Conventional Food: Way More Cost-Effective, Just As Healthy?

Notice, in the title, I didn’t say “healthier for you”. What we know (based upon scientific research to date) is that organic and niche agricultural products are just as healthy for consumers as conventionally grown. The bias against conventional food makes it sound like it’s less nutritious. A peach is a peach is a peach…unless it’s mealy…that’s gross.  Scientists specializing in genetic modifications don’t remove the material that produces the vitamins and minerals that those foods contain. Stanford in particular has done hundreds of studies to compare the nutrition of organic and conventional, and they consistently find that the two are nearly identical, aside from things like slightly higher amounts of phosphorous in many organic foods, and a higher omega-3 fatty acid content in organic milk and chicken.   So, yeah. Not healthier.

But the point of this post is to share an article someone posted on the old Facebook and caught my eye. She’s a parenting advice columnist… I don’t have spawn. BUT I’m sharing her post because it’s got some good stuff in it. She also writes things like this so she has to be good:

I have no idea who this writer is; she seems to actually love the idea of organic, and YET I really enjoyed reading and agreed with a lot of the points in her article. It was weird and uncomfortable, but I’m okay with that. She makes some excellent points about the use of pesticides and other chemicals in both conventional and organic crop production. Things like:

“Indeed, in a 1989 report, researchers at McGill University grew apples using either a mixture of organically approved natural pesticides, including a mixture of Rotenone and pyrethrins, or a synthetic pesticide called Imidan. They found that, using the natural pesticides, they could achieve a 75 percent yield on their apples only if they sprayed the fruit at least six to seven times throughout the growing season; using the synthetic pesticide, they could get a 90 percent yield with just four sprays.”

This is exactly the stuff I rant about to my friends about but she somehow does it more eloquently.

Here is the full article: Skip the Organic Aisle; Conventional Produce is Good for Your Kids

Overall, if you are a parent of a child, or just a plain human without offspring, you should read this. I haven’t read something so well-written regarding this idea that:

we, as a society, decided at some point, that organic produce was the only responsible option. It’s the “in thing”. We are terrifying ourselves to the point of hysterics, trying to decide how healthy our food is, which is unnecessary. We don’t have to eat what is prescribed to us by the rumor mill. We have to stop allowing others to scare us into making scientifically unsupported decisions regarding our personal choice of what to intake.

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Farm Bill Sweet Farm Bill

If you ask many farmers in the current day and age, they would probably say that they would be happy to see less regulations coming from both state and national government. But that’s not going to happen, so we have to pick the lesser of evils. For more than a year, the Senate and House have debated and argued over aspects of the Farm Bill and yesterday finally formed a proposal they agreed upon. After reading over the changes, which are drastic in comparison to early proposals, I’ve picked out some pro’s and con’s and put them in a neat little chart below.

[Why you should care about the Farm Bill even if you're not a farmer]

This program has not been approved officially, but if it does, it will be a five year long program.

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Guest Post: Long time no blog by John Temme

Wow, what a wild ride since my last blog post. To be honest I’ve tried to write a couple since my last one but failed to finish them. Life just seemed to be getting in the way. Since my last post I meet a wonderful woman and got married. I’ve come to realize that in this life the good lord gives everyone opportunities and time. It is up to us to decided what to do with them. You may be wondering how this partains to farming and the connection is actually really simple. In the spring we have been provided with a chance to plant god doesn’t plant it for us but we do get that chance. It is our job to be ready when the time comes. So we must prepare ourselves for the work at hand. We must always be vigilante because we never know when opportunities will come knocking. We also have to remember that we can only reep what we sow. This I feel is what has gotten modern agriculture in trouble because we are producing the wrong crops. I can already hear some saying but John it was my intent to plant corn all along last year. Which is exactly were the problem lies we as farmers have been so focused on our businesses we have failed to keep others in the loop. We talk all the time about how much more efficient we are today compared to yesteryear. However we fail to remember that means fewer and fewer people actually understand what we do. Which is precisely what I was referencing when I said we were planting the wrong seed. We should have been planting the seed of knowledge in everyone who would listen. Unfortunatly we have been missing our chance to plant that seed so we are left with weeds. The disconnect with our consumers is larger then ever and instead of just being able to plant into a clean field we are going to have to do some serious weed control. Unfortunatly round up isn’t going to be able to help us with this one because we are fighting misinformation. The only way to fix this is if we utilize every chance we get to advocate for what we do not to each other but to the public. So if you are involved with ag take 5 minutes after church next Sunday and tell someone about what you do. If you aren’t involved with ag seek out someone who is and ask them a question. If we want to reap the harvest of change we must sow the seed today.

