is not all that different.
Finally, they ignore the facts. 400 scientific papers on the health impacts of organic foods have found no difference in nutritional value. Moreover, consumption of biotech foods has not been shown to produce any effect on human health.
Buying organic has become the modern equivalent of purchasing indulgences. U.S. farmers work hard to produce an abundant array of affordable safe, nutritious options for our country’s wide variety of consumers to enjoy. The halo floating over organic-only heads turns out to be a bit tarnished and a tad askew. It is time for the healthier-than-thou crowd to come back down to earth.