Posts Tagged With: organic

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 Hear You

By Melissa Hildebrand Reed, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Melissa Hildebrand Reed farms with several generations on her family’s dairy farm near Junction City, KS.

Melissa is one of seven family members working on the family dairy farm near Junction City. Hildebrand Farms Dairy raises 150 cows and supplies milk to more than 120 stores across Kansas. Melissa and her husband, Brett, have two sons.

 On a typical farm, producers harvest their commodity and sell it to a company or cooperative, which turns it into something you might see a grocery store. That’s the way our farm operated from about 1930 until 2007 when our family decided to build a processing plant.

Now, we are in the unique position of selling directly to the public. Having our own dairy processing facility allows us to own the milk from the cow all the way to the grocery store. We even sell bottles directly at our farm store. We also have the opportunity to get to know you, our customer, better.

There are a few questions that stand out during the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with customers. Maybe they’re even questions you’ve been wondering about.

 

Can I see a dairy cow up close?

Yes! We give tours of our farm. We’re close to Fort Riley and Manhattan, Kansas, both of which bring people from all over the world to Kansas. Many people have never had an encounter with any sort of agriculture before. If this sounds like you, we’d love to show you around.

We’re immensely proud of our cows and our farm. There is no question to big or too small to ask. Our cows graze beautiful pasture in the Flint Hills and receive clean sand bedding in our free-stall barn. In fact, we’ve found the best milk comes from cows that receive the best care.

 

Is your milk GMO-free?

Our milk is not genetically modified and neither are any ingredients we use — like pure cane sugar in a flavored milk, for example. However, we don’t seek a “GMO-free” label for a few reasons. First, our cows would not be able to eat feed containing GMO ingredients. Based on our research, it would be an unnecessary cost that doesn’t positively contribute to the safety or quality of our products.

We grow most of the food our girls are fed. For us, GMOs help us reduce the use of herbicides while increasing yields of our crops — meaning we can feed more cows with the same amount of land.

 

Is your milk organic?

Our first priority is treating our cows with care. Using antibiotics are critical to good animal care at our dairy. If one of my girls is sick, we’re going to help get her healthy again. The idea of not treating a sick cow to retain an “organic” label on our milk wouldn’t be true to our farm’s values.

We use antibiotics carefully and sparingly. Antibiotics don’t stay in an animal’s system forever. The cow rejoins the milking herd after it is eliminated from her body. We vigilantly track each dose and animal that requires a treatment, which is prescribed by our veterinarian. Milk from cows being treated with antibiotics doesn’t even enter our processing facility. That’s true of our farm, but it’s also true of any other dairy in the United States.

Our family believes our milk stands out in the grocery store for its quality. To show you we care, the best label we can put on our product is our family name.

 

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“Farmland” documentary sparks questions on food, farming with dietitians

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Dr. Dan Thomson answers a question during the panel session following a viewing of the documentary “Farmland”

“Farmland” was the featured film during a special event held prior to the Kansas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics annual meeting in Topeka Thursday, Apr. 14. Approximately 50 registered dietitians gathered to view the documentary, followed by drinks, hors d’oeuvres and a panel discussion featuring farmers and researchers.

Dietitian’s questions focused on GMOs, antibiotics, hormones, animal welfare and sustainability. Panelists shared real-life examples and research on these controversial topics to help equip the nutrition professionals with facts and resources to discuss the topics with their clients.

Panelists included:

  • Scotty Thelman owns Juniper Hill farms in Lawrence. He’s a young, first-generation farmer who grows organic and conventional crops. He also was recently featured in Kansas Living magazine.
  • Debbie Lyons-Blythe is a rancher from Morris County and mother of five. She began blogging in 2009 sharing what happens on her ranch and answering questions about her passions: “Kids, Cows and Grass!”
  • Dr. Dan Thomson is a professor in Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Beef Cattle Institute. He is active on committees like McDonald’s Beef Health and Welfare Committee and Animal Welfare Advisory Board of the Food Marketing Institute.
  • Dr. Tom Clemente is a professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Agronomy and Horticulture. He runs the Clemente Lab studying functional genomics and using genetic engineering to create value added and disease control traits.
From left, Lana Barkman and Melissa Reed discussed their farming operations with dietitians during the event

From left, Lana Barkman and Melissa Reed discussed their farming operations with dietitians during the event

CommonGround volunteers Lana Barkman and Melissa Reed mingled with dietitians throughout the evening, discussing their own farming operations. Melissa’s family operates Hildebrand Dairy, which bottles and sells milk across northeast Kansas. Lana’s background is in beef cattle, horses, poultry and greenhouse production.

The event was hosted by the Kansas Farm Food Connection, a group of farmers and ranchers who bring delicious Kansas-grown food to your table. The KFFC includes Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas Pork Association, Kansas Wheat, Midwest Dairy, Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas Soybean Commission, Kansas Grain Sorghum and Kansas Corn. CommonGround also lends support to the KFFC.

Attendees went home with a reusable grocery bag from CommonGround filled with goodies from the KFFC partners.

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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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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: The Super Soybean

From feed to food to fuel and more, soybeans are used for a variety of things that we come into contact with each day.  In addition to its edibility, the super plant is used to make plastics, medicines, inks, fuels, soaps and many other products.

The Super Soybean The Super Soybean, by Raymond Bial, celebrates the humble soybean as a major U.S. export and renewable natural resources.  Find out how big of an impact soybeans have on your family’s daily life through cultivation descriptions and references to the many uses of the plant.

This is more than the average picture book for kids ages 8-11 years.  They will enjoy this book filled with both colorful photos and informational text about soybean growth, harvest and consumption.

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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