Corn Commentary

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,, and explore their worlds like they explore ours. 

God Really Did Make a Farmer

farmer-handsThe original Ram Trucks Super Bowl commercial featuring Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” is up to over 14 million views on YouTube, not counting all the re-posts of the video, and has led to parodies too numerous to count.

There’s God made a factory farmer, liberal, banker, photographer, skateboarder, printer, DJ, realtor, gamer, machinist, chemist, publicist, YouTuber, teacher, Democrat, cat – you name it.

But, really – God really did make a farmer. Just check the Book of Genesis. “God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Gen. 2:15)

Of course, we all know the rest of the story. When Adam and Eve misbehaved, God made farming more difficult and even more of a sacred calling – “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.”

And the first parents passed their vocation on to their children. “Eve … gave birth to Cain…Later she gave birth to his brother Abel…Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.” We won’t go into the rest of that story (since one of them also became the first murderer) but suffice it to say – God really did make a farmer first. Not a chemist or a DJ or even a liberal – but maybe a cat.

Peterson Farm Brothers Heat Up a Cold Florida Night

Peterson Bros editedCommodity Classic heated up a cold Florida night last week when the Peterson Brothers took center stage during the Evening of Entertainment. The family farmers, whose “I’m Farming and I Grow It” video went viral last spring, accepted honors from event sponsor Monsanto for their work to promote the image of modern agriculture.

The brothers, who have created a series of YouTube videos parodying trendy songs, brought farmers into the tech spotlight, with their version of the party anthem gaining more than eight million views. Combining their youthful, fun-loving spirit with their passion for agriculture, these young men pushed family farmers into the national spotlight.

The air outside may have been unseasonably cold, but the brothers sparked warm enthusiasm in the crowd. Leading by example, the Peterson Brothers showed that farmers can effectively use social media to start a dialogue that gets consumers excited too.

Want to join the movement to get a conversation rolling about farming? Click here to learn about innovative programs offered by the National Corn Growers Association that can help you get started.

Find Kentucky Farmers at a Grocery Store Near You

Today, Corn Commentary shares a post from Kentucky Corn Growers Association Director of Communications Jennifer Elwell. On her new blog Kentucky Food and Farm Files, Elwell discusses a variety of interesting topics, including her work with the CommonGround Kentucky program.

What happens when you place a passionate, smiling farmer in the middle of a grocery store? It opens a door for conversations about food and farming. Many Kentucky farmers are now volunteering their time to talk with food buyers about what the heck is going on at their farms and within their food industry.

Programs such as CommonGround, Operation Main Street, AgChat (#agchat or #foodchat) and many others are providing volunteer farmers for speaking engagements and events, and the feedback has been very positive.

This past weekend, volunteers (including myself) set up at the newest Kroger location in Georgetown, Ky. to talk with shoppers and provide recipes and farm information. We had questions about different types of egg production, a conversation about how a diabetic needs to manage their diet, my nine-year-old daughter encouraged kids to eat lots of fruits and vegetables by trying new dishes, and many just wanted to share their appreciation for what farmers do.

Volunteer Becky Thomas of Elizabethtown talks with a shopper at the Georgetown Kroger.

My daughter and I ready with smiles on our faces. She was so good at sharing the good news about what our Kentucky farmers do and is ready to take on my other blog, Food, Mommy!

I am very thankful that grocery store chains are opening their doors to local farmers to talk with their customers. It puts a face on our food production and puts the notion away that most of our food is produced by “industrial-strength” farms. At least 98% of the farms in Kentucky are still family-owned and operated.

Volunteer Tonya Murphy from Owensboro talks with a customer at a Louisville Kroger this summer about how she cares for the chickens on her farm. Everyone loved seeing her photos.

Volunteer Carly Guinn, a grain and beef cattle farmer who lives in Danville has a long conversation about food myths and shares how she feels they hurt farmers.

Kentucky farmer volunteers Ashley Reding, Carrie Divine and Denise Jones talked with Louisville ValuMarket shoppers in 2011, shortly after the Common Ground program launched nationwide.

Elwell invites both comments and requests from groups looking for speakers on food and farming. Click here to find out more.

USFRA Celebrates Two Years

The U.S Farmers and Ranchers Alliance has officially entered into its third year now, celebrating two years of making connections with consumers about food.

Stallman says USFRA just started with some of its initial programd 14 months ago. “We’ve made great progress considering we started from scratch,” he said. “We’re making great progress in engaging with consumer influencers … we’ve established a really robust social media platform for consumers and farmers and ranchers to have direct conversations.” USFRA has also set up training for farmers and ranchers to learn how to interact with consumers on social media.

Moving forward, Stallman says they want to continue the successful efforts they have begun, including the Food Dialogues that have been held throughout the past year in major urban areas like Hollywood and New York City.

