AG-IFY YOUR HEALTH CLASS LESSON

It’s pretty simple to incorporate another subject into whatever lesson you are teaching. We do it all the time in agriculture education without even thinking about it. For example, in a BSAA (biological science applications in agriculture) class we practice surveying the lay of the land which includes being able to calculate slope, something that is learned in a math class. In an introduction to agriculture class we learn about the dust bowl which was caused in part by poor agricultural practices and without even thinking about it, we are incorporating a history lesson into an agriculture class.

As an agriculture education major who is currently student teaching, this seems like no big deal to me. I incorporate different subject areas into my lessons every single day, but I think it’s pretty rare to see agriculture incorporated into another subject’s lessons. So let’s talk about a recent experience I had that I know would have been one of the best ways to incorporate agriculture into a different classroom setting.

10-17-16organic-labelMy older sister is a high school and junior high health and physical education teacher. At a family dinner recently, she was talking about how she was currently teaching nutrition in her health class and was having students ask questions about whether organic food is better than non-organic and other topics of the such. As soon as she said this, a light clicked on in my head and I realized that would have been a perfect time to incorporate an agriculture-based lesson on teaching students to understand where their food comes from.

To incorporate this into her lesson, she could simply start the class out by getting a basic understanding of the class and what they know and believe. To do this, she could start out by asking students if they know where their food comes from. If the students understand that their food is grown by a farmer and doesn’t just appear in a grocery store, then she could move on to asking if they know how the food is grown or what it takes to grow a plant? 10-17-16my_plate_logoOn the Illinois Ag in the Classroom website there is My Plate activity that shows not only the correct portion sizes of food, but you can also click on each of the portions on the plate and learn how that food is grown and also do some activities with each food group. After explaining to the students how food is grown, she could go into a discussion of asking students who choose to eat organic food and why they choose to do so. She could then proceed to ask students what they believe some of the current buzz words and phrases me. One topic she could discuss is that of Subway’s current promotion of “antibiotic-free meat.” This marketing scheme actually doesn’t even make any sense as it is illegal for farmers to sell any type of meat or animal food product that has any trace of antibiotics. If this is a topic that she feels uncomfortable teaching, she could have students use their devices to go to the Illinois Farm Families where they can learn what all these buzzwords mean, actually meet the people who grow their food, and even personally ask questions to farmers and growers around Illinois.

With all of the co-teaching and diversity within teaching happening right now, don’t forget to try to incorporate in the area that feeds, clothes, and fuels you and your students everyday!

ellen-youngEllen Young
Illinois State University

WHEN GMO AND ORGANIC APPEAR IN THE SAME SENTENCE

What do Organic and GMO have in common?

Organic and GMO have at least one thing in common, and that is they both use Bacillus thuringiensis, also known as bT.

What’s the significance of bT?

In its simplest form, bT is a naturally occurring bacteria creating a protein that makes insects sick when they eat it. Therefore, bT is used for crops to kill off insects (as a pesticide), however it is completely safe for human consumption and safe for our environment.

Why is bT safe for humans and not insects?

10-10-16url1When an insect eats this bT protein, it messes with their digestion/absorption of food and causes them to die off. However, bT is completely safe for human consumption and safe for our environment. Sort of like comparing the diets of cows and humans… if humans were to eat a bunch of grass like cows do, then it would cause serious digestive issues and other health risks. However, cows are perfectly healthy when they eat grass because their systems are made to consume it!

How is bT used?

BT is widely used in both Organic farming and GMO farming as a natural pesticide. However, the process in which it is used is where it differentiates. Organic farmers use bT bacteria as a spray onto their crops, whereas GMO farmers use the DNA from the bacteria that produces the protein that insects can’t eat which is then put into the DNA of the GMO plant so that the plant also produces the protein that insects can’t eat. This gene has been engineered to work in plants and is very effective in preventing insect damage without the pesticide sprays.

GMO is the way to go!

10-10-16cars-gmos_xvfxx5_rbsw23GMOs are a necessity for farmers and for the environment! In the United States alone, the majority of corn, soybeans, and cotton have been engineered in the soil of bT, which can also be considered a transgenic crop. This boom has led to more food production and lower prices for consumers. Basically, GMOs produce more with less! Altogether, genetic modification boosts crop yields by 21% and cuts pesticides by 37%. Due to this increase in yield, we get to save on land, therefore protecting the Earth more! With over 15 years of transgenic crops, there has never been a health danger.

