Posts Tagged With: environment

Farmer Perspectives: Sustainability from a farmer’s perspective

By Kelsey Pagel, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer 

Kelsey and her husband, Matt, are part of his family’s farm near Wetmore, Kan. They are the third generation to contribute to the operation and raise corn, soybeans, wheat, cover crops, chicken and cattle. They are living their dreams as farmers and focus on holistic and sustainable management practices.

Chances are, you’ve seen “sustainably farmed” labels at your grocery store. Did you ever stop to wonder what that means? Like many confusing food labels, the definition is not universal. In fact, sustainability can mean different things from one farm to another.

For us, sustainability simply means affirmatively answering “can you keep doing what you’re doing long term?”

I currently live and work on our farm full time. It’s my family’s sole source of income. Above all, farming is a business — and very few businesses are sustainable if they aren’t also profitable.

On our operation, we see everything from a holistic viewpoint. We firmly believe each living thing on our farm is intimately interconnected. Our choice in one area affects several other things. For example, we feel like the soil is the heart of our operation. Without healthy soil, we can’t raise healthy products — crops or beef.

To achieve healthy soil, we need to have a living root in the ground as much of the year as possible. This helps prevent erosion on our land, and each plant gives organic matter back to the soil — helping the next one grow and flourish. We believe the soil needs the same things we, as humans, need: a diverse diet, shelter against the weather and a little stress.

As soon as a crop is harvested off the ground (by machine or by animals grazing), we rush to get seeds in the ground to start growing. This is the soil’s diverse diet. Plants can actually give back nutrients to the soil.

We are a no-till operation. That means we want the ground to have cover — we consider that the soil’s shelter. In our view, plain soil is open and exposed to the elements. The soil temperature in bare spots is much higher, which requires more water to grow plants. Exposed soil can rapidly lose water and nutrients to the air. Our no-till philosophy helps maintain cool, nutritious soil even during the peak of Kansas summers.

We also want to stress the soil a bit. It’s okay for the plant to have to work a little bit to stretch those roots to get water or fight off a few bugs. The process is similar to how exercise works for our own bodies: a little stress makes us healthier overall.

Our cattle are part of our system. They help the land in a number of ways. Cattle help graze cover crops — again, our soil’s shelter and diverse diet — and add back nutrients to the land through their manure. It’s a natural process that allows the animals to take what they need from pastures and return the favor to the plants.

Our holistic approach extends to our cattle herd as well. We intentionally own the cattle from their birth until harvest, which helps us minimize stress on the animals. We perform sonograms on our finishing calves to let us know the optimal time to harvest. It’s our hope that people can truly taste the generations of work put into our pastures, crops and cattle.

There are many definitions of “sustainable” and “holistic.” The simple truth is that these definitions must change depending on the specific opportunities. To us, this is what works for our bottom line, our land and our family.

Every day, we feel the desire and responsibility to continue and improve the farm we now operate. It’s not just grocery shoppers that want farms to be sustainable — our family wants the same thing. Our parents and grandparents want our farm to be sustainable. It’s the farm they started, and it’s our job to continue the tradition.

It’s not easy, but we do our best to continually learn about the latest science, the best practices and how we can implement new techniques into our operations.

Please feel free to ask any questions or follow our lives online on Facebook and Instagram (@SustainableBitesLLC) or Snapchat (@EverydayKelsey).

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Farmer Perspectives: More with Less

By Molly Drimmel, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Molly’s full-time job is a field agronomist. In this role, she helps farmers raise healthy crops. Her husband, David, joined her family’s farm near Wakarusa, Kan., in 2013. Together, they grow corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, sorghum, chicken, beef cattle, pigs and goats.

These days, it seems like everyone is being asked to do more with less — fewer hours in the day, smaller budgets and less resources. Farming is no different. Today, producers are being tasked with increasing their yields while reducing their costs. To accomplish this goal, farmers must make every acre of ground more efficient as resources become more scarce. And, we’ve done it.

Year after year, our land yields more per acre. We’re feeding the world with fewer people, less land and reduced inputs. I’ve had a unique vantage point to see this change firsthand. I’m a researcher and have helped bring new technology to the market. In my job, I talk to farmers to understand what they are experiencing in their own fields. Plus, I work on my own family’s farm, and I’ve seen our technology change rapidly in my lifetime.

