Ketchup Sandwiches

April 13, 2009

by Laurie Johns

Remember what it was like when you were 12? I remember doing chores on the farm, ‘befriending’ barn mice and catching frogs in the nearby stream (no wonder my mom would frequently lock us out of the house until we emptied our pockets!). I remember jumping off the school bus to make myself a “sandwich” which was nothing more than a flattened slice of Wonder Bread, smeared with ketchup. I loved ‘em!

I wasn’t the only ‘tween who had a strange relationship with food. I found out how vulnerable our 12-year-olds are to foodie innuendo and misinformation at my daughter’s birthday/slumber party last weekend; her 5 ‘tween girlfriends were happy to participate in my informal ‘food survey’.

First, let me explain that these girls are very bright. They’re hungry for knowledge and certainly not picky eaters. None of these girls live on a farm and, in fact, only one of them (mine) has even been on a farm.

One is a vegetarian (for religious reasons) but the other five are definitely meat-eaters. For these very bright, very well-read girls, food comes from the store. They think all the corn they see in fields along the interstate is sweet corn. They think soybean fields are growing the type of beans that go into pork-n-bean cans. They think hog and cattle farms smell bad all the time and if you live next to one, you’ll probably get sick or have to drink bottled water because that’s what they keep seeing on the news. When I pressed for more information (while most were sitting around our breakfast table chowing on bacon and little sausage links), I found that none have actually smelled a hog or cattle farm. In fact, if they’ve driven by one, they didn’t realize it.

I then wanted to find out where they’re getting these ideas on hog farms so I asked how many of these suburban girls watch TV news. Three hands went up. I then asked how many have the Des Moines Register (the state’s largest newspaper) delivered to their houses. All but one hand went up (one girl said her mom had to cancel the subscription because her dad says too many bad words when he reads it).

Armed with that info, I did a little combing through the Register (a week’s worth is in my recycle bin). I found at least six editorials and a couple news stories written by or quoting folks who accuse livestock farmers of everything from ruining their environment to ruining their health. Not one claim is substantiated of course, but that’s not the point.

What’s really sad is too many Iowans base their entire farm and food safety perspectives on what they read or see and not what they ask (or smell) first-hand. What really stinks is that a disgruntled person who moved to the country next to a hog farm may fire off a nasty editorial when they smell something one day; never mind that the smell often can’t be detected 360 other days of the year. Too bad they haven’t heard the actual science which disputes that “24/7 smell’ philosophy: (Check this out)

In the end, all we can do is to remind our ‘tweens that these are the crucial years; the time when they need to ask questions, seek out several sources for answers and if they have a question about how farm animals are raised, ask a farmer. Farmers need to remember that their job includes not just raising food, fuel and fiber for a growing world—but raising the ‘Farm IQ’ of young people whose plates are empty of real-world facts. These kids are hungry for real knowledge. Knowledge and an occasional ‘ketchup sandwich’.

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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No Passing this Buck

April 9, 2009

Whitetail Deer

Whitetail Deer

I’ve been covering problems surrounding Iowa’s burgeoning deer herd for a few years now and I’ve learned it’s an issue that can get pretty emotional. Mostly, I talk to farmers about damage and crop losses when deer munch on fields and pastures. We discuss the extent of crop losses and special hunting programs the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) uses to control hot spots, places where the herd has gone out of control. But conversation inevitably goes way beyond economics.

Rural Iowans, like their urban counterparts, worry that a bigger deer population simply translates into more accidents on highways and backroads. In the blink of eye you, or someone you love, could slam into a 200-plus deer that happened to meander out of the ditch. Sure, a lot of these accidents are fender-benders. But some can cause serious injuries, or maybe even death, to spouses, children, parents and anyone on the road.

The statistics back up those fears. A survey last year by State Farm Insurance showed that Iowa ranked fourth in the country in deer-related accidents. The insurance company’s survey projected that the size of Iowa’s deer population meant there would be nearly 32,000 deer-vehicle accidents each year. That makes an Iowan’s chance of slamming into a deer over the next 12 months one in 105.

