Posts Tagged With: farmer

Farmer Perspectives: Going from Vegetarian to Cattle Producer

By Frances Graves, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Frances and her husband, Kris, raise beef cattle — and their three daughters — in Bartlett, Kansas.

I spent years trading hamburgers for veggie patties, a “morally-conscious” food consumer who sought organic, natural ingredients whenever possible. Growing up in the city, I didn’t really understand how our food was grown. That is, until I left and started raising cattle myself.

Eventually, I began to crave hot dogs at ball games and turkey on Thanksgiving and gave up being a vegetarian, but I still tried to eat as organic and naturally as possible. After my husband and I had our first daughter, we decided to move to rural Kansas and join his family’s farm, a conventionally raised cattle ranch. After the move, I struggled to find the same variety of foods and often drove to nearby cities to shop at specialty stores and bring home coolers full of organic produce and natural meats.

 

Farmers, they are just like us

As I began to meet farmers, I saw people who truly care about the food they feed their own families and the rest of the world. I questioned my own farm’s practices too and became convinced we’re doing the best we can for our animals, our land and our food supply, like most farm families today.

I no longer fear growth implants, GMO foods or cattle that receive an antibiotic if they become sick. All of these technologies serve a purpose, and I believe the farmers who use them do so after thoughtful consideration and for reasons I never understood as an urban consumer.

For example, I used to question growth implants for cattle. Since joining the farm, I’ve learned how these hormones improve sustainability by producing more pounds of food for the same amount of resources. On our farm, an implant also replaces hormones lost when a bull is castrated to fulfill the body’s need for hormones to thrive. Everything we do to our cattle helps keep them healthy and grow to their fullest potential.

My former self was very concerned with excess hormones in food. Now, I understand that almost all the food we eat naturally contains some hormones because plants and animals need those hormones to grow. The implants we give our cattle don’t create an excess and are long gone before the meat is on a plate. In addition to being administered by the watchful eye of multi-generation producers like my family, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration also approves the safety of growth implants.

 

Kindergarten for calves

I once questioned whether conventionally-raised cattle were well cared for during their lives. Our business is what we like to call a “kindergarten” for calves. We take weaned calves and acclimate them to living on grass. We have a stringent vaccination program that helps keep animals healthy. The cattle have a doctor on call, our local veterinarian, in case of illness.

One of our biggest challenges is the change in weather. Kansas is known for its temperature swings. Some days can feel like winter overnight and summer during the day. To help prevent sickness, we check on calves more frequently during these times. We are out every year breaking ice for water in the winter and planting more trees each spring for shade.

We understand that fresh, clean water is critical to animal health. That’s why we actively improve our water systems and ponds with new technology, ensuring our cattle can drink fresh water on demand while protecting the natural environment of our ponds and streams. We’ve even installed gravity pipes to fill waterers so we don’t have to use more water than necessary. It’s a conservation win combined with good cattle handling.

 

Purchasing power

Today, I’m still the family’s main grocery shopper, but I’m happy to serve cheeseburgers with affordable, safe ground beef from the grocery store. When I buy food, I’m more likely to seek products with a “made in the U.S.A.” label over the “organic” label, which can have different standards across the world.

Just like any other business, we want our family farm to grow and thrive. As ranchers, we have the added responsibility of producing a safe and healthy product for our family — and yours. I spent years worrying over the quality of my food. Now, I know farmers everywhere are already sweating those details for you.

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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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Farmer Perspectives: Farmers Grow Snacks Too

By Kim Baldwin, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Kim Baldwin and her husband Adam grow a variety of crops in central Kansas, including popcorn.

Originally a native of New Mexico, Kim is a teacher and has worked as a television news professional for PBS and NBC affiliates. Kim moved to Kansas to marry her husband, Adam, in 2010. With their two children, the family raises wheat, corn, popcorn, soybeans, grain sorghum and cattle.

This year, our family farm ventured into a new crop for us: popcorn. In a typical year, our farm will raise field corn, soybeans, wheat and grain sorghum. Yes, we have experience growing field corn, but popcorn is quite a different crop. Field corn is primarily used as livestock feed. On the other hand, popcorn is ready for movie night (almost) the moment it leaves the field.

As farmers, we experiment with different seed varieties and growing techniques all time. Yet, planting a different crop takes a lot of research, patience and practice.

 

Kernel of an idea

The idea to grow popcorn began when my father-in-law read an article about specialty crops. Our farm has been looking to diversify to help provide additional income.

Right now, prices for our standard set of crops is low. For these commodities, farmers can either accept the market’s cash price, or we can hold the crop in storage and hope the price improves with time. To do this, we typically risk degradation of the product’s quality and incur storage fees. There are also options to hedge our sale price on the futures market, but commodities prices have been depressed for some time now.

Before putting a single popcorn seed in the ground, we read research and even visited with popcorn farms in other states. We had to make sure our existing equipment would work for popcorn, and not all of our fields would be well suited to grow it.

We decided to plant about 5 acres to popcorn. The field that would work best for popcorn would be ground we rent with access to irrigation. Before planting, we had to seek the landlord’s approval to try a new crop, which would be a risk for both of us. In many cases, the landowner and the farmer share profits.