 

Better seed

Improved seed technology is one important way farmers have been able to produce more crops with the same amount of ground. I’ve headed up a corn research station in Western Kansas and a soybean research station in Eastern Kansas.

Across Kansas alone, there is a vast difference in growing conditions. At the research stations, we are able to experiment with the latest corn and soybean hybrids. Our focus is finding the perfect seed that could grow quickly, produce good yields, use less water and have good tolerance to important diseases. These benefits translate into reduced use of natural resources. Plus, it gives farmers greater flexibility in planting crops, which helps provide a reliable supply.

As a researcher, I’m part of thousands of years of history. That’s about how long humans have been genetically modifying plants. Until recent scientific advances, this process was done by choosing plants with the desirable traits and cultivating those particular plants. Today, scientists can expedite this process by selecting a desired trait right in the DNA of the plant — that’s a GMO, or a genetically modified organism.

In my lifetime, GMOs have provided hybrids that significantly increased crop yields, all while using less water and chemicals. That’s efficient for farmers, but it’s also good for our environment and meets consumer demand.

 

More education

One key to doing more with less is to work smarter not just harder. In my opinion, farmers have always been pretty smart. They know what their ground is capable of. The average age of today’s farmer is about 58 years old. In five decades, they have seen a lifetime of successful and unsuccessful crop years. Now, a younger generation of farmers are coming in with a formal education from universities and experience with advanced farming technology. For example, I have added to our family farm by getting my master’s degree in agronomy, which is the science of how plants grow.

Farmers are using education and experience to tackle some tough problems. One of the most pressing concerns in our state is water availability. Even just 10 years ago, we used a lot more water to grow one crop.

Today, we’ve reduced that amount using better seed technology combined with advanced equipment technology. We can turn off irrigation systems and monitor water use from our phones. Plus, we know a lot more about the plant itself. A little stress can actually help encourage the plant to grow, digging its roots deeper and producing more yield. Figuring out what growth stage of the plant needs the water the most has helped us increase yields with minimal water use.

We also know more about weed control. Many farmers I work with choose to use a herbicide before the crop is planted to help reduce competition from weeds right away. We can also responsibly apply the chemical exactly where it’s needed using global positioning system, or GPS, technology that’s commonplace in tractors these days. A product may not go all over a whole field. It can be applied in targeted areas to reduce chemical use and cost to the farmer.

A farmer can soil sample his field then layer input maps such as fertilizer, chemical and insecticides over yield maps and target specific areas. By identifying high and low producing areas, they can then write prescriptions for a field allowing them to use less inputs. This can reduce cost for the farmer and produce more with less — leading to a better environment.

 

Greater investment

These new technologies come with a greater investment on the part of the farmer. We must invest our money, but we also must invest our time into learning new tools as they arrive. It can be intimidating for older generation farmers, but most folks I know are more than up to the challenge. When my dad started farming, he would find a tree in the horizon and plant straight to it. His row was not always the straightest. In the last few years, my husband has set up autosteer where the GPS plants in a straight line, and he does not even touch the steering wheel until he gets to the end of the row. His rows are perfectly straight. The same GPS can then be used to apply herbicide and fertilizer to get precision placement and efficiency.

My husband and I returned to my family farm in 2013, and it’s been a struggle to grow our operation considering the large amount of money it can take to purchase more acres of land or a new tractor with the latest GPS technology. We don’t go on vacation much, but we’re finding our family moments in what we’re building together. We love the land, our livestock and working together as a family.

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Farmer Perspectives: We’ve Come a Long Way

By LaVell Winsor, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

LaVell Winsor

LaVell Winsor and her husband, Andy, use technology on their farm to improve safety and sustainability.

LaVell and her husband, Andy, have two children and grow corn and soybeans near Grantville, Kansas. She manages all the farm’s grain sales. LaVell also works as a consultant, helping other farmers improve their risk-management tools.

My husband and I are the third generation to live and work on our farm. A lot has changed since the 1940s when our farm began. Today, we focus on raising corn, soybeans and wheat. My father-in-law and brother-in-law also raise cattle and hay crops.

