The “Dirty Dozen”: Reality or hype?

June 30, 2011

Last week, I bought a 4-pound carton of strawberries for under $5, or about $1.25 a pound. A couple days later, I visited a trendy new grocery store and saw organic strawberries priced at $2.99 a pound.

Granted, most people who shop at that upscale store can probably afford to pay an extra $1.75 a pound for organic strawberries.

And sometimes, shoppers are willing to spend more because they have heard celebrity doctors or chefs make unscientific claims that organic fruits and vegetables are better for you.

But let’s face it, family budgets are tight. With the price of everything from gas to clothes to movie tickets going up, it’s tough to shell out more money for groceries.

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend extra for organic fruits and vegetables if it doesn’t fit your budget.

Research shows that conventionally raised produce is just as a safe and nutritious as organic produce, says Catherine Strohbehn, a registered dietician and food safety specialist at Iowa State University Extension.

In fact, Strohbehn says the actual risk of pesticide exposure from fruits and vegetables is extremely low.

Yet that hasn’t stopped the activist Environmental Working Group (EWG) from releasing its “Dirty Dozen” list earlier this month.

According to the EWG, the fruits and vegetables on its list carry the highest amounts of pesticide residues in the produce aisle. And guess what? My beloved strawberries ranked No. 3 on the list.

Yet what the EWG glosses over is that the pesticide residues found on fruits and vegetables sampled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are well below government thresholds.

According to the researchers at the University of California, an average-sized woman could eat 2,042 servings of strawberries a day without any effect from pesticide residues. For children, the number is 1,508 servings of strawberries a day.

Now I eat a lot of strawberries. But after the first two servings, I’m ready to stop eating, or at least switch to bananas.

As a dietician, Strohbehn says she’s concerned that the headline-grabbing antics like the “Dirty Dozen” list are discouraging people from consuming the recommended five servings or more of fruits and vegetables each day.

The health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables far outweigh any potential risk of pesticide exposure, Strohbehn says.

No matter what types of produce you buy at the grocery store – organic or conventional – be sure to wash it before serving to your family, Strohbehn stresses. And don’t forget to wash your hands, too, when handling food.

To read an expert’s take on pesticides exposure from fruits and vegetables, visit the Best Food Facts website:

Written by Teresa Bjork
Teresa is a features Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Seeing through the hype as “food experts” carp about food choice

June 14, 2011

Had a carp steak lately? How about a helping of carp fillets or maybe a heaping basket of carp fritters?

I’m betting the answer is a resounding “no” for most of us. And we’d all be pretty surprised to discover that there was a government campaign launched about a century ago to get Americans to eat more carp. The ugly fish filled up lakes and streams at the time and were viewed as an economical source of protein.

Obviously the “Eat the Carp” campaign was a flop. Carp may be a delicacy in some parts of the world, but didn’t catch on here. There are just so many other delicious and affordable sources of protein, like pork, beef and lamb, which make a lot more sense for American palettes.

But the fishy food campaign of the early 1900s does show how food recommendations come and go over the years. It’s also a good example how American consumers over the years have been able to cut through the hype and use good common sense to choose a nutritious and balanced diet.

Nobody that I know of is pushing carp these days, but there is no shortage of people on television, in magazines and everywhere else who are telling Americans how to eat. Celebrity chefs take cheap shots at everything from eggs to chocolate milk. Activists falsely accuse corn sweeteners of being the prime source of obesity in America. And groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS continue to push their anti-meat agenda with events like Food Day, which is scheduled for this October. It goes on and on.

Basically, these folks are trying to shame consumers into giving up their choice of foods.

There was a recent cartoon that caught my eye. It showed a few poor consumers shackled in stocks, the kind the Puritans used to shame lawbreakers. The offenders’ crimes: eating salt, carbs and whatever else the food police determined was forbidden.

I chuckled at the cartoon, but there’s a lot of truth to it.

Today’s farmers are producing an almost endless variety of foods that offer consumers affordable, healthy choices: choices that our ancestors could hardly imagine.

Yet many so-called experts today seem determined to shame consumers into feeling guilty about choosing.

In the end, we’ve got to hope that today’s consumers see these food campaigns for what they are: attempts to keep consumers from making their own choices of nutritious foods for themselves and their families.

It didn’t work with carp, did it?

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Racing against time while Missouri flood waters rise

June 10, 2011
Protecting a business

Volunteers form a line to pass sandbags along a dike built to try and prevent flood waters from the Missouri River from reaching an antiques business near Nebraska City, NE.

