IMAGINE YOUR GARDEN ON A WORLD SCALE

April is National Lawn and Garden month. That’s cool. I’ve been itching for a chance to get some dirt under my fingernails since the last of the flowers got frosted last fall. The garden catalogs that light up my mailbox feed that urge. And finally, it is, “A time to plant.”

What goes into a person’s flower and vegetable gardens is not a fair comparison to the farm-scale production of both flowers and vegetables, and commodity crops, as well.

But it’s upon that very comparison, or rather contrast, that many people are deriving their opinions of food production. Are you following me? It’s like this: “What’s good for my garden must be good for the rest of the system.”

Uh, no. That’s why it’s a garden.

Some people thrive on finding the all-organic ways to produce tasty fruits and veggies from their own plot of ground. Other people look for every method they can to minimize the work and maximize the tasty output (that’s me.) That might be some granulated seed germination inhibitor, plastic sheets to block weeds, bug spray to keep the Japanese beetles from devouring the tomatoes, and chicken wire to keep out the, well, pesky chickens that not only eat the bugs but also take a bite out of every green bean, tomato, and strawberry they can find. Oh, and they can make short work of a cantaloupe, too.

But I digress.

Back to the backyard division of organic versus conventional methodologies. Both are good, in my opinion. Both have their benefits.

Same goes in the larger scale production as capitalistic minded individuals find markets for the products they’re willing to produce.

But when one way starts getting labeled as “better,” well, that’s when I get perturbed. When one way starts changing regulation, litigation, and legislation, based on falsehoods that have become “truth” just by virtue of mass acceptance? That’s a problem.

Witness an article published online in Time magazine, New Study Says That Organic Food Isn’t As Productive as Conventional Agriculture, which makes this remark:

“Yet a new meta-analysis in Nature does the math and comes to a hard conclusion: organic farming yields 25% fewer crops on average than conventional agriculture. More land therefore needed to produce fewer crops—and that means organic farming may not be as good for the planet as we think.”

Cue the invisible farm audience to say, “Duh.”

Why is this so hard to understand? Why must there be a black and white choice with social consciousness coming down only on the side of organic? When does conventional agriculture be just as accepted as the “ethical choice” for feeding deserving Americans and others worldwide?

Well, maybe, just maybe, it’s when we (and I mean that in the broadest sense) quit comparing what works in our gardens to what we think is appropriate for production beyond just our friends and neighbors wants. Maybe it happens when we CONTRAST the wants of our personal lives to the needs of a hungry planet.

That’s my two-seeds worth.

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director

ENTERING THE FOOD DEBATE

Very obviously, my job is in the agricultural industry.  I was raised on a farm, virtually everyone in my family farms or works within the industry, and I take pride knowing that we are a bunch of moral, decent, hard-working human beings that do an excellent job at what we do.

john deere
My grandpa and my kids in the field a few years ago.

I’m what you might call “passionate” about the industry.  Unfortunately, that has led to many heated conversations with others outside of my workplace that don’t share my passion or find themselves on the other side of my positions.

Specifically, I can remember a time during a Saturday morning scrapbook session where one mom waxed poetic about the virtues of feeding her son organic strawberries, heard my testimony about conventional farming and organic farming without really “hearing” it, and never showed up at our monthly scrapbooking session again.

I feel bad, but I just can’t keep my mouth shut about things that really matter to me.  And farming really matters to me.  So does agriculture.  So do the members of my family that are attacked daily for raping the land and poisoning their community members.

But one Sunday a few weeks ago while standing near the Welcome Center at church, I had the opportunity to talk to someone who willingly listened to me and thoughtfully considered what I had to say.  I felt like the heavens had opened and the angels were singing because as much as I want everyone to have the same opinion as me, I’m just as excited to talk to a thoughtful person who is willing to consider my history and expertise in agriculture.

I don’t remember how the conversation began actually, but at some point, we began talking about being a vegetarian and the meat production system in the U.S.  Take a look at the conversation I had with Kelsey*:

Kelsey: I just don’t agree that we have to kill animals to survive and I don’t eat meat because I choose to put my money where my mouth is.

