Archive for the ‘farmers’ Category

She’s only 3½ years old. But my daughter is at the “why” stage and actively soaking up any and all information we have the patience to share with her. This, coupled with my job in ag literacy, prompted me to think about what I want her to know about agriculture at this age.

So here goes. Here are six things I want my child to learn about food and farming while she’s still young, and how I will explain each (if I haven’t already).

  1. Food doesn’t come from the grocery store. It comes from farms. I’ve explained to Naya that before food gets to the grocery store, farmers grow or raise it on farms. Then some things–like bread, applesauce, and bacon–go to processing plants to be made into the foods we eat. They are then shipped to the grocery store where we buy them to take home and eat.
  2. Farms are places where plants are grown or animals are raised for all of us to eat. It doesn’t make sense to say food comes from farms and not explain what a farm is. We also point out farms as we travel and talk about what might be grown or raised at each one.
  3. Farmers are the people who raise our food. I want my child to know that farmers are essential to our lives. Why? Because without them we would all have to grow our own food. Most of us don’t have the time, knowledge, or space to produce everything we eat.
  4. The fields around us aren’t just scenery; they are our food. I often call my daughter’s attention to the beauty around us. Our rural landscape of corn and soybeans is peaceful, open, and pretty. It’s also where some of our food comes from. I will explain to her that the plants growing in farmers’ fields are called crops.


    My daughter, exploring a cornfield at the age of two. I want her to know that the field around us provide some of our food.

  5. Animals that farmers raise for food are called livestock. They are not pets. I want Naya to understand that pets and livestock serve different purposes. Pets like our two dogs are meant to be our companions, and livestock provide us with food. However, just because farm animals aren’t pets doesn’t mean humans don’t have a responsibility to keep them safe, healthy, and comfortable. Farmers provide their animals with special food, special places to live, and even special doctors–called veterinarians–just like we do for our pets. When the right moments arise, we will help her understand that everything living, people included, relies on other living things to survive. (One such moment recently presented itself when she caught a fish which hours later appeared as a fried filet on a plate. “Daddy,” she questioned, “where’d his head go?”)
  6. Chocolate milk doesn’t come from brown cows. I don’t know why adults persist in saying this. Some must think it’s funny, and a few apparently think it’s true. Either way, if you tell a little kid that chocolate milk comes from brown cows and don’t quickly explain that you’re just being silly, they will believe you. Unless they live on a dairy farm or someone has already told them otherwise, they don’t know any better. I want my daughter to know better. She doesn’t yet seem interested in chocolate milk, but when she is, we will explain that all cows give white milk, and humans add the chocolate later on.

As Naya continues to grow and ask “Why?” the information we can share with her will obviously become more complex and in-depth. But this seems like a good place to start.

What do YOU think a preschooler should know about agriculture?

This post also appeared as the “Stray Kernels” column in the Sept.-Oct. 2016 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.

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Have you seen this on social media lately?

“If you stopped spending money at the grocery store next week, they would never even notice you were gone. If you took a small fraction of that money and spent it at the farmers market you would help a local farmer pay the rent. You might even save his farm.”

I’ve seen it several times, and I’ve finally been able to put into words why it irks me.

DSC_0194Don’t get me wrong, I fully support locally-grown food. I love visiting Yaeger’s Farm Market, Honey Hill Orchard, Jonamac Orchard, and other area farm operations who market their products directly to consumers. But I also support lettuce grown in Arizona, mushrooms produced in Pennsylvania, and squash grown in California.

The apples I used to make sauce the other night weren’t grown locally… as I write this it’s March, and the local orchards are closed for the season. No, by the modern miracle of controlled atmosphere storage and refrigerated transportation, those apples were as fresh when I purchased them in midwinter as they were when picked on a Washington state orchard last September.

I’ve toured avocado orchards in Florida, cherry groves in Utah, and feedlots in Colorado. I’ve visited sugar cane fields in Louisiana and dairy farms in so many places I’ve lost count. I’ve toured—three times—a northwestern Illinois egg farm that has over 2 million hens. Of course I’ve also spent many hours visiting area grain and livestock farms.

The common theme across the dozens of farm operations that I’ve visited? They’re owned and operated by family farmers who take great pride in what they do and care about doing it safely and responsibly. Many of them hope their own kids will continue to live on and farm the same land.

Here’s the thing. Farmers don’t have to be located near you to care about how they produce food. When you pick up a grocery store zucchini, you shouldn’t have to see the face of the farmer to appreciate the fact that a real human being–probably several of them–cared about producing the best, cleanest, safest zucchini they could. Is a February grocery store zucchini from Florida as nice as a picked-this-morning July zucchini at the farmers market? No, but if you are craving that cheesy stuffed zucchini boat recipe, it’s still pretty awesome.