10-10-16keep-calm-gmo-safeSo what’s the point?

GMO’s use the same protein pesticide that the organic farmers use to control specific insects. This pesticide is in no way harmful to humans or the environment. The only difference is the way it is applied. Organic sprays it on their crops, GMO farmers put it in the soil. GMO crops allow farmers to use less pesticides!

 

katie-roustio
Katie Roustio
University of Illinois

FIVE FARM WOMEN TO WATCH

Move out of the way gentleman. Here come the ladies in agriculture. These five farm women are making waves in the “agvocation” of agriculture by sharing their personal experiences and daily lives with others on social media. Between Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, these ladies in ag are helping tell their story about what farm life is like as mothers, wives, managers, farmers, and agvocates.

On Instagram you can check out two women from very different aspects of farming. Neither one is better than the other but both have beautiful photos that immediately capture your interest, making you wander… “Is it really that beautiful?”

9-29-16kristin-instagramKristin Reese – @localfarmmom

Kristin Reese is a young mom of two who lives on a farm in Ohio where her and her husband raise and show sheep. However, they also raise other livestock and grain. Through posts about her life she explains production agriculture in easy-to-understand terms that help those who don’t have a farm background understand. You can check out more of how Kristin promotes and discusses ag on her Instagram account localfarmmom.

9-29-16joneve-instagramJoneve Murphy – @farmersroots

Offering an alternative approach to ag, farmersroots Instagram Joneve Murphy is an organic farmer who travels the world capturing organic food production through a lens that helps tell a story with magnificent photos. Her latest adventures in Nicaragua offer an insight into agriculture many aren’t able to experience.

While Instagram provides a beautiful backdrop to conversations about ag, Twitter is where those conversations can get started and grow.

9-29-16twitter-micheleMichele Payn-Knoper -@mpaynspeaker

Twitter Ag Queen Michele Payn-Knoper is the creator of the popular hash tag #agchat. Michele encourages everyone in the industry to share their story, and offers opportunities for people of all backgrounds to come together and to discuss ag topics ranging from nutrition to organic farming in #agchats. This plays a huge part in helping connect the gap between producer and consumer.

The other platform women use is Facebook — with more than one billion people using Facebook, women agvocates are able to help teach moms and women across the world about what their farm life is like.

9-29-16dairy-carrieDairy Carrie – @DairyCarrie

In 2011, Dairy Carrie started sharing her journey of what life was like on her dairy farm in Wisconsin with her husband and their 100 dairy cows. Carrie shares on her Facebook page and website about everything dairy but also about ag in general. She says her “brain to mouth filter is the smallest known to mankind,” but this plays to her advantage as her honesty helps give the transparency needed in today’s agricultural production.

9-29-16the-farmers-wifeThe Farmer’s Wifee – @StaufferDairy

The second woman to watch on Facebook is The Farmer’s Wifee. Krista is a mom and first-generation dairy farmer with her husband in Washington with three kids and 150 dairy cows.  She writes her own blog about daily life, shares facts about her industry, and shares articles that offer insight and knowledge for a range of ag topics for moms everywhere.

These women know how to make an impact with words. Thanks to them, many people are being educated while the women agvocate using daily life experiences. Different backgrounds, different parts of the ag industry, but all helpful in making a difference.

maxley_jaylynnJaylynn Maxley
University of Illinois

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FOOD LABELS

Going to the grocery store can be an overwhelming experience, especially when it seems like new labels are appearing on products all the time. It is nearly impossible for a consumer to keep up with meanings of food labels. Wading through the Internet for an accurate answer is often a daunting task that quickly results in a headache and confusion. The Ultimate Guide to Food Label’s goal is to take the frustration out of deciphering food labels by presenting information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in an understandable format.

Quick Guide to Common Food Labels

Organic: If only it were just that simple! There are multiple organic labels, and they all have a different meaning. Key information from the USDA is highlighted below, but check out this link for more information!