Lindsay: That’s fine.  And if that’s your stance on the issue of livestock production then you have the right to that stance.  But do you believe that long term, society as a whole will quit eating meat?

Kelsey: No.

Lindsay: So you do agree that livestock farms will likely exist forever, in some form, somewhere on the planet?

Kelsey: Yes.

Lindsay: If you wanted to eat meat, if you had kids someday and wanted to feed meat to your family or if you wanted to feed your dog something that wasn’t vegetarian, would you prefer to feed them meat produced in the U.S. or in China?

Kelsey: I don’t know what the difference is.  An animal is dying either way.

Lindsay: I’ll tell you what the difference is.  In the U.S., livestock farmers are regulated.  Meat processors are regulated.  You can put a piece of meat in your mouth without fear that someone’s finger is also in your sandwich or that you are eating a rat tail.  In China, I’m not sure that the same level of regulation and food safety exists.

Kelsey: Ok.  I’ll buy that.

Lindsay: So every time you support causes and activists groups in the U.S. that seek to end livestock production, what you are actually doing is pushing livestock production out of the U.S. and into another country.  You aren’t *really* saving an animal, you are simply risking the safety of the food supply for another family that still chooses to eat meat.

Guess what?  Kelsey never thought of it that way.

While I’m reasonably sure that I didn’t change Kelsey’s opinion, I think we had a valuable interaction.  And I want to publically give a shout-out to Kelsey for listening to what I had to say even as I tried to listen to her concerns (and probably did poorly) about the livestock industry.

This is the future of our food production.  Listening.  Learning.  Being interested in other families and other Americans.  I left the conversation invigorated for having had a reasonable and interesting discussion about food production in the U.S.

I hope to have many more.

Lindsay MitchellLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

LEARN ABOUT YOUR FOOD WITH THE U.S. FARMERS AND RANCHERS ALLIANCE

Click the link below for a great piece from Anderson Live where a real mom gets to visit with real farmers to find out more about where her food comes from. Here’s a shout out to the Mike and Lynn Martz family, superstars of the Illinois Farm Families efforts. They are great folks, farmers opening ‘our’ doors, to engage in meaningful conversation and dialogue, without all the spin. 

http://www.andersoncooper.com/page/usfra/

You can submit your questions for your chance to be part of the conversation too!

SCHOOL LUNCHES MAKING KIDS FAT?

Many schools are back in session this week.  With it comes the dilemma for parents: Do I pack a lunch or let my kids eat what the school serves?  When I was in high school the food was actually pretty good, it was mostly home cooked and I ate it the majority of the time.  On the few days where I didn’t like what was being served, I brought a sack lunch.  I was a very active and healthy kid and needed a full well-balanced meal to get me through the school day as well as sports practice after classes was over.  I grew up to be a not-as-active but still healthy adult.  I don’t think school lunches were detrimental to my development.  Apparently though, the USDA thinks that it’s the schools who should take the blame for overweight children today.

The following came from Life on a Kansas Cattle Ranch.  I happen to agree completely with Debbie’s view, but tell me what you think.

SCHOOL LUNCH IS NOT MAKING OUR KIDS FAT!

My tall, athletic, active, slender farm kids….tell me they’re not eating right!

Please hand me my soap box….thanks. As I climb up on this block, I run through my mind the reasons that I have not made this blog a political platform. I don’t like to denounce government programs, endorse political candidates or spout points or counter-points to current events. But, dangit, I’m MAD….