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Dumpster Diving to Avoid GMO’s

The documentary “GMO OMG” is playing around the nation, and as I sat down to learn more, I was astonished to see a familiar face!

Last year, as a treat for my students in Foods and Nutrition class, we watched a documentary called “Dive” – a new film about individuals who dumpster dive to feed their families. It follows the story of a man who goes to local Trader Joe’s and other grocery stores to rummage through their garbage and collect the recently expired food for his wife and small child to eat. It is a really cool documentary and my class learned a lot about food waste, discussing why people in the world starve while grocery stores throw out seemingly good food. Yet, I was shocked to see my ole’ buddy Jeremy Seifert on Dr. Oz (of course, sponsored by organic producing companies) talking about his new film, “GMO OMG”.

A few things to ponder, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

1. Why would a man, who makes a film about how conventional ag producers are potentially harming his child by producing bio-engineered food, tugging at our heartstrings with his adorable children, endanger those children himself? Those who know me will know that I’m a fridge-hoarder. I’ve been known to eat yogurt that is frighteningly old. But I would never feed it to my nieces and nephews; the risks for potential food poisoning in children are so serious- we usually think the bathroom-related side affects as gross or a hassle, but for a small child, something like dehydration or flu-like symptoms can prove detrimental. I didn’t judge Seifert for the decisions he made to feed his family, but he can’t claim someone else is endangering his offspring and feed his son salmon from the dumpster in the same breath.

2. I understand that he’s a filmmaker, and his job is to play to his audience. However, I strongly believe he would not have such a strong stance against GMO’s if it wasn’t so popular to. Seifert seems to have a lot of mock outrage at conventional producers, expecting viewers to take the stance he believes in, because it’s the decision he made for his family, not because of science and facts.

3. This documentary wildly lacks scientific proof. People want answers about what GMO’s are, and they should know how the technology works, because it is really cool in itself! But rather than researching and presenting that information, Seifert focuses on fear mongering. He cites a study involving rats that has proven so flawed and suspect that it’s mildly embarrassing.

So, all in all, I’m not saying don’t watch the documentary. By all means, do. I like the idea of people learning about and making their own decisions about GMO’s- but sensationalist ideas don’t do it for me. I like real science and technology, and if you’re looking for details about the formation of agriculture technology, you won’t find it here.

*Although, I have to give props on the name. “GMO OMG”.. it’s a catchy name.

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Don’t Gag all the Ag-Gag

Although it’s currently hard to believe now, my family had a farrow-to-finish hog operation until I was 10 or so. After that, we continued to raise feeder pigs (if nothing else for the many red-ribbon-winning (i.e., strictly average) 4-H hogs my siblings and I exhibited each year) — so it’s fair to say that I spent most of my formative years scooping poop.

While my parents called my familiarity with a shovel “character-building” – I also came to take a lot of pride in how our hogs were treated. I remember the distinct sense of accomplishment I had while walking to the house during blizzards after spending hours making sure our hogs were warm, secure and well-fed.

Me with one of my red-ribbon-winning beauties

It’s those same nurturing feelings that hurt the most whenever Mercy for Animals or the Humane Society of America release another one of the under-cover videos showing the torture and abuse of livestock. I typically make it about 60 seconds in before I have to click out and hold my stomach and try (most of the time in vain) to hold my tears back.

I cry at those videos like a girl who has never seen a sow suffocate one of her own by laying on it, never seen a pig castrated, or never seen what happens to pigs that don’t have their tails docked when they’re young.

But the truth is, I have seen those things – and they help me understand, that although raising livestock isn’t glamorous, that vast majority of the 2.2 million family-farmers in this country care so much about their animals that these videos make them cry, too.

Here in Nebraska, winter was never-ending this year, and I read, this time with tears of joy, during calving-season this spring of ranchers West of me taking new-born calves into their kitchens to give them a fighting chance. I talked with neighbors who pulled consecutive all-nighters helping their cows give birth to calves in 10 inches of snow with 30-mile-an-hour winds.

