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.

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.
  • Hormones 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

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

SPRING RECIPE: LEMON CHICKEN STIR FRY WITH ASPARAGUS

With spring in full swing we now finally have some of our favorite vegetables back in season. Mine happens to be asparagus, which means I can cook it fresh from the garden. Instead of a traditional chicken and asparagus dish, I enjoy this one because of the complex flavors it introduces. Savory yet still simple to make. This recipe serves three to four people and is very filling.

For this recipe you will need:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup of chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon zest

Now to the best part, how to make it!

  • Cook asparagus and oil in a skillet over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. When 1 minute remains, add garlic. Set asparagus and garlic aside.
  • Season chicken with salt and pepper. Increase heat to high and cook chicken until browned.
  • Set chicken aside and add soy sauce and chicken broth to the skillet. Bring to a boil for about 1 minute. Add lemon juice, water, and cornstarch and stir for about 1 minute.
  • Return chicken and asparagus to pan. Coat with sauce, top with lemon zest and serve!

This is a quick family recipe that all are sure to enjoy!

Alison Heard
Southern Illinois University

PIG FARMERS CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT

Did you know that all farmers must learn about and abide by a host of federal and state environmental regulations?  Pig farmers are no different.  They use research to understand and address the impact that large amounts of manure and using land to raise pigs can have on:

• Groundwater and surface water
• Air quality
• Animal manure management
• Land and soil quality
• Land use

Farmers are using all this research and the regulations they must abide by to fuel creative solutions to environmental concerns and to keep growing more pigs to feed more people.

Carbon footprint

American pig farmers are working hard to understand their carbon footprint and watching for opportunities to raise our food smarter.  According to the EPA, only 2.8 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in 2007 came from animal agriculture. Of that percentage, pig farming contributes just a little more than one-third of 1 percent (0.35 percent) of total U.S. GHG emissions.

Air footprint

Right now, a tool is in development to help pig farmers better understand air emissions from their farms and how they can make improvements.

Water footprint

Most of the water used on pig farms is either to irrigate the crops the pigs will eat (90%).  The rest of the water is used to give the pigs something to drink.  The best way farmers are looking to get more control over that water use is to use science and technology to evaluate animal drinking systems.  If we can water our pigs better, we can waste less.

Improvements to our farming methods are the name of the game and we are always trying to do better and trying to find small (and big!) ways to change the way we raise pigs to make less of an impact on our earth.

Thanks to https://www.pork.org/ for this important information on pig farming!