What makes me mad enough to go against my policy so that I will use my Life on a Kansas Cattle Ranch blog to talk about the USDA? The new school lunch guidelines as announced by USDA. Frankly, this has been stewing in my brain for a few months. My husband is on the school board and told me that the cooks for our school have had to put in extra hours this summer to clarify the new regulations and plan for the changes they must make. So I immediately looked up the rules and talked to our school cooks.  Here is what I’ve found:
The new guidelines for High School Students lunch:

  • Limit total weekly protein (meat and meat alternatives) to a maximum of 10-12 oz/week
  • Limit total calories to 750-850 per day
  • Limit milk to 5 servings per week
  • Mandate a set portion of various vegetables and fruits
  • Mandate switching to whole grains

On the surface, I don’t think these things appear so wrong. But these are the regulations for High School students. Now, let me tell you about my high school boys. I have two high school boys who are 6 feet tall and weigh 155 and 165 respectively. They both play all the sports that our small school offers, and work on our ranch before school, after sports practice and on weekends. They do not spend much time sitting in front of a television, computer or game station. They are healthy weights, muscular, and very active. In short, 800 calories is a SNACK to my boys!

I am totally against mandating hunger–I thought we were fighting against hunger?! I thought that school lunch is often the best meal of the day for many kids. So why are we cutting back on protein and the nutrients that meat provides? I believe that by the second hour after lunch rolls around, my boys will be hungry again if they do not have more than 2 ounces of meat and only 800 calories. Its proven that protein slows digestion, stabilizes blood sugar and helps to maintain energy.

Our classes are over at 3:30 pm and then the boys head straight to the locker room to change to football gear for a 2 hour physical practice. But if they haven’t eaten since noon–and then only fruits and vegetables with minimal protein–they will not have the energy to practice!

My biggest concern with this mandate on our school lunch program is that it takes NOTHING but age level into account. It doesn’t allow for physical activity level, weight or height. It doesn’t take into consideration that at a small school, most of the students are participating in sports–if they didn’t we wouldn’t have enough for a team! (As an aside, we have 18 boys playing 8-man football this year in our entire high school.) 

Some moms will say, “Debbie, why don’t you just pack a lunch for them?”….but my response to this is WHY should I have to? We have always had excellent homemade lunches served at our school for a very low price. The regular price on our high school meals used to be $2.40/day. My boys would get a second carton of milk (charged an extra 35¢) and they could return for second servings of the main course or side dish after everyone else was served. I should not have to drive 30 miles to purchase lunch items at a grocery store to send with my students when they have been served an excellent meal in the past.

We do have an “open lunch” but there is only 25 minutes for the lunch period. That is not enough time for any student to drive to a restaurant to eat. We only have a local bar (which does serve a lunch) and a gas station for food in our town. The kids often drive to the gas station for a soda (it is not sold during the school day in the school) after they eat their lunch at school.  I believe there will be more of that, and the kids will also pick up a package of chips or a candy bar to fill them up now!

I don’t believe this is the intent of the regulations. I really understand that the American society is overweight. But mandating our kids to eat more leafy greens and less lean meat at school is not going to solve the problem. Mandate physical education….put more PE back into our days! But don’t make our kids go hungry.

I’ll step off my soap box now, but I will be calling my congressmen, you can be sure! In the meantime, here are a few links for more information and insight.

APPLE WEEK

Did you know that the second week of August is apple week?  There are so many things to know about this delicious fruit, perhaps some of these little known facts will surprise you!

  • The beauty of apples is all their flavors; the United States only has one third of the varieties of apples found throughout the world.
  • Apples are versatile and can be used in a variety of savory and sweet dishes as well as enjoyed all on their own.
  • Apples are grown in all 50 states.
  • Apples are the second most valuable fruit grown in the United States.  Oranges are first.
  • A bushel of apples weighs about 42 pounds and will yield 20-24 quarts of applesauce.
  • Apples ripen six to ten times faster at room temperature than if they were refrigerated.

To celebrate apple week, I made apple enchiladas last night.  A quick and easy recipe, that the whole family with love!  

  • 1 quart bag of frozen apples (You can also use a 21 ounce can of apple pie filling)
  • 6 (8 inch) flour tortillas
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water1
  1. Spoon about one heaping quarter cup of pie filling evenly down the center of each tortilla.
  2. Sprinkle with cinnamon; roll up, tucking in edges; and place seam side down in a buttered dish.
  3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine butter, white sugar, brown sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes.
  4. Pour sauce over enchiladas and let stand 45 minutes.
  5. Bake in preheated oven 20 minutes, or until golden.
  6. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy apple week and share with us your favorite apple recipes!

