5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT FARMING

Originally published by BestFoodFacts.org

Cows and chickens, fields of corn, a big red barn, green tractors and dusty jeans – these are just a few of the images that come to mind when people hear the word “farming.” But for today’s farmers, there is much more to agriculture than meets the eye. We spoke with three farmers for their insights on how and why they’re committed to producing safe, nutritious and affordable food.

Here are five things we learned:

1. Most farms are owned and operated by families.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture shows that 97 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family-owned operations. Most farmers would tell you that working with their family is key to why they are so passionate about what they do.

“The biggest misconception I’ve heard would be that, as farms have gotten bigger, they have been labeled as factory farms. That we just use the land and move on. Yet, every farmer I know is very family-oriented. I love that our farm is something I can pass on to my family, a legacy, a business and a way of life that my kids love,” said William Layton, a third-generation Maryland farmer and owner of Layton’s Chance Vineyards and Winery.

Jenny Rhodes, University of Maryland Extension Educator in Agriculture and Natural Resources, who owns and operates a grain and broiler chicken farm with her family, said, “I love the whole family aspect and wanted my children to grow up the way I did. Instead of rushing home to spend a few hours with my family, we can spend time together working together. We are all family farms and at the end of the day it’s families working.”

2. Farming is efficient because it is high tech.
Farmers use technology to make advances in producing more food that is more safe, affordable, and produced more efficiently than ever before. Layton said, “Many people have an idea of the old-fashioned farmer, but in reality I spend half of my time in the office making GPS maps for what is going on in the field at any given point. We also have tractors that drive themselves, so we are very technology-based, and technology creates efficiency.”

“Everything you do in farming has to be efficient and sustainable and I love working to improve the resources on our farm so that we can do that,” explained Jenny Schmidt, a registered dietitian and Maryland farmer, whose family produces corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, hay, tomatoes, green beans and wine grapes. “When I talk to people about pesticide usage on our farm, I explain that our sprayer for our tomatoes, green beans, wheat, corn and soybeans sprays at the rate of 15-20 gallons per acre for herbicides. It is a 750-gallon tank so using 15 gallons per acre, this sprayer can cover 50 acres per tank – that’s only 0.04 ounces per square foot. This type of efficiency wouldn’t be possible without technology. Also, many people think we are dousing our fields with pesticides, but that would be inefficient. Spraying isn’t dousing.” Learn more about how the “dose makes the poison” in pesticide usage in “Should You Be Concerned with Pesticides On Produce?”.

3. Farmers are passionate about producing food.
“The thing that I love most about farming is working hard and seeing the results of that hard work. At harvest, I love quitting at dark after a 14-hour day and seeing all that I’ve harvested right in front of me. It’s a great feeling to see that,” said Layton.

“Farming is a passionate job and requires patience to weather through the ups and downs. Ultimately, I love being able to care for the soil and land with the available resources and set the stage for the next generation,” said Schmidt.

Farming is a lifestyle, not just a job. It is 24 hours a day, seven days a week and every day of the year! (Yes, this means vacations are nearly impossible to take!)

4. Farmers use a variety of production methods.
Debates about “organic” and “conventional” crops suggest there are only two ways to grow food: a “good” way and a “bad” way. But an important question to think about is, “What is the best way to feed a growing population, while reducing the amount of resources required?” To address this, farming will need multiple approaches, not just one.

“Many farmers don’t want to be seen as one thing; for me, I want to be seen as both holistic and sustainable. For example, there are trade-offs with all production methods. And each provide different benefits: it’s not an either/or, it’s more about melding the practices together,” added Schmidt. Want to learn more about organic versus conventional? Check out “Organic versus Conventional Foods: Is There a Nutritional Difference?”.

5. There are many ways to become involved with agriculture.
Farm and ranch families make up just two percent of the U.S. population, while most people are at least three generations removed from agriculture. However, the farmers we chatted with all agreed that getting involved in agriculture is for everyone.

Rhodes said it’s important to know what your goal is: Do you want to learn more? Do you want to own your own farm? “After you figure out your goals, then you can decide how to reach them through things like farm tours, working with different national councils, talking with your University extension programs and, of course, talking with the farmers in your area.”

“Social media is a great place to start and to seek out transparent farmers if you have questions about food. I love sharing information about my farm and interesting news articles that are related to the happenings on my farm,” Schmidt added.

Layton concluded, “Agritourism, corn mazes, farm stands, community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, farmers markets – these are all ways to connect with farmers. Talk with the farmers – they are happy to chat with you! I give tours twice a day every day at the winery and people ask questions not only about the grapes and wines but about our crops, too. I love answering these questions.”