And so, as much as I’d like to agree that these animal activist videos are about helping animals, the fact is that it’s not the simple. These videos, more often than not, fuel a larger anti-meat, pro-vegan diet that I respect, but don’t agree with. These videos make family farmers like my community and me guilty before we even have a chance to speak. These videos are edited and manipulated to dramatize practices that although not glamorous, are sometimes legal practices recommended by very respected animal welfare experts.

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Smile for the Drone

If you’re looking to make a buck on an oddball idea (and let’s face it, we all are) it sounds like you should start creating a fleet of drones for PETA. The group says that they are going to start flying cameras over places where “animals routinely suffer and die”, according to a press release by PETA. First and foremost, I hope they’ll address the highway from Wayne to Fremont because I personally know the roadkill rate there is alarming.

In all seriousness, their goal seems to be focused on hunters, but also includes the dreaded “factory farm“. In fact the press release was actually titled “PETA to Acquire Drones to Stalk Hunters”. The first sentence stated that the organization ”will soon have some impressive new weapons at its disposal to combat those who gun down deer and doves.” It’s a highly entertaining read. Now, I can definitely get on board with more closely watching for things like poaching, drinking while in the possession of firearms, and leaving wounded animals to die. Few can argue that the less those things occur, the better.  I’m not sure how the drones wouldn’t continue to get shot down left and right, though.

Flying over farms, expecting to find abuse, is a different story. The reason why I’m not really up in arms about this is because the chances of a drone flying over Carroll, NE and creating news is pretty slim. In fact, maybe we could pay for the footage so that people off the farm could see a typical day. There certainly wouldn’t be any animals routinely suffering and dying. The viewer would probably be quite uninterested actually- entering into planting, soon our equipment will be traveling back and forth from 7-10 all day. Where there are animals being raised for food, there will be organizations who apply their own spin on what they see to make people believe responsible production is inhumane. So drone on, my PETA amigos. And if you see a CineStar Octocopter overheard, smile and wave!


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A Pork Chop By Any Other Name Still Tastes as Tasty

When you go to the store to buy meat, do you find yourself scratching your head? So many different cuts. The strip steak, New York strip, club steak, shell steak, and top loin steak all come from the same section of beef, so how do you know which one will suit your needs best? The American meat industry is changing the meat labeling system that has been in place for over 30 years, hoping to ease customer confusion regarding meat packaging labels and cuts of meat, like this one.

In the late 60′s when we started to go from a butcher shop to a bar-coded package at the supermarket- using brand new technology, we started using those bar-codes that we take for granted on everything we buy that make it so simple to shop. In 1984, URMIS was (Uniform Retail Meat Identification Standards) developed, and that is what we have been using in various forms since. Unfortunately, URMIS was designed more for individuals with extensive knowledge about meat cuts, like butchers and retailers, than shoppers.

After about 2 years of research, the Beef and Pork Checkoff Programs have developed a plan to simplify the labels, which will be in effect before Summer’s end. The cool thing about the new labels, aside from being standardized and simplified, is that they will include details about the cut and cooking guidelines.

There will be over 350 cuts to include, and the new labels also will use terms to describe multiple species – a bone-in loin cut will be called a T-bone whether it’s pork or beef. Before the update, a properly labelled sirloin steak would be called a “beef loin top sirloin steak, boneless.” Now it will be called … a sirloin steak. Cool huh?

If you or someone in your family is a grilling pro, it’s worth checking out the retail sections of the Beef and Pork websites. They include ideas for cooking, details about cuts, and suggested cuts for those with health and dietary concerns.

The new system doesn’t come without imperfections. There’s an adjustment for some meat-eaters. I will be surprised the first time I see a “pork t-bone”. And what about the cookbooks that are already published or in the process of being published? They will undoubtedly list outdated cuts of meat for readers. With all change there is challenge, but hopefully having a clear labeling system for consumers outweighs those challenges. It’s one more step in making the dialogue between farms and grocery carts more clear.


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You Get What You Pay For: Bowman vs. Monsanto

There’s a case in the Supreme Court right now that’s raising the eyebrows of farmers, scientists, anti-biotechnology advocates, and even software companies. You should care because it involves food (and the research and development done to make our food supply safer and more sustainable.)

