Posts Tagged With: grocery

Farmer Perspectives: How to Support Family Farms: Fill a Grocery Cart

By Janet Phillips, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer 

Janet and her husband, Caleb, work with three generations of family on their farm near Cherryvale, Kan. Together, they raise corn, wheat, soybeans and cattle. In the past 10 years, the farm has grown in size but remains focused on caring for the land and their animals. 

“Buy local” is a phrase I hear often — even in rural America. As a farmer, my job is to put safe, healthy foods on tables across America. That includes my local community.

In my discussions, no one has a single definition for “local.” There’s no set number of miles or state line. To me, buying “local” food is so much more than buying tomatoes and cucumbers at the local farmers market. It is supporting family-operated and owned farms.

 

Family farming

My husband, Caleb, and I both come from a long line of farmers. I’m a fourth-generation farmer, and he is a fifth-generation farmer. For both of us, farming is what we both always wanted to do. We love growing things and taking care of animals, and we want to raise our family to practice the same care for our land and our animals.

We feel very blessed to farm alongside both Caleb’s parents and grandparents. We each have our own operations, but we work together to do everything. Since getting married almost 10 years ago, our farming operation has grown tremendously. We have been given the opportunity to rent more crop ground, and we have rented more pasture to grow our cattle herd. Growing the size of our business ensures we can provide for the multiple families involved.

At the same time, our own family grew as well. We are teaching our little ones where food comes from and how to work hard, be respectful, have fun, get dirty and be good people.

We are simply a family — a family who works together running a family business that’s constantly changing. We adapted to new technologies and larger equipment so we can raise things more efficiently. That helps our environment by using less resources to grow more per acre. Plus, that efficiency helps lower costs for you, the consumer.

 

Not an outlier

We are a family farm, but you might be surprised to learn that around 96% to 98% of the farms and ranches across the United States are family owned and operated, as well. Our story is not much different than thousands of other farmers and ranchers.

Each of us play an active part in our communities and help to employ lots of people — from our farm to the local businesses where we purchase supplies, tools and groceries to the truck drivers who transport our crops and beyond. We are just as proud to grow food for local farmer’s markets as for the shelves of Wal-Mart and Whole Foods.

 

Well-suited to farming

As farm owners, we make our own decisions about what crops to grow. Our land and climate are best suited to raising crops like corn and wheat. We can’t plant avocados and expect to support our family and continue our business. So we plant the crops that grow easily in our area and spend hours trying to decide what varieties will do the best in our climate and in our soil.

Our pastures support grasses our cows love to eat. On the other hand, our pastures can’t support delicate lettuce crops. We simply must listen to our land and Mother Nature.

 

Balanced diet

To ensure our family consumes a balanced diet, we seek out produce like lettuce, tomatoes and apples — to name just a few. These crops aren’t local most of the year. Yet, we are thankful for a stable food supply that can bring what we need all year long. It may not be from the next field, but it’s likely from a farm similar to our own. In exchange, we provide beef and wheat for bread. Our nation is fortunate to have such a diverse food system.

We often are asked how to support local farmers. It’s quite simple, really. Just fill your grocery cart. If you want to really support the farmers in your own backyard, go to the store and buy their product with confidence, knowing it was raised and carefully cared for by hard-working hands from all across the land.

 

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Farmer Perspectives: Offline and On to the Farm

By Lesley Schmidt, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Lesley contributes to her fifth-generation family farm while working full-time at an engineering firm. On the farm, she helps produce alfalfa, oats, sorghum, soybeans and wheat. She also helps manage the cow/calf operation. In the city, she is a civil computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) technician, cartographer and permit writer. During track and field season, Lesley officiates at schools, including colleges, across Kansas.

 If you have a social media account, you have probably seen some heated discussions about food. In real life, I’ve had a lot of great conversations about food, farming and agriculture. In fact, I have the opportunity to talk about my farm nearly every day at work.

My co-workers know about my family farm, and I often get questions about agriculture. I’m happy to talk about what I do on my family farm, and I have even acted as a liaison to help people interested in learning more to go visit a real farm themselves.

Face-to-face conversations are the best way to see each other as people. Rarely do these interactions end with the vitriol I’ve seen online. Frankly, that’s not how most people I know treat others. My non-ag friends are passionate about their jobs, their families and even the food they eat. The enthusiasm is wonderful, and it’s a great start to learning more.

If you feel the same way, let’s all get offline and on the farm, together!

 

Six Degrees to a Farmer

Chances are, you are less than six phone calls away from the chance to meet a real farmer. If you’re interested, ask your friends. I have helped friends learn about apples by visiting an apple orchard. They had a great time, including a hay-rack ride and drinking fresh apple cider.

Next time you are at the Farmers Market, introduce yourself to the farmer, let them know you have purchased before and enjoyed their produce, offer a compliment and share how you prepared the dish. We love to hear how others have enjoyed our produce and we love to share our ag story.