Our food supply is abundant, affordable overall and among the world’s safest, thanks in large part to the efficiency and productivity of America’s farm and ranch families. Want to learn more about growing food? Reach out to a local farmer or let us know and we can connect you with one!

BUSY MOMS DON’T HAVE TIME TO RESEARCH WHAT TO PUT ON THE TABLE

Busy moms don’t have time to research what they put on the table.  That’s where farmers can help.

Watch this video of Texas cattle farmer Kyla meeting Kelly, a busy mom of two, and answering all her questions about how that steak gets from the farm to the table.

My personal favorite quote from the video?

“The night that I delivered Clara, Cole left to go bale hay.”

DID YOU KNOW GMOs PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT?

Many misconceptions might fuel the belief that GMO crops aren’t environmentally sustainable, but in reality many of the practices often affiliated with sustainable farming are used with GMO crops.

Fewer pesticide applications, conservation tillage (which reduces greenhouse gas emissions) and water conservation are all practices that can be used with GMO crops.

Find out more at GMO Answers!

CARPOOL WITH A FARMER

Have so many questions about your food but very little time to look for answers?

What if you could have a farmer for a day?  Ask her all of your questions and get the answers you felt confident in?  What if you and that farmer could actually … talk?

Check out the conversations this busy mom and her farmer had when we did exactly that.

 

Follow us at Common Ground.

#TBT: CELEBRATE NATIONAL DAIRY MONTH WITH PIZZA

[Originally published: June 23, 2016]

June is National Dairy Month! Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an exciting time for me. You can find me celebrating by eating ice cream, cheese, and all of the other delicious dairy products that our American Dairy Farmers work hard to produce!

6-23-16image6National Dairy Month is a little more personal for me. I grew up on my family’s dairy farm 40 miles south of downtown Chicago. On my family’s farm, I was able to watch as my grandfather, uncle, and father worked hard each morning and evening, no matter the weather conditions, to feed, milk, and clean up the cows. Their dedication to the animals was mesmerizing. Even I had the chance to be active and work with the cows in day-in and day-out as I grew up.

No matter how much hard work dairy farmers put in, they still seem to be scrutinized by the general public. It is always interesting to me that those from off the farm don’t stop to see and realize that American Dairy Farmers spend every day of the year working with their cattle to make sure they are strong and healthy.

I grew up on a dairy farm and I have worked on my family’s dairy farm. I know how we treat our animals. We treat our animals with care, love, and respect. You can ask anyone who knows me that I love my cows and treat them with better respect than most humans I interact with.

6-23-16image5Now, to celebrate my love for National Dairy Month, I decided to cook one of my favorite meals, my homemade pizza. I make the dough and sauce from scratch, but what makes this pizza great is the cheese: Chellino’s Scamorza Cheese to be exact. Chellino’s is based in Joliet, IL and they use milk from our dairy farm to make the cheese. Now, what could be better? Great tasting cheese AND you know who put in the hard work to produce and deliver the milk and cheese.

If you can’t get your hands on Chellino’s Scamorza, it is okay to use other Scamorza, or even smoked mozzarella. However, if you can get your hand on some of Chellino’s, you’ll know it will turn out delicious, and you’ll even know where the milk came from that produced it!

FOR THE PIZZA:

  • 1 1/3 cup hot water (not boiling)
  • 1/4oz envelope active dry yeast
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil (and extra for oiling bowls)
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 3 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • granulated garlic
  • scamorza cheese
  • baby arugula
  • diced pancetta
  • baby arugula

GET COOKIN’:

  1. In a bowl, add warm water and 1 1/2 tsp sugar, and then add in the yeast packet. Set aside.
  1. 6-23-16image2In a stand mixer bowl, add 3 tbsp olive oil, salt, the rest of the sugar, and the flour. Then, take the water, yeast, and sugar and mix until it is dissolved. Once dissolved, add to mixer bowl. With a dough hook, mix at low until everything is combined, and then mix on medium and let the mixer knead the dough. Add more flour if needed until the dough is coming off the sides of the bowl and not sticking, about 6-8 minutes.
  1. Take the dough and divide it into two piece. With each piece, round into two balls and place into an oiled bowl seam side down. Cover with plastic wrap and let them sit to rise for 90 minutes, preferably in an oven recently turned off and still warm.
  1. Once risen, the dough should be able to be poked and the indent stays. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Roll the dough out into a circle and onto a pizza stone. Mix together 1/4 cup olive oil with 1 teaspoon of granulated garlic. Once mixed, brush onto the dough. Once spread onto dough, grate about 1/4 – 1/2 lb of Scamorza cheese onto the pizza. Pop into the oven for 15 minutes.
  1. After 15 minutes, remove the pizza from the oven and add the diced pancetta. Pop back into the oven for another 5-7 minutes. Once finished, add baby arugula to the top of the pizza. Slice up and enjoy!