Listen to my interview with Stallman here: Interview with Bob Stallman

In conjunction with the Food Dialogues held in New York City, USFRA held its annual meeting and elected new executive committee members:

Chairman – Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation
Vice Chairman – Weldon Wynn, Cattlemen’s Beef Board
Secretary – Bernard Leonard, U.S. Poultry & Egg Association
Treasurer – Dale Norton, National Pork Board
At-Large – Mike Geske, National Corn Growers Association
At-Large – Nancy Kavazanjian, United Soybean Board

Going off the executive committee is former NCGA president Bart Schott of North Dakota, who says it has been a great two years. “We’re really reaching an audience through social media that we’ve never really dreamed of,” Schott said.

He was especially impressed with the Food Dialogues in New York and said he has learned a lot himself during the panels. “Having a Food Dialogue with panelists that balance each other out and talk about their side, whether it’s right or wrong, just to talk about the issues and get them out there … for me it was a home run again,” said Schott who adds that it is a great way to connect farmers and consumers.

Listen to an interview with Bart at the NY Food Dialogues here: Interview with Bart Schott

A Tweet New Way to Contact Congress

When I worked on Capitol Hill five years ago, BlackBerries were clunky, members’ websites were difficult to navigate, and no one used social media. In fact, I believe Facebook was still private and you had to be invited to Gmail. Man, that seems like eons ago. Today, Congressional offices have embraced the changing tides and have learned that social media is a great approach that offers a completely different conversation with constituents.

In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Sen. Chuck Grassley said “I use Twitter to keep in touch with Iowans. It’s a way to describe what I’m working on as their U.S. senator, to make a point in a public policy debate and to try to foster greater citizen participation in the process of representative government.”

Well said, senator. Grassley was actually one of the first senators to adopt Twitter and many others have followed suit. Both the Senate and House Ag Committees have their own accounts (@SenateAg and @HouseAgNews). Additionally, a large majority of individual members of the committees have their own accounts.

So can this actually make a difference? The answer is yes, it can. A great example would be the Twitter campaign surrounding the proposed child labor laws for farm kids. There was such a media storm on Twitter that it actually helped with the Department of Labor’s decision to withdraw the proposal. And now, with farm bill votes in the House and Senate right around the corner, we have another opportunity to take the Hill by storm….well, a Tweet storm.

Of the 535 members of Congress, 460 of them have individual Twitter accounts (If you follow me on Twitter, you already know this) and many of them have a staffer whose job it is to monitor their social media sites. Use this to your advantage. Find your representatives and senators, follow them and check in on what is happening in their office. Trust me, it’s a lot easier for a member to send a tweet with an announcement than it is to write a release and get it sent out. And don’t be afraid to tweet your member on an important issue. You may be making an impact in 140 characters without even knowing it.

Oh, and while you’re at it, I love new followers as well. I’m @DCcorngal.

Oh Oprah! America’s Farm Families Would Like to Invite You to Dinner

BurrackOprah Winfrey’s daytime diatribes may not run on network television any longer, but she continues to damage public perception of agriculture with little regard for the scientific evidence against her claims.

Oprah’s power as a media mogul has not diminished since her self-titled program ran its final episode.  Instead, her legions of followers now flock to her magazine, website, cable channel and the programs of her protégés, actively seeking out her wisdom on subjects ranging from the best fiction to nutrition advice.

Sadly, sometimes the references she points to on food issues contain enough fallacies that a particularly witty librarian might file them in the fiction section.  With an entire section of her website dedicated to Michael Pollan’s “Food 101,” she lends the halo-effect of her considerable influence to works which have many unfounded statements and some which have been disproven by a variety of reputable sources.

Now, Tim Burrack, an Iowa farmer who actively participates in the advancement of his industry through service to the National Corn Growers Association and several other ag-focused groups, has issued a challenge in the form of an invitation.  In a letter published on the Truth about Trade and Biotechnology’s website, Burrack invites Winfrey to visit his farm for “a firsthand look at how an Iowa farmer produces healthy food in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.”

Burrack felt the need to act after reading an article in the May issue of O: The Oprah Magazine that asserts no one actually knows the real effect of crops produced using biotechnology.  Understanding the impact Oprah’s statements have upon her vast legions of followers, he issued the offer to help better inform the media maven and, in doing so, help provide a deeper, more informed understanding of modern agriculture to someone who wields almost unmatched influence on the American public.

Like Burrack, farmers and their allies know all too well how even a simple uninformed statement can harm public understanding of agriculture for years to come.  Given the influence of the source in this case, it is crucial that America’s farmers stand up for the incredible work that they do and products they provide.

Take a stand for farmers and for truth today.  Click here to post a comment to the original article calling on Oprah to take Burrack up on his invitation. Then, wield some social media influence by sharing the letter through Twitter or Facebook.