  •  100% Organic: All ingredients must be certified organic, any processing aids must be organic, and product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel. These products may include the USDA organic seal and/or 100% organic claim.
  • 9-8-16organic-food-labelsOrganic: All agricultural ingredients must be certified organic, except those specified on the National List. Non-organic ingredients from the National List can only make up 5% of the non-organic content, excluding salt and water. Product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel. These products may include USDA organic seal and/or organic claim and organic ingredients must be identified.
  • Made with Organic: 70% of the product must be made with certified organic ingredients. Remaining agricultural products are not required to be organically produced, but they cannot be produced using methods that have not been approved. As mentioned above, non-agricultural products must be allowed on the National List. The certifying agent must be named on the information panel of the product label. These products may state “made with organic (insert up to three ingredients),” but they cannot include the USDA organic seal, represent the final product as organic or state “made with organic ingredients.” The organic ingredients must be identified with an asterisk or other mark.

Natural: According the USDA, for food to be labeled as natural it cannot contain artificial ingredients or preservatives. The ingredients can only be minimally processed. Foods labeled as natural can contain antibiotics and growth hormones. An application must be submitted for foods labeled, as natural, however no inspections occur and producers do not have to be certified.

Free Range/Cage Free: Applications and certification are not required for products to be labeled as Free Range. However, producers must be able to “demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” More meat and poultry labeling terms are defined by the USDA here.

Grass Fed: The USDA no longer defines this term. However, grass-fed animals are typically raised in pastures or on ranges where they are allowed to graze, instead of in feedlots. Read more about the USDA’s recent decision to get rid of their grass-fed definition here.

9-8-16glutenGluten Free: The FDA has this to say about products labeled as gluten-free:  “Gluten-free” is a voluntary claim that manufacturers may elect to use in the labeling of their foods. However, manufacturers that label their foods “gluten-free” are accountable for using the claim in a truthful and non-misleading manner and for complying with all requirements established by the regulation and enforced by FDA. Gluten is a protein that naturally occurs in wheat, rye, and barley.  Read more about gluten and the labeling of gluten-free products here.

Antibiotic Free: According to the USDA, this term may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if “sufficient documentation is provided by the producer to the Agency demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.” All chickens are antibiotic free because no antibiotic residue is present due to withdrawal periods and other closely monitored requirements.

No Hormones Added:

  • 9-8-16no-hormones-addedPork and Poultry: No artificial or added hormones are used in any poultry or hogs in the United States because of regulations from the FDA prohibiting such actions. According to the USDA, “The claim “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”
  • Beef:  “No hormones administered” may be approved for use on the labeling of beef products if “sufficient documentation is provided to the Agency by the producer showing no hormones have been used in raising the animals.”

Other Resources

For comprehensive information on everything from additives in meat and poultry products to allergies and food safety, check out the USDA’s Food Labeling Fact Sheets.

Ever wonder what the difference between health claims, nutrient content claims, and structure/function claims are? Check out the FDA’s in depth explanation here.

We’ve all seen nutrition labels on countless products, and while it is great to have access to the numbers, they are relatively useless without an understanding of what those numbers and percentages actually mean. The FDA breaks down nutrition labels here.

christy_allenChristy Allen
University of Illinois

FARMERS CHOOSE GMOS, AND HERE’S WHY

Monsanto. Illustrated as an evil among many consumers, Monsanto forces farmers to plant genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and somehow the government influences farmers to comply. So how does this happen? Quite simply, it doesn’t happen. Farmers are not forced to plant GMOs and farmers certainly have no obligation to buy seeds from Monsanto. But farmers do choose to buy the seeds, and here’s why.

I recently spoke with two Illinois farmers, Paul Jeschke and Jeff Miller. Jeschke is a corn and soybean farmer from Grundy County, as well as Illinois Corn Marketing Board’s District 5 representative. Miller is a fifth generation farmer from Fulton County, who raises corn, soybeans, and beef cattle.

3-21-16seeds“Often times, the use of genetically engineered crops allows me to maintain or increase yields, along with greatly reducing the use of more toxic products like pesticides,” described Miller.

“There’s two main reasons that I like to use GMOs and do use GMOs, opposed to non-GMOs. Number one, they work a lot better. With GMOs, you’ll typically get 90-95% control of the insects you’re after. Whereas typical pesticides are weather-dependent, and maybe 50-75% control. Number two, I can avoid handling and applying pesticides with GMOs. I just as soon not use pesticides if I can stay away from them,” explained Jeschke.