I’ve helped connect real people to real farmers for real discussions about agriculture. I’ve even helped a state legislator visit a farm to learn more about a bill up for discussion in the Kansas House of Representatives.

 

FAQs

My friends and co-workers have asked a lot of questions — and sometimes I don’t know the answer. It’s true. Farmers aren’t experts in all of agriculture. It’s a big industry that grows thousands of different crops, processes and packages them and delivers them to customers. That’s a lot of work!

The good news is interested consumers can easily find tours and experts. In fact, I’ve participated in those tours myself to learn more. I recently went on the annual Health & Wellness Coalition of Wichita Food Tour to learn more about how food is grown, distributed, prepared and consumed in the area. I enjoy learning about food in my community and all the different ways YOU can be involved. We visited a local produce farm, a community garden, a food rescue distribution locker, and a restaurant where the owner uses local produce in his recipes, whom also shared his experience working with farmers. It’s amazing to see how locally grown produce is making an impact in my community.

When a new grocery store opened nearby my office, I went to explore with my co-workers during our lunch break. This gave me the opportunity to bust some myths about hormone-free chicken. Added steroids and hormones aren’t allowed in poultry production in the United States. Any labeling you see touting “hormone-free” chicken is more likely a marketing gimmick since all chicken produced in America is up to this standard.

I’m not a dairy farmer either, but I’ve been able to answer questions about hormones and antibiotics in milk with the help of my dairy friends. Did you know an entire tanker of milk must be dumped on the ground if antibiotics are found in just one sample?

The point is, there are a lot of different aspects of agriculture to explore, and, as farmers, we are eager to share about our unique businesses. If you have a question, don’t hesitate to ask!

If you are interested in getting offline and away from unproductive arguments, just ask your friend or coworker to help you find a farmer.


Learn more:

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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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Farmers and Ranchers Join Shocker Fans for a Day at the Ballpark

Kansas farmers and ranchers greeted Shocker baseball fans with souvenir cups of lemonade and fan giveaways during the Wichita State vs. Southern Illinois baseball game on Sunday, Apr. 9, at Eck Stadium in Wichita. Fans had a great view of the action from the right field pavilion, where they were able to get their farming and food questions answered by the families who raise crops and livestock on their nearby farms.

Three lucky families — Brandi Rice, Sonia Payne and Elisa Valencia — won four-packs of tickets to the game through a contest on the CommonGround Kansas Facebook page.

Fans also enjoyed giveaways including pom poms and sunglasses. Volunteers Kim Baldwin, Janna Splitter and Katie Sawyer welcomed fans to the pavilion and answered questions about their farms.

The cups of lemonade weren’t just a welcome refreshment for a sunny spring day. They were also a great illustration of how much weed killer is applied to an acre of cropland. Tyler Field is about two acres, so if it was a field growing crops, farmers would only apply about two lemonades’ worth of weed killer to the area. The visual reference offers an enlightening comparison to understand how little weed killer is prescribed and mixed with water to be applied to a large area.

CommonGround is a national volunteer-based organization that connects grocery shoppers with the farmers and ranchers who raise their food.

Grocery shoppers have more food choices — and questions — than ever before, yet few personally know a farmer or rancher they can feel comfortable having that dialogue with. Sourcing credible information on food production can be especially challenging with the abundance of conflicting information online. CommonGround offers an opportunity to go straight to the source.

CommonGround aims to help grocery shoppers make more fearless food choices by building connections with farmers and ranchers, providing opportunities to ask questions and offering links to resources rooted in science.

Learn more at findourcommonground.com.

Love for the land, our families, our friends and our food – that’s what fuels our CommonGround community. CommonGround is funded by America’s corn and soybean farmers. Learn more at findourcommonground.com.

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Kids’ Reading List: Pigs & Pork in the Story of Agriculture

This little piggy went to the market,

Pigs & Pork Book

This little piggy stayed home,

This little piggy had roast beef,

This little piggy had none,

And this little piggy cried wee wee wee all the way home.

This little rhyme my mom used to tell me, and maybe you tell your kids too, was the first thing that came to mind when I began reading the tenth book in our Kid’s Reading List series, Pigs & Pork in the Story of Agriculture. Authors Susan Anderson and JuAnne Buggey talk about pigs and pork from the farm to the grocery store. This book for elementary and middle school students is filled with fun facts, photos and easy to read information.

Did you know each person in the U.S. consumes around 50 pounds of pork per year?  Find our more interesting facts with each turn of the page. Colorful charts, graphs and photographs help the reader understand pork’s role in the agricultural industry.

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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Kid’s Reading List: Hungry Planet

Each evening at our dinner table, my family sits down for a meal and conversation that inevitably involves picking playfully at one another. I rarely thought about how my family’s evening meal experience differed from Hungry Planetother families around the world.

This changed when I read the seventh book in our Kids’ Reading List series, Hungry Planet by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio.  The book profiles 600 meals of 30 families in 24 countries by detailing weekly food purchases. Each portrait includes the family surrounded by a week’s worth of groceries. Photo-essays also give readers a look at international street food, meat markets, fast food, and cookery.