Even more chilling than those odds are the stories I hear about the number and severity of vehicle-deer accidents. A southern Iowa farmer told me recently that during March there was at least one vehicle-deer accident per week on the county highway near his home. A northeastern Iowa farmer said he’d simply lost count of the number of deer that he and the other drivers in his family had hit in the past few years. But he knew it was in the triple digits. And a colleague of mine tells of hitting a deer while traveling 65 miles an hour on the Interstate near Omaha. The animal appeared out of nowhere and wandered into the passing lane. Although my colleague’s airbags deployed after the accident, he was luckily able to avoid other traffic while negotiating his now-totaled car to the shoulder.

I’ve never hit a deer in my extended travels around Iowa, but I’ve had several close calls. Probably the scariest occurred when I was teaching my youngest daughter to drive. We had just started the process and I was teaching her the basics, like how to stay near the center of the street and avoid parked cars, when a doe popped up out of nowhere and stared right into the windshield. My daughter screamed, let go of the steering wheel and, luckily, slammed on the brakes. Being a very green driver, she could have just as easily mistakenly hit the gas pedal and hit the deer, or jerked the wheel and plowed into a nearby parked car. After that incident, my wife and I started to limit our teenagers away from streets and roads where we’d heard that deer accidents were common.

Will that do any good? It might, but who knows? It’s the sheer randomness of deer accidents that makes them so darn scary. One moment you are tooling down the highway minding your own business, and the next moment you are bearing down on a living, breathing roadblock that can cause a serious, and even deadly, accident. That’s why the need for DNR to keep the deer herd under control goes way beyond simple economics. It can be a life and death matter.

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck serves as the News Services Manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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A Cow is not a Dog

April 6, 2009
Laurie and Spot

Laurie and Spot

When someone tells you they have a little dog at home, what’s the first image that comes to mind; a “barky-barky” pacing-the-floor-like-a-maniac dog that pees on the carpet every time the doorbell rings? Yep, having grown up on a farm with a huge German Shepherd, that’s what I thought about little dogs, too. Then, I met Spot.

Spot is a Japanese Chin. He’s a calm, affectionate laze-about who likes our cats (even licks his front paws and washes his face like a cat) but hates puddles, mud and unfamiliar surroundings. He’s great for spirited daily walks (no more than two miles), but he’s no athlete. In fact, he can’t even jump up on the sofa. Did I mention he doesn’t bark? So while he’d make a lousy guard dog, Spot is a fabulous BFF (best friend forever) for our ‘tween’, because all we wanted, all we needed was a companion dog for our only child.

While most Iowans don’t own a Japanese Chin (they’re uncommon but not rare breed), the majority of Iowans do own a dog. And for many of those Iowans, their sole knowledge of animals is based on what they know about dogs, because they’re two to three generations removed from farming and knowledge of livestock animals and behaviors. Sure, they’ve seen their share of pigs (on tv), but they don’t know how they’re supposed to act or what it takes to make them thrive. They picture a kind, fattened, pink version of “Babe” the talking pig….

Dr Suzanne Millman, animal welfare scientist at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, says “People get most of their experiences about animals by living with their dogs and cats. What we have to be cautious about is the belief they have that the behavior of their dog and cat is the same as a farm animal. But a cow is not a dog. Their needs, their behavior, are different.”

Farmers who have passed down generations of knowledge while working with livestock, already know this. I remember even as a kid, my Grandpa could ‘diagnose’ a cow from the far end of the feedlot, just based on how she ‘looked at him’. My untrained eyes couldn’t see a thing, but he knew. Sure enough, a call to the vet confirmed his suspicions.

I hope consumers know that while dogs get different treatment than food-chain animals, responsible livestock farmers still take compassionate care of both. In fact, I’ve known my share of farmers who’ve weathered a blizzard all night in a barn stall, helping a cow in labor. They traipse through muddy pastures and blizzards checking on animals because they believe their livestock deserves to be comfortable, well-fed and protected from predators (or, sometimes, from each other.)