Our focus on these areas has taken a full seven decades to hone. With every generation, we’ve advanced our knowledge and understanding of the land. Today, we have the data to know what’s going on in each of our fields — practically down to the square inch.

 

Spot performance

Our farm began employing techniques like grid mapping about 20 years ago. Grid mapping breaks up a large field into three- or four-acre sections. Within these grids, we can take soil samples and know how the field’s nutrient levels change. We can apply more fertilizer to one grid and less fertilizer to another, as needed. This technique helps save us money, and helps ensure we’re only applying what our fields and crops tell us is required.

Along with grid mapping, we also use yield maps to see where the crop yields are higher or lower. This helps us identify where our farming practices need to be adjusted for the next year. We also use yield maps to test new products or techniques. For example, we applied a specific fungicide to one area of the field, and it averaged about 10 bushels to the acre more than areas that didn’t receive that treatment. In the coming years, that will help us determine if it’s a worthwhile investment to use again.

 

Saving resources

We are also using technology like automatic shutoff to conserve water. We can tell our irrigation monitors to shut off after a single pass across the field. In fact, we can communicate to our irrigation equipment from our smart phones without having to drive to the field at all. The crops get only what they need, and we’re free to get other work done.

In previous generations, field irrigation might have been done using sprayers that rained down water on the growing plants. Today, we can set our equipment up to water at the right height for the plant so less water is wasted to evaporation.

 

Evolving safety

The safety of our farm has improved over the years too. My husband joined the family farm just as new herbicides were becoming available. My father-in-law still talks about how lucky he felt that his son was able to work with safe — and effective — products.

Our machinery and equipment is now built with safety features our great grandfathers couldn’t even imagine. It makes driving a large combine just about as safe as a mid-size car on a highway. When generations of family are farming together, the most important part of the business is the family. Our goal is to see each other grow and thrive.

These advances over previous generations are undoubtedly a great benefit to the farmers, like us, who use them. Yet, they also serve consumers, like you. The end result is a grocery store full of safe, affordable food for all our families.

 

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Volunteers answer food questions at KC women’s expo

Just for Her Expo

Volunteers LaVell Winsor and Laura Handke chat with attendees at the Just for Her women’s expo.

One booth stood out amid a sea of exhibitors offering beauty, fashion, home goods and health products at the Just for Her expo in Overland Park, Kan., May 30-June 1. With welcoming smiles and a variety of conversation-starting materials, the farm women of CommonGround Kansas offered a unique opportunity for attendees to ask questions about farming and food.

The annual Just for Her expo is a regional event attracting a diverse population of women. Volunteers LaVell, Laura, Kim, Katie, Lana and Sarah were on hand throughout the weekend to chat with attendees. They answered a variety of questions and conversed with consumers on hot topics such as organic foods, GMO crops, antibiotic use in meat production and family farms.

Do you have questions about how your food is raised? CommonGround volunteers farm in 16 states across the nation, raising fruits, vegetables, grains and livestock. They love sharing how they take care every day to produce safe food for consumers around the globe.

 

 

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CommonGround volunteers connect with nutrition professionals

CommonGround Kansas volunteers LaVell Winsor and Laura Handke discussed common concerns about GMOs and helped provide clarity to make sense of confusing information.

CommonGround Kansas volunteers LaVell Winsor and Laura Handke discussed common concerns about GMOs and helped provide clarity to make sense of confusing information.

CommonGround volunteers traveled to Manhattan, Kan., in late April to discuss hot topics about food and farming with dietitians and nutrition professionals during the annual meetings of the Kansas Nutrition Council and Kansas Dietetics Association.

During a presentation to Kansas Nutrition Council members Thursday, April 24, volunteers Laura Handke and LaVell Winsor discussed common fears expressed regarding genetically modified organisms and shared facts to help reduce the confusion and help consumers feel more confident in their food choices. About 30 nutrition professionals attended the short breakout session titled “GMOs: To Fear? Or Not?”.