For more recipes, find me on my website at DiningWithDakota.com

Cowger_Dakota_IL CORN INTERN 2x3 16

Dakota Cowger
Communications Intern
IL Corn

HORMONES IN MILK: SHOULD YOU WORRY?

June is Dairy Month and honestly, we haven’t celebrated it up like we should!  So, in order of one of my favorite months (ice cream for dessert every night!) I thought I’d bring you some information about one of the most concerning aspects of milk for the average joe: hormones.

Reference these facts by South Carolina Dairy farmer Caci Nance:

  • Milk has hormones because it is a product of nature. Hormones are naturally present in all milk, whether it comes from a cow, a goat, or even a human.
  • Hormones are just proteins, and most–up to 90 percent of them, in fact –are destroyed through the process of pasteurization. The small amount of protein that may be left after pasteurization gets broken down through digestion in your stomach, just like protein in other foods.
  • There are hormones in almost all of the food we eat. Lettuce has hormones, for instance, and cabbage actually has a very high level of hormones.
  • black and white, holstein, cattleHormones are never added to milk. Most dairy farmers do not give their cows a supplemental hormone, called rBST, to increase milk production. The Midwest Dairy Association reports that only 30 percent of U.S. dairy farmers choose to use rbST with their herds, accounting for 20 to 25 percent of cows. Notably, rBST is not added to the milk itself, but rather is administered to some cows in some herds. Repeated studies by the FDA have found rBST to be a safe and effective way to increase milk production and ensure a plentiful milk supply.
  • Farmers are consumers, too. We would never add something harmful to the food supply that is unsafe or dangerous because we eat the same foods that other consumers do.

Knowing this should help calm your fears, but what if you have more questions?  Well, the comments in this original blog post are a treasure trove of answers.  Go now.  Read the comments.  Add  a question yourself. 

And then put milk, cottage cheese, and ice cream back on the menu for tonight.  It’s Dairy Month after all!

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

#TBT – GRILLING WEEK: FLAT IRON STEAKS WITH GRILLED CORN AND CUMIN LIME BUTTER

As we officially head into summer, enjoy the recipes of grilling week!  We’ll be featuring opportunities for you to get more delicious pork, beef, and chicken into your diet and sharing some fun facts about livestock farming in Illinois!

Fun Fact: Three out of four American grillers say they grill beef the most often (over chicken or pork)!

Today’s Tip: Preheat your grill 15 to 25 minutes before you start cooking to make sure it reaches the right temperature (and to kill any bacteria). Your grill should be 400-450°F for high, 350-400°F for medium-high, 300-350°F for medium and 250-300°F for low heat. A properly heated grill sears foods on contact keeps the insides moist and helps prevent sticking.

Today’s Recipe: Flat Iron Steaks with Grilled Corn and Cumin-Lime Butter

What You’ll Need:

  1. 4 beef Flat Iron Steaks (about 8 ounces each)
  2. 6 ears fresh sweet corn, in husks
  3. 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  4. 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  5. 1 medium poblano pepper
  6. 1 small red finger chili (cayenne) pepper or serrano pepper
  7. Lime wedges
  8. Salt and ground black pepper\

Rub

  1. 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  2. 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  3. 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  4. ½ teaspoon freshly grated lime peel
  5. ¼ teaspoon ground red pepper

What You Do:

  1. Pull back husks from corn, leaving husks attached. Remove and discard corn silk. Bring husks back up around corn; tie in place with kitchen string or strips of corn husk. Soak corn in cold water 30 minutes or up to several hours.
  2. Combine rub ingredients. For Cumin-Lime Butter, combine 2 teaspoons rub mixture, butter and lime juice in small bowl; set aside. Press remaining rub evenly onto beef steaks. Cover and refrigerate steaks 30 minutes.
  3. Remove corn from the water. Place on grid over medium, ash-covered coals; grill, covered, 20 to 30 minutes or until tender, turning occasionally. About 15 minutes before corn is done, move ears to the outer edge of the grid. Place poblano and finger chili pepper in center of grid; grill poblano pepper 10 to 15 minutes and chili pepper 5 minutes or until skins are completely blackened, turning occasionally. Place peppers in a food-safe plastic bag; close bag. Set aside.
  4. Place steaks on grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, covered, 10 to 14 minutes for medium rare (145°F) to medium (160°F) doneness, turning occasionally.
  5. Remove and discard husks from corn. Cover and refrigerate 2 steaks, 2 ears corn and grilled peppers to use in Steak and Grilled Corn Tortillas. Carve remaining 2 steaks into slices. Squeeze lime wedges over beef, as desired. Spread Cumin-Lime Butter over remaining 4 ears corn. Season beef and corn with salt and black pepper, as desired.