Farm life is often a hard life. It’s not for everyone. It’s not even for every dog—-in fact, I don’t’ think I’ll ever see a Japanese Chin guarding livestock on an Iowa farm. That thought is as preposterous to me as, well….a talking pig that herds sheep. “Woof.”

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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New Parents on the Farm

April 3, 2009
Father and Farmer

Father and Farmer

I have an almost six-month-old baby with a pretty bad case of acid reflux and some other digestive difficulties. So to say we don’t get a lot of sleep at our house is a mild understatement. But, we recognize that he needs our care much more than we need a coveted night’s sleep. After all, when you become a parent it isn’t an eight hour a day job – it’s your most important role 24-hours a day for the rest of your life.

My brother has two children under two. His youngest is one-week old. But, those two little people are not the only things interrupting his good night’s rest. On top of his 24-hour-a-day gig as “Daddy,” Daniel is a grain and livestock farmer. This spring he’s calving 50 heifers. If you’ve ever spent much time on the farm, you know that calving heifers is a challenge. A heifer is a first-time mom, so they’re pregnant and having their first babies. And, much like human first-time moms, they’re not completely confident in what they’re doing. They need the skilled hands of a seasoned professional.

My brother is out in his pastures day and night, checking on those new mommies every few hours. He’s had to help at least one-half of the heifers give birth, because the calves were so large that the mom couldn’t deliver them on their own. He has to teach the mommies how to care for their babies, how to feed them and how to keep them warm. He provides fresh hay for them to lie in every other day. He makes sure they have fresh water and that they’re well fed. And, if it’s too cold to be outside, he has to bring the cows and the calves inside his warm barn so they have a place, out of the elements. And, sometimes, those new moms get irritated (maybe they’re sleep-deprived, too) and try to knock Daniel over, run at him or even hurt him. He calls the vet to help with anything he can’t fix, but, ultimately, he is the primary caregiver of those new little lives and their mothers.

Meanwhile, his wife is inside trying to nurse a new little guy and keep track of a very busy 20-month old. Yet, as a farmer’s wife, she knows that he cannot neglect the life outside their walls. Despite their own family’s new transitions, he has to help his heifers welcome their new arrivals. He cares for his wife, his children and his animals. His hard work never rests. He is an Iowa farmer.

Written by Jessica Skinner
Jessica serves as Marketing/Event Specialist for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Why an Iowa Farm Bureau Blog?

April 3, 2009

Welcome to Farm Fresh, Iowa Farm Bureau’s blog about the people who bring you your food, fuel and fiber and the issues they face. With so much information available to consumers today, it can be daunting to separate fact from fiction. It is our hope that this blog can introduce you to the faces behind your food and shed some light on questions you may have about how it is grown and raised and what that means to you.

We also hope that this new blog will help readers gain a better understanding of our organization, the Iowa Farm Bureau. We are farmers, sure; but we’re also you; teachers, bankers, accountants, artists, parents, grandparents, caretakers of people, animal and land. We are 153,000 member families strong and growing. We have members from every corner of Iowa who are working together to help farmers and rural communities prosper, improve the quality of life for all Iowans, and supporting our youth.

Several members from the Iowa Farm Bureau staff will contribute to this blog and will write about a variety of subjects. You’ll find that we are passionate about our support for farmers, Iowa’s families, how our food is grown and raised, and the future of our state.

From time to time we’ll also feature guest bloggers to bring their perspective to Farm Fresh. We’ll also provide links to other blogs that can help provide more information and viewpoints. Afterall, food and fuel are complex issues and the way in which they are produced continues to evolve. And we welcome your comments about what you read here, so we can help unravel the complexities surrounding agriculture today.

There are certain ground rules that will be followed on Farm Fresh and you should read our comments policy if you’re interested in an interactive dialogue. We’ll do the best we can to talk openly and to the best of our knowledge. And, just as agriculture evolves, so will this blog, so keep that in mind when you read about the lives of people who touch you indirectly every day.

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