Together, the people who grow food for our country can take on those who would insult or mischaracterize their work while enjoying the variety of safe, affordable choices they produce.  Burrack took a stand for what he knows is right. Now, let Oprah know just how many of America’s farmer families and their friends stand behind him.

Video Spreads Farmers Fight Message

The newest advocate video for agriculture features a young African-American woman in an urban setting encouraging everyone involved in the industry to “Stand Up” and fight for farmers.

Jasmine Dillon, a Texas A&M University graduate student in Animal Breeding, stars in the video which was part of the “Farmers Fight Agvocacy Day” effort by TAMU on April 12.

Among those that Jasmine calls on to “Stand Up” are geneticists, agricultural engineers, food scientists, nutritionists, meat scientists, microbiologists, agronomists, educators and researchers. The TAMU student advocates say they are striving to teach everyone how to care for animals, the land and the importance of producing safe, nutritious food for the world.

“For too long we’ve let others tell our story, and they haven’t told it very truthfully. It’s time for us, as students and advocates of agriculture, to step up and let the world know what great people farmers and ranchers are!”

The video already has nearly 14,000 views on YouTube since last week and has been shared all over the social media networks. Watch it, share it, and Stand Up for agriculture!

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Agvocacy Is Hard Work! Is It Worth It?

Many amazing farmers volunteer to agvocate as association leadership, through social media or as part of larger programs, like CommonGround.  In taking valuable time away from their farms and families, they act upon their belief that creating a dialogue that acquaints the public with modern agriculture is essential to ensuring a bright, vibrant future for the way-of-life that they love.

State and national communications staff appreciate that, for farmer volunteers, leaving busy operations involves a major investment by farmer and family alike.  In light of such, it is essential that those helping organize these programs evaluate the effectiveness of every opportunity, carefully weighing the potential benefit against the possible impact upon the volunteers.

Let’s face it- it takes a lot to walk out the farm gate, onto the stage and showcase such an integral part of every grower’s life, his or her farm.  Volunteers face public scrutiny and, at times, even criticism based in misunderstanding of either farming practices or of the specific operation itself.

Watching a lovely grain farmer who grew up around cattle gracefully handle sharp criticism of poultry-raising techniques, despite the fact she herself had never set foot into a broiler operation, can spur the thought, “I really hope that something positive comes of this- because she deserves results.”

CommonGround volunteers across the country are seeing positive results as the bloggers, reporters and other food thought-leaders they interact with come to understand and respect the achievements and character of the American family farmer.

On St. Patrick’s day, CommonGround hosted a dinner, upon which the National Corn Growers Association reported immediately following the event.  The initial story provided a peak into the thoughtful, creative events many state programs are hosting.

Yet, one question remained.  Would the attendees relay their experiences that evening?  Did the volunteers manage to make a real connection?

As in many prior instances, the answer appears to be a resounding “yes!” Just yesterday, an influential Kentucky food blogger, who uses the name “foodie girl,” recounted her encounter for her readership.  Peppered throughout her step-by-step how-to on preparing the cheese grits served at the event were her thoughts about the farmers she met and her impressions.

Impressed she was too.  Foodie girl praised the women for their cheerful, warm demeanor when answering questions, noting that she was struck by their genuine passion for what they grow.

“I look forward to getting to know the ladies of CommonGround better and to discovering the wonderful food they produce with their own, trusted hands,” she said.  “Now that is something I can feel good about.”

Opening a positive, constructive dialogue about modern farming is something that we can all feel good about too.  While building the connections that elevate the public discourse and create trust takes effort, it is worth it when volunteers, and everyone involved in grassroots agvocacy, can see the how the discussions that will impact the future of farming changing their tone.

Social Media Connects With Corn Grower Members

Membership, leadership and communications were the main focuses of the biennial Membership Symposium for the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) this past week in Kissimmee, Florida.

NCGA Director of Development Tim Brackman (right) says the meeting is a crucial part of the planning efforts for the organization. “It allows us to meet with the state staff as well as farmer leaders and recruiters who are out there in the trenches,” he said.

Brackman says NCGA membership continues to grow. “I’m pleased to report that while many of the associations out there are experiencing flat or even declining membership, our numbers continue to remain strong. In fact, this past year in August, we hit an all-time membership high of over 37,000 members,” he said.

Listen to an interview with Tim here: NCGA's Tim Brackman

The program featured a variety of topics for member services, including use of social media, something that Grower Services Action Team chairman Brandon Hunnicutt of Nebraska knows a little something about. “This is the key with the up and coming generation,” he said. “You’re going to reach out to them on Twitter, on Linkedin, on Facebook, or whatever the next one is.”

Brandon says it’s a great way to stay in touch with growers and others all over the country and he should know. You can follow Brandon, who is Chairman of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association and a fifth generation Nebraska farmer, on Twitter – @cornfedfarmer.

Listen to an interview with Brandon here: Brandon Hunnicutt interview

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