 

 

BBQ IS FOR MORE THAN JUST BEEF

One of the greatest joys of summertime is the act of barbecuing (at least for my family), and most everyone has a favorite grilled food that they look forward to indulging in.  This summer think beyond the standard burgers and chicken when you fire up the grill.  With a cornucopia of in-season fruits and vegetables, you can cook a table-full of excellent entrees, side dishes and desserts right on your grill!

Vegetables like summer squash, Portobello mushrooms, onions, peppers and asparagus are naturals on the grill. You can do something as simple as slicing, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill until softened slightly and grill marks form.  Or wow your barbeque guests by wrapping asparagus in prosciutto and then grilling.  Those babies never disappoint.

Same goes for fruit like pineapple rings, peach halves and bananas. Grilling intensifies the flavors in produce, and softens it just enough to transform it into a real treat.  Who says you can’t have a healthy, indulgent dessert?

Here are some more easy produce grilling tips.

Corn: Peel back husks without removing them and pull off silks. Replace husks and soak corn in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes. Shake off excess water before placing corn on a grill rack set over medium heat. Grill, turning occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes. Unwrap corn and brush with garlic butter, squeeze with lime and sprinkle with chopped chives and cotija cheese.  Corn is a good source of vitamin B, folic acid and the antioxidant lutein. It is also high in soluble fiber.

Nectarine: Choose firm, but ripe, nectarines. Halve and pit them. Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Brush nectarines with melted butter. Place fruit cut side down on oiled grill and cook, uncovered, for 3 minutes. Turn and cook an additional 3 minutes. Brush with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon. Nectarines contain a fair amount of vitamins A and C.

Photo credit to http://www.dessertfortwo.com/2011/07/grilled-peaches-with-cinnamon-ice-cream/Peach: Choose firm, but ripe, peaches. Halve and pit them. Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Place fruit cut side down on oiled grill and cook, uncovered, for 3 minutes. Turn and cook an additional 3 minutes. Remove from grill and top with a scoop of ice cream. Peaches contain both vitamins A and C.

Sweet Onion: Cut sweet onions, such as Vidalia, into 1-inch thick slices. Brush slices with olive oil then salt and pepper. Grill for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally and brushing with oil. Sweet onions are cholesterol-free, fat-free, a source of fiber, high in vitamin C and very low in sodium.

Portobello Mushrooms: Marinate mushroom caps in a mixture of vinegar, oil, basil, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper for 15 minutes.  Place on oiled grill and cook for 5 to 8 minutes on each side over medium-high heat.  Brush with marinade after flipping.  Top with provolone cheese during the last 2 minutes of grilling and serve on buns with your favorite garnishes.  Portobello mushrooms are low in sodium, and very low in saturated fat and cholesterol.  It is also a good source of protein and vitamin B.

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

IMAGINE YOUR GARDEN ON A WORLD SCALE

April is National Lawn and Garden month. That’s cool. I’ve been itching for a chance to get some dirt under my fingernails since the last of the flowers got frosted last fall. The garden catalogs that light up my mailbox feed that urge. And finally, it is, “A time to plant.”

What goes into a person’s flower and vegetable gardens is not a fair comparison to the farm-scale production of both flowers and vegetables, and commodity crops, as well.

But it’s upon that very comparison, or rather contrast, that many people are deriving their opinions of food production. Are you following me? It’s like this: “What’s good for my garden must be good for the rest of the system.”

Uh, no. That’s why it’s a garden.

Some people thrive on finding the all-organic ways to produce tasty fruits and veggies from their own plot of ground. Other people look for every method they can to minimize the work and maximize the tasty output (that’s me.) That might be some granulated seed germination inhibitor, plastic sheets to block weeds, bug spray to keep the Japanese beetles from devouring the tomatoes, and chicken wire to keep out the, well, pesky chickens that not only eat the bugs but also take a bite out of every green bean, tomato, and strawberry they can find. Oh, and they can make short work of a cantaloupe, too.

