YESTERDAY’S AGRICULTURE CANNOT FEED 9 BILLION PEOPLE

The main concern with the food movement these days is that old fashioned production methods will yield old fashioned yields, as in, one-third of our food would be lost.  This is a tough pill to swallow considering the people going hungry now all over the globe and the predicted population increase.

Still, no matter how many times farmers mention this life and death concern, it seems to fall on deaf ears.  How exciting to see our challenge graphically!  We hope this video will help more folks understand that while organic and local grown foods are great options, they are not long term solutions. 

http://www.youtube.com/v/ocPBHMnBM9U?fs=1&hl=en_US&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01&border=1

In case you don’t have time to watch (you really should MAKE time), the main point of the video is “Yesterday’s agriculture cannot feed 9 billion people.”  I wish more people would really hear this message.

CHICAGOAN OF THE CORN: MY EXPERIENCE HARVESTING CORN FOR THE CITY PRODUCE PROJECT

As a college student, I have a general rule for mornings; stay in bed as long as possible. On Thursday, however, I found myself waiting at the train station at 6:50 a.m. to pick up my friend Ryan because we were going on an adventure. We were going corn harvesting in Manhattan, IL. Armed with bug spray, sunscreen, caffeine and Twinkies, these two city kids were on the road south to lend a hand to farmers who were aiding the City Produce Project supported by Monsanto and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. While in the car, I explained the program to my yawning partner in crime.

“The corn is going to be sent to a food pantry and then given to people who live in food deserts,” I said.

“Where is there a desert around here,” Ryan asked. More caffeine.

I started to question this adventure as the trek took us through landscape less dotted with buildings and more defined by various crops indistinguishable to my untrained urban eye. But after navigating country detours and gravel roads with my not-as-trusty-as-you’d-expect GPS, there was no turning back. I parked my car behind a pick-up truck and next to a tractor, and Ryan and I left bliss known as air-conditioning behind.

“It’s hot. I mean…no, really, it is hot,” I observed in discomfort. I questioned my choices in farming fashion, wondering if I should have dressed for extreme heat, but surprisingly enough, I made a smart decision.

When picking corn, it is a good idea to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, plus eye protection. I split the difference on all counts, opting for capris, short-sleeved t-shirt and goofy sunglasses. Truth be told, I looked goofy, period.

With a high-five and a “Let’s DO THIS!” affirmation, we joined a large group of volunteers in the field. There were several kids helping, some of which were from a church group and some were Boy Scouts, and all seemed very eager to help. I noticed a photographer snapping pictures of all the hard work and also heard John Kiefner, a farmer who planted corn for City Produce Project, giving a very energetic interview.

Ryan and I introduced ourselves to an experienced corn harvester and received a quick tutorial. After another high-five and bout of nervous laughter, I got to pickin’. A corn stalk had anywhere between one and three ears of corn growing on it. The first stalk I grabbed had a large ear of corn, so I took hold and tried to rip it off the stalk. It didn’t budge. At all. Embarrassment ensued.

Ryan surrounded by broken stalks

I swallowed my pride and asked a young volunteer next to me, “Wait…I maybe missed something here. How do you do this again?” He said, “Like this,” and ripped that sucker clean off without a hitch. I needed to man up. After that small hiccup, it was smooth sailing; remove the corn, then break the stalk so it would fall to the ground and make way for the next. The crops themselves were actually very resilient, with leaves firm enough to give me a small cut similar to a paper-cut on the top of my hand. It even drew a small amount of blood, but nothing was going to get me to cry uncle in front of these seasoned harvesters. Not even the fact that I was smeared with mud. Yuck.

Once the corn was removed from the stalk, I was told to peel back a small section of the husk to make sure the corn was acceptable to be donated. It was important to harvest as much good corn as we could, considering the crop was going to those in underserved communities. Every ear counted.

“If it’s yellow and developed, throw it in the bucket,” said our corn guru. I took that advice maybe too literally, and did my best Michael Jordan lay-up with my corn haul.

“She shoots…she scores,” Kiefner exclaimed while driving a tractor in reverse. Who says a city girl can’t have fun on a farm?