 

Off to a popping start

Growing a crop like popcorn takes different management — even farmers need practice! The environmental conditions in Kansas aren’t ideal for growing popcorn, so we have to be sure we selected the right type for our climate. Next, the crop must work with our whole farm.

For example, the popcorn field is non-GMO but is bordered by other crops like GMO field corn and GMO soybeans. Our use of precision agriculture technologies allows us to precisely target the applications, and helps keep our non-GMO and GMO crops distinct.

Once harvested, we had to make sure our corn would pop. To do this, we plucked an ear right out of the field, put it in a paper bag and turned on the microwave. We had a bowl of popcorn in just a few minutes, which was exciting and quite a relief after watching the crop grow for so many weeks.

Our family has always enjoyed popcorn as a snack, and we’re excited to be growing it too. The process to try, and succeed, with a new crop can be a frightening business decision. I have new respect for the people behind one of my favorite snacks. I hope you’ll think of our family next time you’re grabbing a bag of popcorn — whether it’s at a grocery store or a locally grown flavor at your farmer’s market.

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Manhattan Young Professionals “Meat and Mingle” at Local Market

Ever wondered who’s raising your meat? Is it safe? What are the most nutritious choices? What’s the best bang for your buck? The questions about the safety of the American food system can be overwhelming, especially in an era of misinformation on the Internet. We all eat, and we all deserve to make confident food choices. Those shared values attracted a group of about 50 young professionals to “Meat and Mingle,” an event hosted by the farmer volunteers of CommonGround Kansas at the Manhattan Meat Market on Monday, April 23, in Manhattan, KS.

The after-work mingle featured wine with hors d’oeuvres, including brisket sliders, grilled bratwurst skewers, charcuterie featuring local meats and cheeses, and bacon crostinis. Many of the meats and cheeses featured were locally sourced and available at the Manhattan Meat Market.

Guests had the opportunity to learn how our favorite proteins get from the pasture to our plates. A panel discussion featured a variety of stakeholders in the food system who weighed in on farming and food topics. Panelists included Dr. Michael D. Apley, professor, K-State Veterinary Medicine; Kat Benson, registered dietitian nutritionist, Unlocked Nutrition; Jake Worcester, co-owner, Manhattan Meat Market; and Kansas farmers Melissa Hildebrand Reed and Kelsey Pagel, both CommonGround volunteers.

Admission was free and guests brought non-perishable items to donate to the Flint Hills Breadbasket. As an organization, CommonGround celebrates fearless food choices, but we understand that some families are struggling just to put the basics on their tables. We especially enjoy activities where we can give back to our local communities through food donations!

Special thanks to the Manhattan Meat Market and Manhattan Young Professionals for collaborating on this unique event!

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Farmers, Nutrition Professionals Network at Scenic Flint Hills Winery

About 50 farmers and nutrition professionals networked at a unique social event Wednesday, Mar. 28, at Liquid Art Winery and Estate in the scenic Flint Hills outside Manhattan, KS. The event preceded the Kansas Nutrition Council’s annual meeting and was hosted by Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas Pork and CommonGround Kansas.

Attendees enjoyed a spread of hors d’oeuvres accented by locally grown and produced wines and ciders while participating in a round of “speed dating” with farmers and ranchers. The activity involved tables of 5-7 guests paired with a Kansas farmer or rancher. Everyone answered fun questions to get to know one another and learn about Kansas agriculture. After a few minutes each round, farmers and ranchers rotated to the next tables and started a new conversation with a different group of nutrition professionals. The discussion and drinks flowed for a fun, educational evening with a relaxed atmosphere.

Thanks to everyone who attended!

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Chopped Conference offers cocktails and conversation

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Lana and LaVell chatted with food bloggers about their farms.

As farmers, there’s no question that we love food, so it was a special treat to spend an evening with some folks who share our passion!

For the second year, CommonGround supported the Chopped Conference, an exciting two-day workshop that welcomes more than 100 food bloggers from across the country. While many attendees were from nearby states like Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, we were excited to connect with bloggers from as far away as Arizona, Michigan and Florida.

The bloggers gathered at the hip Rivermarket Event Place near downtown Kansas City to celebrate the conclusion of their conference. CommonGround sponsored the evening social, where delightful smells of Kansas City barbecue filled the air and bloggers sipped on cocktails like fall sangria.

Congrats to Jenni of The Gingered Whisk on winning one of our prize packs!

Congrats to Jenni of The Gingered Whisk on winning one of our prize packs!

Farmer volunteers LaVell Winsor and Lana Barkman chatted with the guests about food and farming topics. Bloggers also registered to win one of two $25 Amazon gift cards. Congratulations to Abby from The Frosted Vegan and Jenni from The Gingered Whisk on winning the prizes!

Have questions about how farmers raise food? We’re here to help! Check out the food and farming facts at findourcommonground.com or ask us a question. Your food choices are yours alone to make, and we’ll be happy to share how we raise crops and livestock on our farms so you can make informed decisions.

 

 

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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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