Believe it or not, 95% of farms and ranches in the U.S. are family-owned and operated. I like the idea of supporting ALL of them, even if they’re not nearby.

DSC_0260Do you want to support local farmers? You may have noticed that around here most farmers grow corn and soybeans. Some also raise livestock, especially pigs and cattle. When you buy meat, milk, eggs, and fuel, you’re helping local grain farmers by supporting major uses for their crops. When you purchase bacon or steak, you’re supporting local livestock farmers, whether the meat came from animals on their farms or not.

You can also support local farmers by taking time to understand why and how they grow and raise the things they do. Support local livestock farmers by not assuming that every animal abuse video applies to how all farmers care for their animals. Support local crop farmers by recognizing that more often than not they live on the land they farm, therefore the crop production practices they use are dictated by the health and well-being of their own families as well as yours.

By all means, shop at the farmers market. But don’t think—and please don’t imply to others—that buying eggs and frozen peas at the grocery store is something that only people who don’t care about local farmers do.

This post appeared as the “Stray Kernels” column in the March 2015 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.

Read more:

The Locavore’s Dilemma: Why Pineapples Shouldn’t Be Grown in North Dakota

Buying local explained: Experts weigh in on the pros and cons

Local Farms vs. Factory Farms

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The following is a guest post written by 2014 summer Ag Literacy Intern Kelsey Faivre. Kelsey is a farm girl from DeKalb and sophomore at Iowa State University studying Agricultural Communications. 

Kelsey_woman_Tues_croppedAt the beginning of my internship, I thought that I was prepared to talk to people about agriculture. I grew up on a conventional grain farm, raise cattle, and am attending Iowa State University studying Agricultural Communications.

Having completed my internship, I’m not sure if anyone can be prepared enough to talk to the non-farm public about modern agriculture. Just one face-to-face conversation with a stranger had me questioning my career goals. It amazed me how fast being doubted made my chest ice over. I found myself wondering why anyone would subject themselves to this.

It was an event for families, and I was standing next to our Ag Literacy display. The woman approached me with her hands on her hips. Her little girl ran off to play.

“So, what group are you and what do you support?” she asked me. I explained what DeKalb County Farm Bureau was and that I was a summer intern.

“What is your stance on antibiotics and pesticides?” she questioned. At this point, I had a feeling I was in for a rough conversation. I asked her for clarification, and the next ten minutes were some of the most uncomfortable of my life.

She asked me questions like: “Is there any research that proves pesticides cause cancer? How do family farmers feel about being put out of business? Why do farmers in this area grow only corn and soybeans instead of food people actually want to eat?”

Then, the accusations started. “My family can’t live in the country because of all the stuff in the air. Like the chemicals. I can’t eat conventional meat because of all the antibiotics in it. I’m sure most Illinois farms are family-owned, but nationally that’s not true.”

I felt like I needed a shield to protect myself from her pointed questions and verbal shots. I answered her as reasonably as I could, using statistics as well as personal experience to share my perspective. For example, I told her that 98% of American farms are owned by families. I also explained that as a beef producer, I follow withdrawal procedures after using antibiotics to ensure that no residue is in the meat from treating my animals.  Finally, she asked me about hormone implants in beef cattle, and then cut off my response, saying “I have to get my daughter. It was nice talking to you. And kind of scary.”

I realized afterwards that she had no interest in hearing what I had to say. She may have been posing her comments as questions, but they felt like attacks on my family’s farm practices. It hurt. I believe in what we do and I believe we do it for good reasons, so being attacked is painful. I wondered, if she won’t listen to a farmer, who will she listen to?

This wasn’t the first conversation of this kind I’ve had. Each time a friend, family member, or stranger approaches me with these accusatory questions an icy hand clenches around my heart. Yet it’s also exhilarating to find the words that make people say “I’ve never thought about it that way before.” Then I know I’ve made a connection.

That’s what gives me hope for the future of agriculture. That’s why I’ve decided not to change my major to something like interior design and leave my agricultural roots behind. That’s why, despite the challenges I know will be in my future as an ag communicator, I’m still following my passion.

It’s also true that most people aren’t as aggressive. The other day at the Boone County fair, a man approached me in the beef barn and thanked me for being a farmer. Then, gesturing to the nearby animals, he asked me why some of the horses had nose rings.

That’s a conversation I think I can manage.

This post appeared in the September-October 2014 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.

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