But I digress.

Back to the backyard division of organic versus conventional methodologies. Both are good, in my opinion. Both have their benefits.

Same goes in the larger scale production as capitalistic minded individuals find markets for the products they’re willing to produce.

But when one way starts getting labeled as “better,” well, that’s when I get perturbed. When one way starts changing regulation, litigation, and legislation, based on falsehoods that have become “truth” just by virtue of mass acceptance? That’s a problem.

Witness an article published online in Time magazine, New Study Says That Organic Food Isn’t As Productive as Conventional Agriculture, which makes this remark:

            “Yet a new meta-analysis in Nature does the math and comes to a hard conclusion: organic farming yields 25% fewer crops on average than conventional agriculture. More land therefore needed to produce fewer crops—and that means organic farming may not be as good for the planet as we think.”

Cue the invisible farm audience to say, “Duh.”

Why is this so hard to understand? Why must there be a black and white choice with social consciousness coming down only on the side of organic? When does conventional agriculture be just as accepted as the “ethical choice” for feeding deserving Americans and others worldwide?

Well, maybe, just maybe, it’s when we (and I mean that in the broadest sense) quit comparing what works in our gardens to what we think is appropriate for production beyond just our friends and neighbors wants. Maybe it happens when we CONTRAST the wants of our personal lives to the needs of a hungry planet.

That’s my two-seeds worth.

Tricia Braid
ICGA/ICMB Communications Director

HOLIDAY RECIPE WEEK: BREAKFAST CASSEROLE

If you’re looking for holiday recipes, Corn Corps is the place to be this week!  We will be featuring a different recipe every day along with a farm story.

My Christmas day celebration has always included ‘the three musketeers” (my mom, dad, and me). On Christmas morning my family has always started off the holiday with a breakfast casserole. This breakfast casserole tradition started when my mom was little and has moved into our family Christmas tradition.

When I was too little to be given free reign in the kitchen I would get to help my mom crack eggs, open bags of cheese, and pour all of the ingredients into the pan. We’ve always done the preparation on Christmas Eve and then stick it in the oven Christmas morning. The rule has always been to get ready, eat, then open presents (I had to be ‘patient’). Of course when I was little, breakfast and getting ready was the LAST thing on my mind but as the years go by I look forward to eating the breakfast we all prepared before the hoorah of the presents. This is a family tradition that I plan to incorporate into my own family someday. Enjoy!

6 eggs slightly beaten

½ C. Mozzarella

½ C. Cheddar

2 C. Milk

1 T. Onion Flakes

1lb. Italian Sausage Browned & Drained

1 C. Bisquick

-Mix all and pour in lightly greased pan. Cover and fridge. Bake at 350F for 1 hour.

-Add grated potatoes if wanted.

Jenna Richardson
Southern Illinois University Student

NO SNOW DAY FOR FARMERS

Its International Friendship Month.  To celebrate, Phil Thornton (our international trade expert) had a post planned to tell our friends all about the work Illinois farmers do to create and maintain friendships with international customers.

But we’re all still realing from the snow storm of the century, so, maybe another day.

Today, I feel like we all need a reminder about what exactly it is to be a farmer.  Because ninety percent of those reading this had the day off yesterday.  Ninety percent of us didn’t expend any effort yesterday except what it took to scoop off their driveway.  Ninety percent of us watched TV, slept, played with our kids, or read up on our friends on Facebook.

The farmers spent the day keeping hogs warm.

The farmers spent the day checking on generators to make sure your milk didn’t spoil.

The farmers spent the day helping cows give birth to calves.

The farmers spent the day chipping away at ice to ensure fresh water supplies for their animals.

The farmers spent the day plowing out their country roads and those of their neighbors.

Farmers don’t get holidays.  It’s really much too easy to critique their jobs and their devotion when you’re sitting in an office in the city with an endless water supply, a city snow plow, and only your family’s mouths to feed. 

Perhaps you’d like to check out this older blog post or this news story.  And no matter what you do, remember the hard working men and women who didn’t get a snow day.