Miller also added, “Though GMOs dominate the marketplace in both corn and soybeans, farmers sometimes plant non-GMOs, particularly if a premium may be involved. It is a free market system, and farmers will choose what is profitable and works in their system.”

So how does Monsanto relate to the negativism surrounding the use of GMOs? Monsanto is a sustainable agriculture company that has developed patented seeds, in which farmers must sign an agreement upon purchasing the seeds. In this agreement, Monsanto states that farmers are not allowed to save and replant the seeds from year to year.

3-21-16seedpatentMonsanto explains the concept of seed patenting by stating, “When a new edition of Microsoft Office hits the market, it’s copyrighted. You can’t buy a copy, burn it and sell it to your friends—or else it’s called piracy. It’s the same with Monsanto’s patented seeds. Patents, like copyrights, are a form of intellectual property protection that legally prohibits unauthorized duplication of a product.”

In our interview, Jeschke discusses how seed patents influence seed purchases saying, “We are absolutely free to buy whatever seed we want to buy, from any company. I choose to buy the majority of my seed from Monsanto, because in my area, they are the best performing seeds I can purchase. Across the country, Monsanto provides the top yielding variety, which is why they are the best-selling company. If other companies get better varieties than what Monsanto currently has, then that will change.”

“There are 3 to 4 major companies to buy seed from, and many regional type companies for corn and soybeans. Personal relationships with companies that have quality products are just as important in farming, as they are in other businesses,” Miller expressed.

As you can see, farmers study several options and take every factor into careful consideration when choosing which seeds to plant in order to harvest a safe, efficient, high-yielding crop for the market. If GMOs most suitably fit their farming operation preferences, farmers can choose GMOs. The bottom line is, farmers do control which seeds go in the ground, and which seeds don’t.

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Carli Miller
University of Illinois

7 SECRETS ABOUT AGRICULTURE THAT NO ONE TALKS ABOUT

  1. THE FARM BILL IS NOT JUST ABOUT FOOD AND FARMING

Farm BillThe Agricultural Act of 2014, better known as the Farm Bill, “is an omnibus, multi-year piece of authorizing legislation that governs an array of agricultural and food programs.” On the contrary to most opinions, the farm bill is not just about farming. In fact, there are twelve separate titles included in the legislation that receive funding.  These programs focus on commodities, conservation, trade, nutrition, food assistance (food stamps), credit, rural development, research and extension, forestry, horticulture, crop insurance, and miscellaneous spending.

  1. ORGANIC V. NATURAL

Organic and natural are two separate terminologies. Organic is a defined and regulated process in which food is produced without synthetic fertilizers. In comparison, natural is not defined by the FDA, which allows so many companies to use the term for their products. It is generally believed that natural foods are ‘minimally synthesized.”

There is no evidence that organic foods are healthier than conventional food products, but many people have this belief. Therefore, the price of organic food products is higher, compared to natural and processed foods.

  1. THE GLOBAL POPULATION HAS A LIMIT – WE WILL BE ABLE TO FEED EVERYONE.

people globeThe Malthusian Catastrophe is the theory that, while food production sees linear growth over time, the global population experiences exponential growth. This means that the population will outgrow our food supply. However, this theory was proven inaccurate due to technological innovations that have greatly expanded our food production process. Additionally, while the global population continues to grow, the growth rate is decreasing. This is due to a decrease in birth rates for developed countries, like the United States. As the world becomes more developed, the birth and death rates will begin to even out. Eventually, the population will stabilize, or perhaps even slightly decline.

  1. FARMERS GROW WHAT THEY WANT

The false belief that farmers cannot grow what they want probably originated from the idea of subsidies. A subsidy is an incentive, which can be used to encourage farmers to plant certain seeds, but it certainly does NOT require it. There is no statute that controls how farmers operate. In fact, there are many other factors that influence a farmer’s decision on want to plant. This includes yield potential, soil type, seed availability, seed pricing, geography, how long it takes to be harvested, resistance to drought and pests, etc.

  1. MOST FARMS ARE RUN BY FAMILIES

While there are many who believe that the agriculture industry primarily features corporate farming, the truth is that “97 percent of US farms are operated by families.” In other words, those views could not be farther from the truth.

One of the reasons that the United States is a global agricultural exporter is because of our family-farm setup. These farmers know how to utilize their land much more efficiently than just some corporate entity. Farming is a privilege for families and individuals to make a living by providing food for the world. It is not just about making a profit.

