Posts Tagged With: local

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.


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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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Restorative Yoga on the Farm Offers Relaxation and Opportunity to Meet Farmers

A sunset yoga session offered about 50 guests an opportunity for complete relaxation during CommonGround Kansas’s second Yoga on the Farm event on Saturday, Sept. 23, on the Neitzel and Nunemaker family farm.

In a beautiful green pasture just east of Lawrence, guests gathered for a restorative yoga practice led by instructor Cherish Wood. The practice involved holding gentle poses designed to restore the body and soul. Ticket sales benefited Just Food, Douglas County’s primary food bank. Guests also donated more than 128 pounds of non-perishable foods to the organization, helping community members who don’t enjoy the same freedom of choice in their food and simply struggle to provide the most basic needs.

As the sun was setting, the yoga session concluded and guests heard from CommonGround farmer volunteers Kim Baldwin, Frances Graves, Kelsey Pagel and Krystale Neitzel, whose family raises cattle in the pasture where the event was held. Each farmer described their family farms and the most common questions they’re asked about how they raise food.

Afterward, the group descended the hill following a tiki torch-lit path to a pond-side reception area where they enjoyed post-yoga wine, hors d’oeuvres and conversation with farmers and other guests. Just moments earlier, about a dozen cattle had quietly taken a dip in the pond while the group watched from the hilltop.

“It was really neat to experience conversations with complete strangers who had different backgrounds and life experiences, but could still connect through our shared interests,” said farmer volunteer Kim Baldwin, who farms and ranches with her family near McPherson. She and guests discussed raising bees and popcorn on their central Kansas farm.

“As a mom and farmer, life is pretty busy for me right now with fall harvest and school in full swing,” Baldwin added. “Attending the yoga session allowed me some precious “me time” while also having the opportunity to share my farm with them.”

Farmer volunteer Frances Graves, who farms and ranches with her husband’s family near Bartlett, said most of the guests she spoke with were from Johnson County.

“We discussed the urban/rural divide between producers and consumers,” she said. “I was surprised to hear how much they remembered details of ag operations surrounding the urban area that were developed now, or knew of working farms that still existed near Johnson County. We seemed to share a common sense of pride as Kansans, knowing how much of our state produced the food we eat, even if it wasn’t a part of their daily life in urban Kansas City.”

Graves, who studied at the University of Kansas, spent the weekend in Lawrence and said she was struck by how many restaurants promoted having local ingredients and using only local meat, meaning raised in Kansas or a surrounding state.

“Most of the people I met with were used to this type of labeling and believed it added to their restaurant experience,” she said. “I think events like our Yoga on the Farm help remind consumers that our local farmers are providing the food that they buy at the grocery stores too, even if it’s not labeled as a specialty item.”

Special thanks to the Neitzel and Nunemaker families, who operate Bismarck Farms/Gardens, for hosting us on their beautiful ranch land.

Events like Yoga on the Farm bring farmers and consumers together to discuss farming and food and build relationships to help folks feel more confident in their food choices. Have a question? CommonGround farmer volunteers are here to help! Send us a message or visit findourcommonground.com to learn more.

 

 

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Farmers Share Tasty Bites With Bloggers

Farmer Kim Baldwin joined in virtually to share about her farm in central Kansas

The digital worlds of bloggers and farmers collided in a hip office space in Kansas City’s Crossroads District on Thursday, May 4, for a dinner hosted by GBS Influence. This exclusive event allowed small selection of invited bloggers an opportunity to meet the farm women growing food, while enjoying great discussion about farming and food over a beautiful meal.

The event was a partnership between GBS Influence, formerly of the GoBlogSocial conference, and the volunteer farm women of CommonGround. The evening began with mingling and introductions before guests were treated to a gorgeous antipasto and charcuterie spread, a kale, apple and chicken salad, and gluten-free cookies with l0cal milk from Hildebrand Farms Dairy.

After the meal, guests took a few moments to complete a discussion guide, carefully considering the information they use to make food choices. Then, the group joined in a discussion about farming and food, with questions answered by CommonGround volunteers LaVell Winsor and Kim Baldwin, who joined us virtually from her farm.

Guests also received a booklet detailing each volunteer’s background, contact information and a recipe, as well as a CommonGround branded kitchen pack, including a spatula, measuring cup, cutting mat and towel.

One blogger and their guest will win a private tour of Kansas farms. The winner will be announced May 19. We can’t wait to see who it is! 

Thanks to GBS Influence and Shining Star Catering in making the night very Instagram-worthy!

We especially want to thank all the bloggers who joined us for a productive discussion about farming and food!

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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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Campus conversations focus on food & farming

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Volunteers from CommonGround, the Kansas Pork Association and K-State’s Food for Thought organization handed out free bacon and spoke with students and faculty in the Kansas Memorial Union on Apr. 1.

Bacon and buzzwords enticed curious visitors to pause at the University of Kansas on Wednesday, Apr. 1, to learn how Kansas farmers raise their food.

The Kansas Memorial Union lobby hummed with conversation as students, faculty and staff sampled free bacon and posed their questions on modern farming practices to volunteers from Kansas State University’s Food for Thought organization, the Kansas Pork Association and CommonGround Kansas. Some visitors posted their questions publicly to receive a “baconologist” or “baconista” T-shirt from the Kansas Pork Association.

Events connecting food buyers with farmers are becoming more common as interest in food production practices grows. Many consumers find they have more questions than answers.

“We’re faced with more choices than ever, which can be very overwhelming. Our goal is to forge connections where shoppers can feel comfortable asking tough questions of the folks growing their food,” said Shannon Krueger, CommonGround Kansas coordinator. “Everyone deserves to have the information they need to be confident in their food choices.”

Common questions addressed concerns with biotechnology, animal welfare and organic foods. Visitors learned about pig farming while viewing a model barn and received information with links to research on common food concerns.

Connor Needham, sophomore from Dallas, Texas, said making smart food decisions became more challenging once he started college.

“I grew up in a family that emphasized healthy food choices,” he said. “When I’m grocery shopping, I’ll call my mom for advice.”

Many shoppers find it difficult to find trustworthy sources for food information. In an increasingly noisy online space, it can be tedious to decipher which sources are based on sound science. In addition, few consumers personally know a farmer they can ask about production practices.

The widening communication gap requires cooperation from both sides.

“It is vital that farmers create opportunities to connect with consumers and listen to their concerns. It’s equally important that consumers seek out factual information to help guide food choices,” said Jacob Hagenmaier, Food for Thought outreach coordinator.

The event’s sponsoring organizations have a shared mission to connect grocery shoppers with the farmers who grow their food.

Visitors had the opportunity to share their questions publicly and received a "Baconista" or "Baconologist" T-shirt from the Kansas Pork Association. The responses filled two sides of our white board.

Visitors had the opportunity to share their questions publicly and received a “Baconista” or “Baconologist” T-shirt from the Kansas Pork Association. The responses filled two sides of our white board.

“We enjoy connecting with folks who are passionate and want to learn more about their food,” said Jodi Oleen, director of consumer outreach for the Kansas Pork Association. “Partnering with Food for Thought and CommonGround allows us to offer a wide variety of perspectives and information to our visitors.”

Volunteers included, from Food for Thought: Chance Hunley, Riverton; Lindi Bilberry, Garden City; Jacob Hagenmaier, Randolph; Bruce Figger, Hudson; Karly Frederick, Alden; from the Kansas Pork Association: Jodi Oleen, Manhattan; from CommonGround Kansas: Karra James, Clay Center; Laura Handke, Atchison; and Shannon Krueger, Abilene.

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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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