After my re-enactment of the Chicago Bulls Championship run of 1993, Ryan and I dumped the bucket of corn onto a large flat-bed truck. Kiefner drove the truck from the field and into the barn, where the corn was loaded into sacks. The barn was also where the volunteers could refuel and get a minute away from the beating rays of the sun (did I mention it was hot?). Volunteers sat down on any suitable area they could find and sipped on water to prevent dehydration.

The field after all the sweet corn was harvested

Jim Robbins, the owner of the farm, helped facilitate the action within the barn while Kiefner worked outside. During my time in the barn, I got to see all of the volunteers at once; there was significantly more than I had anticipated. I signed my name onto a sheet that was passed around the barn, and I was amazed that my name fit on the second sheet of paper.

While I didn’t get a chance to really interact with many of the other helpers, I did take a moment to chat with a lady who had videotaped us working in the field. When she asked where I was from, I told her Chicago.

“Wow, what are you doing down here,” she asked.

“I’m here to help on behalf of the City Produce Project,” I said. Noticing her confusion, I continued, “This corn will be cycled into this program. After it leaves the farm, it will be distributed to families who have little access to fresh vegetables otherwise. It’s designed to improve nutrition in places that don’t have the opportunity to experience fresh, local food like this. It’s a good thing.”

And that’s when it hit me.

It really is a good thing. While getting up before fast food joints stop serving breakfast and driving down a gravel road isn’t going to be a lifestyle that’s calling my name, I have a new appreciation for fresh food. The farmers seemed so grateful for the help, expressing that we managed to finish a day-long job for two people in just about two hours. Plus knowing the corn was going to city residents in need rather than a supermarket produce section halfway across the country solidified a sense of just plain “good.”

For more information about the City Produce Project, check out their Twitter at http://twitter.com/CityProdProj

Nicky Hunter
The Kineo Group Intern

NEW AG EDUCATION EXHIBIT FEATURED AT IL STATE FAIR


Illinois Corn and other commodity groups have a new and improved presence at the state fair. Aimed at occupying the little ones while educating families, the Farmer’s Little Helper exhibit walks visitors thru barns about corn, soybeans, cattle, pigs, horses, poultry, farm safety and more.

I spent the day in the Commodity Pavilion and the Director’s Lawn for Ag Day festivities, but made it a point to visit the Farmer’s Little Helper exhibit. Families were learning about Illinois agriculture, both that it’s supplying a safe and abundant food supply and the hard work, time and energy that it takes for farmers to produce food for our state as well as the world. This is an important connection between farm families and the citizens of Illinois encouraging an open and understanding relationship between the two.

Children that visited the exhibit had many hands-on learning opportunities. Such as: milking a cow, measuring their height compared to a corn or soybean plant, seeing a real live baby chick, and learning where the cuts of meat come from. All of these activities plant a seed of understanding and appreciation for agriculture in the minds of our youth.

In each barn kids played games relating to that industry and their winnings (i.e. eggs, milk, wool, etc) were collected to sell at the ‘market’ at the exit of the exhibit. This miniature scale market helps children understand the real-life business of agriculture. And if there is one thing agriculture needs, it’s for people to better understand who we are, what we are doing, and why we are doing it.
The Illinois State Fair has a long agricultural history, in fact the reason the ISF exists is to showcase premier agriculture products, so it’s certainly encouraging to see this highlighted at the fair again.
While I was walking thru the Farmer’s Little Helper exhibit I was stopped by a woman who was very impressed and enthused to see a quality ag education center at the fair. In her words, “It’s certainly about time we did something for our farmers”.

Indeed it is.

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

YOU CAN’T WIN FOR LOSING

Farmers have always used the latest and greatest best management practices to produce safe and affordable food in a way that preserves the environment because that’s the right thing to do.  Now, even best management practices can’t save them from the threat of lawsuits.

Yes, lawsuits.  In a country that repeatedly tells us that they love family farmers and wants to see them succeed, family farmers everywhere are desperately trying to protect themselves from losing everything in a lawsuit, even when they are trying their best to follow the letter of the law.