Laura and LaVell shared how selective breeding has been used for 2,000 years and how today’s technology speeds up the process and focuses exactly on the traits desired, instead of a lottery system where the outcome is still left to chance. GMOs more highly regulated than any other methods to introduce traits into crops today, and are subject to rigorous testing from the USDA, FDA and EPA before being cleared for the market. Part of that testing must prove that the GMO food is nutritionally equal to its non-GMO counterpart, or it will not be approved.

Several attendees expressed that they were surprised to learn that only eight GMO crops are available today — corn, soybeans, alfalfa, canola, cotton, sugar beets, squash and papaya — and that there are currently no foods available from GMO animals. Other attendees noted that they were pleased to see an extensive list of credible health and medical associations have studied and deemed GMO foods safe — including the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association.

The presentation helped clear up confusing information and better equipped attendees to explain the technology and what it means for our food supply.

On Friday, April 25, volunteers Lana Barkman and Karra James visited with members of the Kansas Dietetics Association during their annual meeting and trade show. Lana and Karra spoke one-on-one with attendees, answering questions on topics such as antibiotics in meat, organic production methods and biotechnology.

Have a question about how your food is grown? Ask a farmer!

 

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Go Blog Social starts great conversations about food and farming

Go Blog Social

Katie Dosen of To Live for Style chats with Kansas volunteers Laura Handke and LaVell Winsor and CommonGround Missouri coordinator Luella Fischer.

What a weekend! The ladies of CommonGround Kansas and Missouri spent a beautiful, sunny Saturday filled with great conversation with truly lovely people in downtown Kansas City during Go Blog Social. We were so happy that we could help answer attendees’ questions about how we raise crops and livestock on our farms. We were especially excited about the genuine interest that so many of you expressed. The fact that you feel a personal investment in learning how your food is grown is really encouraging! We love to share our stories and convey what it means to be a farmer!

We wanted to give a little blog love to just a few of the fine folks who took time to chat with us! We know missed some! If you stopped by to chat with us and we didn’t get a chance to swap contact info, please shoot us an email at commongroundkansas@gmail.com and we’ll be happy to add your link here.

A special thank you to CommonGround Missouri, who partnered with our CommonGround Kansas ladies for this special event!

 

 

 

 

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We’re ready to get social!

We're excited to be a sponsor for Go Blog Social in Kansas City!

We’re excited to be a sponsor for Go Blog Social in Kansas City!

Go Blog Social may already be underway in KC today, but we’re getting really excited to meet bloggers and social media mavens at this special event in downtown Kansas City tomorrow, Apr. 5. We’re even more excited that we get to share our sponsorship with our next-door neighbors, CommonGround Missouri, to help answer questions about food and farming.

As farmers and moms, we understand how important it is to have confidence in where your food comes from. That’s why we’re excited to have conversations with some wonderful folks tomorrow about their most pressing questions about their food.

We love sharing the story of our farms and ranches. Most importantly, we are honored to be a part of the fact-finding mission that every consumer should embark upon to learn about how their food is raised. It’s like our teachers told us growing up, doing your homework (and doing your own homework) is important. We couldn’t agree more!

When we find out the real stories behind our food, we can make more informed decisions about what we feed our families.

Attending Go Blog Social? Stop by our booth and say hello! More importantly, bring your questions. Our farm moms will gladly answer them!

 

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Why Food Day “Facts” Aren’t So Factual

Oct. 24 is Food Day, which celebrates healthy, affordable and sustainably produced food. It sounds like a pretty great cause to get behind, right?

As farmers and moms, we support the movement to get Americans to eat healthier and move more. But what really concerns us is pushing out loads of misinformation behind what seems to be fairly noble cause.

Do we agree we should spend less time in the drive-through and more time as a family at the dinner table? Absolutely!

Do we agree that we should strive to eat more balanced diets with fruits and vegetables instead of cartons of greasy fried foods, gooey pastas and sugary desserts? You bet!

But here’s where we simply need to set the record straight:

Food Day urges folks to cut back on “fatty, factory-farmed meats.”

What exactly is a factory farm, anyway? Take a good look around at the 2.2 million U.S. farms. We are hard-working families, not factories. We devote our lives to giving our animals the best care possible, often putting their needs above our own. In any weather and at any time of day, we’re there to ensure our farm animals have the food, water, shelter, space and medical care they need.

