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

7 SECRETS ABOUT AGRICULTURE THAT NO ONE TALKS ABOUT

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

The 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.

The 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

For 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.

annatoohill

  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.

10 FOOD FACTS EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW

It’s no secret that myths surround the food industry, most of which circulate on the internet. As a consumer, it’s important to know the facts.

  1. Red meat is not a carcinogen. Despite the myths recently circulating on the internet, no single food has ever been linked to cancer. This includes red meat. So rest easy, and continue munching on that crunchy piece of bacon or delicious bite of Sirloin steak.
  1. Antibiotics are not in your food. Antibiotics are only used to cure or treat an animal that is sick or diseased. The antibiotic-free campaign is not only harmful but also inhumane because it denies sick and dying animals the right to medical treatment. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) strictly monitors antibiotic use in livestock and enforces strict withdrawal periods to ensure no antibiotic traces can be found in our food system.

Cattle

  1. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not evil. GMOs are the most widely tested crop on the market, and there is no scientific evidence proving that GMOs pose any sort of health risk. And ultimately, we need GMOs.
  1. Genetically modified (GM) wheat does not exist. There are only two methods used to produce new varieties of wheat: conventional crossing and introduction of genes native to modern-day wheat. “No GM wheat is commercially grown in the United States,” confirmed by the USDA.
  1. Everyone needs to beef up. That’s right. Lean beef deserves a place on your plate and is included in the best diets, developed by nutritional experts. Consuming protein more than once a day is also encouraged and has proven beneficial to overall health.
  1. Your food wasn’t produced on a factory farm. ‘Large corporations control farms in the United States and animals are raised in crowded, inhumane conditions.’ This is a common rumor, spread much too often in the farming industry. However the truth is, 97% of farms are family-owned and operated.

Food&FarmChat

  1. “No Sugar Added” and “Sugar-Free” isn’t a guarantee. These claims are often plastered on the boxes of our favorite sweets, but that doesn’t mean they are healthier. No sugar added and sugar-free products can still contain natural sugar and carbohydrate.
  1. “Free Range” isn’t the picture in your head. Most consumers picture chickens running free through the green fields of wide, open spaces. But in reality, the only requirement for a “free range” label is that the poultry “has been allowed access to the outside.” Cage-free, free-range, and organic are common buzzwords found on egg cartons utilized by the advertising industry.
  1. “Gluten-Free” is a dangerous trend. Whole grains, unlike gluten-free products, contain fiber and other nutrients that are essential to a healthy diet. Switching to a gluten-free diet can do more harm than good if you do not have celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or any other medical reason to reduce gluten intake.
  1. 10. Calories count. Many were outraged by the story of the man who lost 56 pounds on a strict McDonald’s diet for a straight six months. How could he do this when McDonald’s is supposed to be so unhealthy? Weight loss isn’t what you eat but rather how much you eat, say experts.

carli millerCarli Miller
University of Illinois

3 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE BELIEVING WHAT YOU READ

I’m not a scientist and I would never pretend to be one.  But, I do have a science degree and I do work in a particularly science-heavy industry, so I feel like I know a few basic things about common science and science.

Which is why it angers me and saddens me that our world today consists of millions of people who will believe anything they read as law without questioning it first.  They could be reading the opinions of a five-year old on nuclear weapons and suddenly, that five-year old should be the next Secretary of State – or at least the head of the U.S. Army.  Or maybe a housewife with too much time on her hands has created the next fad diet that will melt away the weight with only toilet paper and kosher meals as seen on Orange is the New Black – and suddenly everyone is eating kosher and pretending to be Jewish.

Either way, I’ve come up with a few questions to ask yourself when you’re reading something new.  These are meant to simply help you question the validity of everything you read and to get the thoughts flowing – they will not determine fact and fiction for you.  Only your amazing God-given brain will do that.

  1. Who is the author of this article/research/data?

Anything that you read that causes you to consider changing any aspect of your life bears some amount of research into the author.

Is the author an honest-to-goodness expert in this area with an advanced degree?  Is the advanced degree in a related field to the information they are sharing?  (Don’t listen to a Ph.D. in Journalism tell you about Engineering and think she’s an authority!)  Does the author work for someone other than themselves?  Is their employer a reputable source?

Before you cut all red fruits and veggies from your diet, google the name of the person telling you to do that.  If that person isn’t a registered dietitian for a reputable company or a food scientist from a serious university, you probably need to investigate further.

2. Does the article/advice make sense given what you already know?

This particular pointer falls into the “Is it too good to be true” category.  No one is going to lose 50 pounds in 1 week using this quick and easy tip.  No one is going to single-handedly change the course of human history by eliminating this from their schedule.

If the lifestyle changes you’re considering making don’t fit within the framework of what you already remember from grade school science, then you should probably look further.

As an example, there is a movement supporting raw milk these days.  The folks that feed their families only raw milk are ignoring basic science and history that I know they learned in fourth grade.  Heating milk to kill pathogens is healthy.  The end.  If drinking raw milk promises you all sorts of health benefits with none of the risks of Listeria, then it’s too good to be true.  It just is.

3. What does the rest of the industry say about this advice/information?

If you’re reading about vaccines, what do all other medical professionals say about this advice?  If you’re considering a new exercise plan, what do other personal trainers and physical therapists say about this plan?  If you’re worried about the latest foodborne illness scare and considering swearing off fruits and veggies, what does the ag industry and the nutritionists and dietitians say about this foodborne illness occurrence?

I understand that those of you with a tendency to believe everything you read have a natural hesitation to accept the advice of the industries you’re reading about.  You have a natural inclination to be skeptical.  But be skeptical of what you read too.

If farmers, who have been farming for decades and whose families have been farming for a century, tell you that an article is not true, it probably isn’t.  If a doctor with a real medical degree advises you that the medical community agrees on this course of treatment, trust that to a certain degree.

Even if you don’t 100% believe what the related industry is telling you, hearing their opinion is important to developing a more rounded view of the data you’re considering.

At the end of the day, just use your brain.

keep calm use your brainI know that reading and understanding scientific articles can be difficult and no fun.  Scientists are not skilled journalists and their writing is not always easily understood or very clearly written.  But you don’t have to dig through research journals to figure everything out.

Use your brain.  You know what sounds too good to be true.  You know what seems like complete medical quackery.  Listen to the body of experts around you.  Do a little research.  Remember, not everything on the internet is true.

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager

GMO LABELING: INFOGRAPHIC

7-10-15 GMO LABELINGWe want consumers to know what is in their food and to understand what it means. But what we don’t want is consumers to fear food based on poor marketing tactics. The safety of GMOs is firmly established by the scientific community and health organizations, therefore people should not fear them.

Chuck Spencer of GROWMARK, was quoted in AgWired yesterday. Spencer says GROWMARK is supporting the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act in the House that would create a uniform national food labeling standard for products made with genetically modified organisms. “We understand that consumers want to know more about their food and we need to be increasingly transparent,” explains Spencer. “The National Organic Standard administered by the USDA is a wonderful example of a voluntary program that is nationally consistent and recognized. We feel it could be put to use in that same framework, that USDA could have a non-GMO standard, and it would be a voluntary framework just like the organic standard.”