This book is best suited to give older children a glimpse into the forces that impact the dinner tables of families around the world. Readers begin to understand the influence poverty, conflict and affluence have on the nutrition of the family diet.

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: Seed, Soil, Sun: Earth’s Recipe for Food

What’s your favorite recipe?  Maybe it’s your mother’s apple
pie or your neighbor’s banana bread that gets your mImageouth watering.  There is one ultimate recipe that makes all these dishes possible.

The sixth book in our Kids’ Reading List series is Seed, Soil, Sun: Earth’s Recipe for Food by Chris Peterson.  This American Farm Bureau Foundation’s Agriculture Book of the Year celebrates the yearly planting, growth, and harvest of our plant food.  The simple ingredients to Earth’s recipe, seeds, soil, and sun, all combine to create much of the food we each and some food for animals. Read on in the book to discover more about the wonder that is Earth’s recipe.

Young readers, from four to seven years old, will enjoy the colorful photographs by photographer David R. Lundquist. They will learn from Peterson how seeds use soil and sun to grow into the fruits and vegetables they enjoy at the dinner table.

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: Pig 05049

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Our fifth book in our Kids’ Reading List series is Pig 05049 by Christien Meindertsma. The book uses photographs to follow a single pig through its life cycle and how every part of the animal is used to produce products from the expected meat products, like ham and bacon, to the more unexpected, like paintbrushes and marshmallows. This book is best suited to give older children an artistic and educational look at how a single animal influences many facets of our everyday lives.

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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Why Santa (and You) Shouldn’t Fear Milk and Cookies This Christmas

Note: This post comes to us from CommonGround volunteer Beth Chittenden, a dairy farmer in Schodack Landing, NY. 

Beth Chittenden is a dairy farmer in New York.

Beth Chittenden is a dairy farmer in New York.

While it seems like the holidays come earlier and earlier every year, one time-honored tradition always waits until Christmas Eve. Each December 24, just before heading off to bed, millions of children participate in the ritual of leaving cookies and milk for Santa to snack on. As a dairy farmer, my family and I are proud to serve not only Mr. Claus, but millions of American families, with safe and healthy milk. We work hard each and every day to make sure ALL of our consumers, not just the jolly ones, can enjoy milk without any need to worry about safety.

As a farmer and a mom, I know that between Christmas lists and grocery lists, December can be especially tricky to coordinate. And with all of the added labeling and information found on milk products, the dairy aisle can be particularly confusing. This Christmas, I want to give all moms the gift of peace of mind, because they have absolutely nothing to fear at the dairy case. Here are the facts:

  • Hormones occur naturally in farm animals like dairy cows and even some produce, like cabbage. They are present in our food even when animals haven’t been given supplemental hormones – it’s a natural part of life. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there is no need to worry about hormones in milk.
  • According to the World Health Organization and the FDA, pasteurization destroys 90 percent of hormones in milk and the rest are broken down during digestion. Pasteurization also destroys harmful bacteria that may be present, including salmonella and E. coli.
  • All milk, whether organic or conventional, is strictly tested for antibiotics on the farm and at the processing plant. Any milk that tests positive cannot be sold to the public.
  • No research shows that milk or other dairy products play a role in early puberty. In fact, girls today drink less milk than their mothers did. Some scientists believe that childhood obesity may lead to earlier onset of puberty, according to a report published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Happy Holidays!

Beth Chittenden, Dairy Farmer
Schodack Landing, N.Y.

To learn more about hormones as they relate to milk products, please visit the Food Facts page at findourcommonground.com. As always, please send your questions our way. We’ll be happy to share how we operate our farms.

 

About Beth

Beth Chittenden is highly qualified to teach folks about farming and their food – especially dairy. She grew up on a dairy farm, studied animal husbandry at Cornell University, worked as an animal nutritionist, obtained a Master’s degree in Education, and now helps operate a 600-cow dairy and 2,000-acre farm in Schodack Landing, New York. Beth’s goal is to open a full-time education center at Dutch Hollow Farm to teach students and the public about modern agriculture. Her extensive knowledge of agriculture and education give her the skills to explain modern farming in terms urban neighbors can understand.

Beth knows how important it is to answer tough questions about food because her farm is situated near the cities of New York and Boston. “Many topics such as animal care, biotechnology, and antibiotics are sometimes misunderstood by my city neighbors. But, once I explain how we do our best to raise great food and show them around the farm, my urban friends walk away confident in our abilities and commitment as farmers.”

 

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Life on a Kansas Farm

Ever wondered what it’s like to live and work on a farm?

The America’s Heartland TV program recently featured the Brunkow family from Westmoreland, KS. The show shares the story of daily life on their family farm, from providing constant care for their cattle and sheep herds to salvaging what’s left of their crops in the drought-stricken Great Plains. The show recently aired on RFD-TV.

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