To prepare on gas grill, preheat grill according to manufacturer’s directions for medium heat. Place vegetables and steaks on the grid as directed above. Grill corn and poblano pepper, covered, 15 to 25 minutes, or until corn is tender and skin of poblano pepper is completely blackened, turning occasionally. Grill finger chili pepper 5 to 10 minutes or until skin is completely blackened, turning occasionally. Grill steaks, covered, 12 to 16 minutes for medium rare (145°F) to medium (160°F) doneness, turning occasionally.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

HOW MY INTERNSHIP EXPANDED MY KNOWLEDGE OF FOOD

Throughout this semester, I have been exposed to a new perspective on food. I have always been interested in the health aspect of it, as well as what goes on inside our bodies after we ingest it, but this internship influenced me to focus more on the source of it, as well as the work behind the entire process.

While I had a decent understanding of common misconceptions, such as people being against biotechnology and food that is inorganic, I began to learn that many of us do not truly understand the reasoning behind making these food choices. Throughout the internship, I would talk to some of my friends, or catch them in moments at the grocery store when they would say “wait, but choose the organic one,” and after asking why, it typically resulted in an answer along the lines of  “it’s healthier” or “I don’t know, it’s better for you.” There have been many examples of consumers purchasing an item merely because it contains the words “vegan, organic or gluten-free.”

My very first post on the Instagram Gate2Plate highlighted the craze about GMO-free water. After reading a few articles, it became evident that companies try to take advantage of the knowledge gap between consumers and their willingness to pay a higher price for a “premium” product. While the water bottle does look fancier and more official, in the end, there is no true difference in the quality or safety of that water, but there is in the price. Gate2plate contains a multitude of fun photos that include facts, tasty meals, artsy recipes, and more, and it has helped me and many others expand our knowledge of all the different realms of food.

Through my experience with this internship, I learned about food insecurity and programs created to fight it, such as Food Corps. I have also learned that there are so many fun food holidays, and they are almost every single day! I have also learned the details that go into many of the intricate processes of creating certain foods, such as whey protein, beef, and coffee. While I have always followed basic trends of eating in season, I learned a lot about why it’s important, such as more flavor and nutrition, the fact that it helps you save money since the food is at the peak of its supply, and it is also better for the planet because eating within the seasons helps reduce the number of miles our food has traveled, hence reducing amount of fuel used to get it to us! Overall, I have learned that the process that comes before our food reaches our plate involves so much dedication, knowledge, patience, and hard work, and it is a step in the process that should be known and recognized by everyone because we would be nowhere without it.

Sammy Gorlovetsky
University of Illinois

FARMERS’ SHARE OF FOOD DOLLAR AT RECORD LOW

What is “Farmers’ Share of Food Dollar?”

The Farmers’ Share of the Food Dollar is the amount of money out of every dollar that actually gets back to the farmer.  The data quantifies how much of each dollar that you spend on food is paid to the farmer for growing that food.  This data is tracked annual by the US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service.

The Farmers’ Share is at a record low?

Yes.  In 2016, the farmers’ share of the food dollar fell to 14.8 cents, down 4.5 percent from the prior year and the lowest level since 1993 when this data began being collected and calculated.  This means that when you spend $1 on food, on average, the farmer is only getting about $0.15 of that dollar and the rest of it is going to transportation, packaging, marketing, etc.

In this case, the opposite is also true: non-farm related marketing associated with the food dollar (transportation, processing, marketing, etc) rose to a record high of 85.2 cents.

Is this really as straightforward as it sounds?

Yes.  In fact, if we adjust for inflation and alter all the numbers to 2009 dollars, the farmers’ share of the food dollar was just 12.2 cents.  So the actual low of 14.8 cents is even a little optimistic.

But food eaten at home and food eaten out is surely different …

Yes again.  Farmers receive more out of each dollar spent on food at home than they receive out of each dollar spent on food at a restaurant.  This makes sense … the prepared food at Chili’s is more expensive than what you can prepare at home because Chili’s has to pay waiters, cooks, overhead and more.

And the trend is for Americans to eat more meals out than at home.  So that drags the farmers’ share of the food dollar down.

What does this mean for farmers?

Pretty simply, it means that commodity prices are really low, food costs are growing, and when the general American wants to attribute that increased food cost to farmers or farm policies, they are incorrect in doing so.  Farmers are receiving less and less of the money you spend on food.  More and more of that cash is going to processors, marketers, restaurants, etc.

That doesn’t make any of this inherently bad, but it is important to understand the reality of our food system if we want to change farm policies or try to impact food prices.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director