  1. FARMERS GET WATER FROM VARIOUS SOURCES

water sourcesFor water, farmers rely on springs, rivers, creeks, ponds, wells, and municipal options. Accessing groundwater from wells is a popular technique, as farmers can protect its high quality more efficiently.

Additionally, farmers used various practices to preserve their water resources. Rotational grazing and mulch, for example, allow soils to contain higher volumes of water. Such practices are beneficial to farmers, as they do not have to rely on other water sources.

  1. THE CAREER POSSIBILITIES WITHIN AGRICULTURE ARE NOT LIMITED

With huge agricultural-based companies like Cargill, ADM, DuPont Pioneer, and Monsanto, it’s hard to understand why this even needs to be discussed. There are endless career opportunities within the agriculture sector involving marketing, sales, economics, finance, consulting, nutrition, soils, food science, advertising, engineering, insurance, research, animal care, management, policy making, etc.

austin fee

Austin Fee
University of Illinois

TWO THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU READ A FOOD ARTICLE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

We could spend hours talking about the incredible and often ridiculous food information that is thrown our way on social media. From dieting how-tos to organic eating guides, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are chock-full of information about food. As consumers and social media-frequenters, it is especially important to be critical of the quantity and quality of information that is being placed in front of us. If you ever come across a food-related article, keep these pointers in mind:

  1. Ask, “Where is this information coming from?”

So let’s do an example. The title of one such article is “Research Indicates That GMO Could Be a Cause of Infertility.” What’s the name of the article’s publishing website? Natural Fertility Info. There are links to the site’s all-natural (which are heavily promoted as “all-natural”) products such as a Fertility Cleanse Kits and a Self-Fertility Massage DVD. If a concerned couple were to click on this article and read it, they may begin to panic about GMO consumption.  Maybe they are experiencing infertility. Now, after reading this article, they will not only second-guess their GMO consumption but also shop around for “all-natural” products. We have to be critical of the motivations behind websites.

As an additional example, this article addresses the problem behind relying on sources that seem to be credible because they focus on a certain issue. This article caught my attention, because I am genuinely interested to watch the organic farming industry expand. It is something different and I know that it takes a great deal of hard work. I found that it is on a website titled “GMWatch.” I wandered over to the “About” page and the site claims to “provide the public with the latest news and comment on genetically modified (GMO) foods and crops.” However, in the very next paragraph, the website says, “GMWatch is an independent organization that seeks to counter the enormous corporate political power and propaganda of the GMO industry and its supporters.” Which of the two is the actual goal of the site?  Does GMWatch want to find airtight truths about GMOs or do they want to bring down the GMO industry? If this site truly wanted to shed light on the GMO industry, they should have a much more unbiased profile. Therefore, we have to be critical of the credibility of the sources we get information from.

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  1. Be wary of absolutes.

“Always.” “Never.” These are common terms that pop up on my Facebook feed.  Absolutes have a way of providing people with a false sense of security. “If you never eat this, you will be healthy.” “If you do eat this, your healthy diet will definitely be ruined.” This article is a perfect example of using absolutes in order to persuade the reader through threats. No, Pop Tarts and fast food meals are probably not the best for children. However, parents should not feel ashamed to give their kids a treat every once in a while. Sometimes, it is okay to eat something just because it tastes good. When I was growing up, Pop Tarts were a luxury because they were so sugary and delicious. They were not regular staples in our diets. They were treats! Completely banishing any food from a child’s diet (allergies and other health conditions excluded) sends the message that “If you eat this food, you will not be a ‘healthy’ person.” This is not the message that we should be sending the kiddos. We all need to lead healthy, balanced lives and living balanced means treating yourself every now and then!

anna

 

Anna Toohill
University of Illinois

 

NERVOUS ABOUT PESTICIDES?

We know non-farmers have a lot of questions about pesticides.  They are confusing and scary and the fear and concern you might have completely makes sense.

This mom went to out to talk to other moms about pesticides and how she uses them on her own fields.  If you’re nervous about pesticides in food, you’ll definitely want to watch this one.

And then you’ll want to find out more about food, farming, and feeding your family.

Check out this article specifically on pesticides, or visit Common Ground to learn more about a host of other food issues.