The issue at stake is patents on agricultural technology, but don’t let your eyes roll back in your head at the mention of agricultural technology, because this is an important case. It will set a precedent because it centers around seeds  – which self-replicate (or produce a “2nd generation”)– unlike cell phones, music, or other technological items which often come to mind with the words “patent infringement.”

The Background:

75-year-old Vernon Bowman, who farms 300 acres in Indiana planted a second crop of soybeans after he harvested his winter wheat in late June.

To plant these beans, Bowman chose not to buy seed from a reputable dealer, as is customary, but rather to buy cheap, 2nd generation beans from his local grain elevator. These “bin-run” beans are typically used for animal feed and have lower germination rates and yield (Bowman himself has referred to what he bought as “junk.”)

Bowman planted this “junk” and sprayed it with Roundup (an herbicide, which showed that the seeds he planted contained patented Roundup Ready technology, which allows farmers to spray their entire fields with Roundup and kill weeds, but not the crop itself). The crop from this “junk” turned out well enough that Bowman continued to save the seed from these fields and plant it, (supplementing with more bin-run seed from his local elevator.)  He continued this practice from the late ‘90s until 2007.

Vernon Bowman. Photo Source: The New York Times.

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Nancy Kerrigan, Bt Corn, and Dry Sarcasm

MSN recently published an article listing the “14 Foods You Should Never Eat“. In it, they call out bread, beef, non-organic produce, and McDonald’s. Also, they present the same information we’ve heard sensationalized in anti-ag media for years and act as though they’ve found ground breaking news.

First of all, shame on MSN for taking an easy story from Rodale (an online health website that has a history of anti-agricultural stances) and present it as fact. What trash. The fact is, people are going to find some sort of fault in all foods. Food is fuel. Now we look at food and ask, “how can we eat as little as possible with the least amount of fat, bacteria, dirt, hormones, etc” – things that occur naturally!

Here’s a rundown of MSN’s bogus claims.

“Don’t eat McDonald’s” because it’s raised on factory farms…. this is what I think of when I hear that:

“Whhhhyyy!!??? Whhhhyyyy!!??” Anyone who keeps up with the claim of factory farms in America is embarrassing. Farmers are people, not evil little creatures who only care about profit. Just because agriculture is modern and streamlined, doesn’t mean we took the humanity out of it. Read this post to explain the factory farming myth.

“Don’t Eat Industrialized Beef” because it’s full of hormones. Hey, guess what, so are you! I am around high-school students all day, please don’t question my expertise on the matter. Hormones occur naturally, and the ones used in beef production have been tested continuously to assure safety. Read here about that; and before you say my source is biased, research the Food Dialogues, it might be the most open conversation between American eaters and growers. My favorite part of that section from MSN though, was reading that cattle are raised in “filthy conditions”. Hilarious. I picture the dairy heifers on our farm walking around in large diapers with holes for their tails.

And another, which is not the least or the last, “Don’t Eat Corn” because it kills bees and corn is “little pesticide factories with roots”, referring to Bt corn. The Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) proteins found in some corn hybrids produce a natural insecticide. In turn, pest challenges are reduced, pesticide use is reduced, and a healthy and safe product is grown. Read more about how this all works. So basically, we’re damned if we use too many insecticides and herbicides, and we’re damned if we discover and utilize ways to reduce chemical use. It’s just not a realistic outlook on farming.

While this article is great in theory (I’m all for researching food sources), it completely fails at providing realistic and helpful information to the reader.

I hope you all have a wonderful week. Try not to eat any non-organic strawberries. Because they are filled with poison implanted by the American farmer and paid for by Monsanto. Just kidding.

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Super Bowl Surprise

I’m feeling pretty sheepish right now- I took a new job and haven’t been able to write as much and keep up with agricultural news. I checked my phone tonight and saw that I had over 20 emails. They keep rolling in- every one is searching for Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” audio. Last June, I made this video to share some picture of our farm, and because I loved Harvey’s radio broadcast. Tonight during the Super Bowl, Dodge had a commercial that also shared his words, and America seems to love it, according to my YouTube views and comments. There are numerous other videos with Harvey’s audio and related to farming- so cool!

Bravo to Dodge for drawing attention to something that affects all Americans. Agriculture feeds America, provides jobs to America, and supports America’s economy. This is a great opportunity to create open dialogue- seek information about how your food is raised. And seek the truth, not sensationalized mass media! Either way the game turns out, it’s a win for me if people look for information regarding farming and ranching!


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