We also want our critics to know that cattle spend the majority of their lives in pastures eating grass. When mature, cattle are sold or moved to feedlots where they typically spend 4-6 months. Feedlots allow ranchers to raise beef more efficiently with fewer natural resources like land, feed and water. Feedlot cattle live in fenced areas that give them plenty of food, fresh water and room to move around. Veterinarians, nutritionists and cattlemen work together to look after each animal every day.

And labeling all meats as fatty? Well, that’s just not accurate. In fact, there are 29 cuts of lean beef and six cuts of lean pork that meet the USDA’s guidelines for lean, heart-healthy meats with less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. The trend of avoiding meat because it’s generally “unhealthy” is simply unfounded. Why can’t we all just adopt the attitude of “everything in moderation,” park a little farther from the store and talk a walk more often?

Food Day advocates say “a meat-heavy diet takes a terrible toll on the environment.”

Farmers are the original environmentalists. For generations, we have cared for the land so we can pass it on to our children and grandchildren. We care about what goes into the soil and the air, and we work tirelessly to do more with less inputs and land every day.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, livestock production accounts for 3.12% of total emissions, far from the claim that cows are worse than cars. In addition, modern farming continues to implement sustainable practices that significantly reduce the amount of fuel and chemicals required for food production. There’s an old saying that “You can’t make any more land.” That’s why we work hard to protect what we have.

Food Day activists “are united by a vision of food that is healthy, affordable, and produced with care for the environment, farm animals, and the people who grow, harvest, and serve it.”

Hey, wait! That sounds a lot like our vision as farmers and ranchers. Like any successful professionals, we want to do our jobs better. We are constantly finding new ways to grow safe, affordable food on less land and with fewer resources. If we didn’t care for our animals and our land, we couldn’t stay in business. And if we can’t stay in the business of growing food and fiber for a booming world population, it won’t be long before we’ll have some very serious issues on a global scale.

We are farmers. We are moms. We commit our lives to producing safe, healthy food — the same food we feed our families. To infer that hard-working American farmers and ranchers aren’t producing food with care? Well, we invite you to look again. That’s what we do, day in and day out.

Have a question about your food? Ask us! We’re always happy to share openly about how we grow crops and raise livestock on our Kansas farms. We’ll never tell you what to eat, we’ll just answer your questions so you can make the most informed choices for your family.

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Kids’ Reading List: Corn

Corn on the cob is one of my absolute, favorite foods.  When I had braces, my mom would cut the corn off the cob, but it just wasn’t the same.  I couldn’t wait until the next summer, when my braces came off, to taste the sweet kernels right off the cob.  The summertime staple has an impact on our lives beyond the supper table.  Learn more about the impression of corn on our daily lives from the authors of Corn,  Susan Anderson and JoAnne Buggey

Corn

A part of the Awesome Agriculture series, Corn explores the important commodity crop from A-to-Z for kids ages five to eight.  AGRI, the tractor, shares interesting facts at the turn of every page.  In addition to photos that illustrate the multi-faceted agricultural industry, each book ends with an activities section for continued learning and fun.

Thanks to Holly Spangler for compiling this list, which was featured in the March 2012 issue of Farm Futures magazine.
Check out the past selections in the reading list:

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Kids’ Reading List: A Handful of Dirt

My brother and I spent plenty of summer afternoons during out childhood making mud pies and dirt cakes.  Amazon: A Handful of DirtJust before presenting Mom with our creations, we would place the perfect dandelion in the center.

We thought of dirt as a toy, but author Raymond Bial tells a much different story in A Handful of Dirt.

Full color photos compliment informative text as readers, Grades 3-5, are introduced to dirt dwellers of all shapes and sizes. The tiniest protozoans, myriad invertebrates as well as mammals and reptiles whose burrows aerate the earth will change the way the reader looks at one of Earth’s most precious resources.

Even learn how to setup a home compost heap following the author’s instructions.

Thanks to Holly Spangler for compiling this list, which was featured in the March 2012 issue of Farm Futures magazine.

Check out the past selections in the reading list:

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