As an example, the US EPA is currently working on new spray drift regulation that would essentially consider any chemical leaving any nozzle as a point source pollutant.  The US EPA would like to require all farmers (and local muncipalities spraying to control mosquito populations or even normal citizens wanting to spray) to obtain a permit to apply these chemicals.  Aside from the fact that the chemicals in these low doses have been proven safe, the problem here is that state EPAs don’t have the staff available to issue all the permits.  This leaves farmers either unable to apply their crop protection products or applying them without a permit.  As you might guess, applying them without a permit opens farmers up to the threat of citizen lawsuit. 

What’s a farmer to do?

If you’re in IL, perhaps you’ve followed the Tradition Dairy case in JoDaviess County.  This is a lawsuit brought on by a citizen group that is absolutely convinced that the dairy being sited in JoDaviess County will harm their health and bring other ruin to the county.  Nevermind that the state legislature has set up strict guidelines on siting livestock facilities and how they are managed (called the Livestock Management Facilities Act) and that Tradition Dairy has followed every single one and more, the citizen group has the right to sue the dairy owner over a perceived threat of harm before the livestock farm has even milked one single cow! 

What’s a farmer to do?

Add lawsuits over high fructose corn syrup aiding the spread of pancreatic cancer and animal rights which would effectively allow a farmer’s herd of cattle to sue him to the list … and this list isn’t even exhaustive!

What’s a farmer to do?

Certainly if our country supports rural economies and the farms that run them, we need to rethink subjecting our farmers to this level of scrutiny.  If American citizens really do love family farmers and want them to succeed, they cannot allow a flock of chickens to sue.  What small business man could stand up to this sort of obsurdity?

Farmers need rules to follow just like everyone else in any other industry under the sun.  Best management practices are a good thing and laws that demand such practices are necessary to ensure that each and every player in our food production system is operating with integrity.  But when is following the law enough?

What’s a farmer to do?

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Project Coordinator

CONVENTIONAL AGRICULTURE FEEDING DROUGHT STRIKEN UKRAINE

The Illinois National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) crop report today indicated that Illinois corn yields are expected to be significant this year, equal to the last record set for Illinois in 2004. Compared to expected US average corn yields, Illinois is estimated to yield 6 more bushels per acre than last year.

Couple this information with the reality of widespread drought in Ukraine and other surrounding areas and experts suppose Ukraine will import 59 million bushels of corn in 2010, a 30% increase over last year.

Certainly, Illinois corn farmers are growing food for a world population. Without biotechnology and conventional agriculture capable of achieving these yields, humans in other countries would go hungry and Midwestern US would be unable to bring economic benefits of agricultural exports to our damaged economy.

Conventional agriculture feeds the world and fuels our economy. What’s so bad about that?

Phil Thornton
ICGA/ICMB Value Enhanced Projects Director

PAYING EIGHT DOLLARS FOR EGGS IS A BARGAIN? SINCE WHEN!?

Remember when the price of food went up a bit last year and everyone screamed and cried?  Legislators were getting calls right and left about how their constituents couldn’t afford to go to the grocery store anymore?  The media had us all concerned that Americans were finally going to go hungry?

Michael Pollan, journalist and self-appointed “food production system expert” with zero background in food science, nutrition or agriculture, has announced that he feels $8 for a dozen eggs is a great thing!

What’s even crazier is that the elite in this country agree with him!

I’m afraid that we have seriously gotten to a point in this country where we are way too wealthy and out of touch with reality.  We don’t know what it is to be hungry and we left our common sense in back in the 1900’s.

If you need more proof that the rich and influential in American are getting a bit extreme, check out this article on how the EPA wants to regulate dust in the air.  Dust!

Lindsay Mitchell

ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

WHEN DID FOOD CHOICES BECOME MORALLY RIGHT OR MORALLY WRONG?

Author Mary Eberstadt may really be onto something.  And if you’re into the philosophical or practice deep thinking, this might be just the article for you.

The fundamental question posed by Eberstadt is what happens when, for the first time in history, adult human beings are able to have all the sex and food that they want?

Yes, the subject may feel a bit racy for our modest little blog, but the question really deserves some thinking.  In the interviews with Eberstadt posted on Truth in Food, Eberstadt describes two fictional women, Betty and Jennifer.  Betty was 30 years old in 1958 and had a very strict moral code about what was appropriate behavior and what was not regarding sexual activity.  While she may have had similar preferences about her food choices, she didn’t feel the need to push those choices onto others quite the same way that she felt morally obligated to share her choices about sex.

Eberstadt’s Jennifer is 30 years old today and her feelings on the two subjects are decidedly opposite Betty’s.  She may feel that she has no right to judge other’s sexual activity, but is an adament proponent of organic food or vegetarianism or … fill in the blank.

“I find it really interesting that these two codes, one about food and one about sex, seem to be existing in this inverse relationship, where as one gets stricter the other gets more lenient,” Mary tells Truth in Food interviewer Kevin Murphy. “I think the fallout [over the negative consequences of the post-pill sexual revolution] makes a lot of people uncomfortable, in a way that they’re not even necessarily fully aware of. We live with these major consequences…day in and day out. And I think a lot of people have the sense this has all gone too far, that nobody meant for the party to have gotten so out of hand, and no one knows how to stop it. My supposition is that part of what’s behind these increasingly moralistic attitudes toward food is that people have displaced the kinds of feelings human beings have always had about sex onto food instead,” says Eberstadt.

Eberstadt believes that society is taking feelings we’ve always had about sexuality and moral codes regarding sexual behavior and placing those same moral codes on food.

After all, thinking of the food “issues” we farmers deal with on a day to day basis … isn’t it odd that food is all of the sudden a moral decision?

Check out Eberstadt’s essay and definitely listen to Truth in Food interview with Eberstadt.  I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

REAL LIFE LESSONS

They can be hard to come by…actually, no, I take that back. They can slap you in the face when you’re least expecting that. College is definitely a time for learning and experiencing life as never before. It’s when you learn to survive in that big bad world out there. There are ways to better equip yourself, though. There are things you can do to learn in a positive environment, to better understand who you are, where you’re going, and what you want to do. One of these tools for better preparation is the idea of interning.

Internships introduce you to “real” work. You get to test your creativity, and learn some of the ropes of what you want to do. Or, you may better define your dreams and goals. I’ve done a few internships so far, and have a few more queued up for the next few years. One of these internships was as an Internet Communications person with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board.

I’d like to think I directly blame them for me catching the ag comm bug. I loved agriculture before. Now, I’m hooked.

For a little backstory, I’ll clarify why I’m an odd case for agricultural communications. Most ag comm folks study ag comm, and pick up on Internet trends as they go. I’m the reverse. I’m majoring in Interactive Media Studies, with a minor in English composition. My school doesn’t even have an ag program. Yet, I found my way to some applications for Illinois Corn internships. While agriculture has always been an interest, the time I devoted to blogging for ICMB helped channel it into a very concrete passion. The pay was decent and the people were great to work with. I feel supremely blessed to have been able to do something I truly enjoyed with people who are incredibly fun to work with.

The experience was not just limited to finding passion within myself. There were valuable learning opportunities. As the internship went on, I began interacting with other interns. Abby Coers and I integrated our separate projects to promote each other a bit. We were given creative liberty, but we also had guidance when we needed it. It was ultimately a great learning experience. I got to experience a conference room setting, where they presented to each other about our specific projects. I learned about networking and professional connection. I even got to wear a suit and present to the Board of Directors at the end of my internship.

I am eternally grateful to Illinois Corn for the things I learned under their wing. I only wish I could have exploited the experience a bit longer. Because of them, I know where my heart lies, as far as the professional world goes. I also got another big fringe benefit: because of my internship, I now run Midwestern Gold, a blog devoted to Illinois corn and agriculture in general.

So, when you start thinking about ways to build some professional experience, think of me. I attend a liberal arts school in the Chicago suburbs. Because of an internship, I got to stay in touch with my agricultural roots. I realized I could really pursue my passions with my skills and talents. When you start checking out those internship applications, don’t pass over Illinois Corn. I’m glad I didn’t!

Kelly Rivard
North Central College