Farmer Randy Olsen spent most of the day yesterday and more time this morning filling, throwing and stacking sandbags in Missouri Valley. Before that he frantically pulled fans from grain bins and motors off of pivot irrigators in his fields and moved his large tractors and combines to higher ground.

That’s been Olsen’s life for the past ten days  as he works against the clock to secure as much of his property and his community as he can before flood waters from the upper Missouri River reach and possibly inundate his hometown of Missouri Valley. Olsen, like many farmers up and down the Missouri River found out several days ago that the thriving corn and soybean crops they have in their fields will most likely be underwater for the next several months and will be a complete loss.

The farmers didn’t point fingers or curse their luck. Instead, in Harrison County where Olsen lives, a group of farmers pooled their equipment and manpower and hustled to build dikes on old sand ridges to keep water away from fields, farms and towns.

“We did a lot of work but time is against you,” said Randy Olsen, a Harrison County Farm Bureau member, as he sandbagged at a dentist’s office in Missouri Valley. “None of these dikes were meant to hold water for three months. They’re dirt structures and once water gets on the back side of this Loess soil it just kind of melts away.”

As I talked to farmers, residents and business owners this past week in towns like Hamburg, Pacific Junction and Missouri Valley they all felt the same disbelief of the situation. How could a flood like this happen and will it really be as bad as predicted?

By all indications it will be. State and federal agencies are reporting that the 150,000 cubic feet of water per second that is being released from dams in North and South Dakota will leave the channel of the Missouri River and flood up to 100,000 acres of farm land and possibly devastate several towns like Hamburg, Pacific Junction and Modale in western Iowa.

To put that in context, during the historic floods of 1952 waters of the Missouri River reached a flagpole in the center of Hamburg, nearly four miles from the river. This year water it is expected to rise 10 feet above the base and stay for several months.

A drive on the gravel roads that criss-cross the area near the river also provides you with an eerie answer about how serious this flood is. One week into evacuations, farmsteads stand empty and the only people around are those trying to build up dikes.


Darrel McAlexander at Quality Iowa Maize in Hamburg.

Earlier this week I talked with Darrel McAlexander a farmer near Hamburg that is also a part owner of a business that will be flooded when the water comes.

“You can’t imagine seeing it that deep,” Darrel McAlexander said. “I’m almost 67 years-old and I’ve seen a lot of floods in Fremont County and this would be the most devastating flood of my lifetime if it gets to the depth they are predicting.”

The devastation wouldn’t just happen to farm ground either, as McAlexander looked at homes across the street from his business.

“If water stands for months (as predicted) you’ll also have to bulldoze a lot of these houses,” he said.

Back in Missouri Valley, Olsen continues to help his neighbors and others in the community with the few precious hours they have left before more and more water makes its way into the area.

“We just take one day at a time now,” Olsen said. “We’re going to fight all we can fight.”


A farmstead stands vacant near the Missouri River in southwestern Iowa. The vibrant corn fields will soon be under two to five feet of water.

Written by Joe Murphy
Joe is a photographer and writer for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Blowing a Chocolate Milk-Mustache Kiss to Jamie Oliver

June 7, 2011

One day, perhaps, I’ll spring out of bed five minutes before my alarm clock, fully-rested from eight actual hours of sleep; my hair will fall perfectly into place; everything I put on will be loose-fitting; my bed will make itself; the laundry basket will be empty; and my teenage daughter will be waiting downstairs to serve me a healthy breakfast she prepared: steel-cut oatmeal, green tea with lemon, fresh berries grown from our organic garden and a scrambled egg, compliments of our free-range backyard chicken, “Gloria”. My patient and talented 14-year-old daughter smiles as she folds my napkin on my tray, complete with the morning paper she fetched and roses she cut from our backyard.

Never mind, I don’t have a backyard garden, a chicken named Gloria or a 14-year-old daughter who’s a “morning person”; the real reason this “perfect day” will never come is I’m a working Mom doing the best I can in the Real World.

So, you can probably imagine what Real World Moms like me think about “Food Revolution” TV chef Jamie Oliver’s current push to get chocolate milk banned from schools next year. Jamie is a charming chef, but no wonder he’s struggling in the ratings; you need to “relate” to your audience, not badger and guilt.

“Yes,” our children need to cut down on the sugar, but there are so many, many more suitable targets: the fake, fried chicken nuggety-things, the caffeinated 70-ounce Big Gulp sodas, stale French fries and “shiny-meat” processed sandwiches made with gummy white bread. (And, let me just say that in an age when teenagers are bringing guns to school and beating up kids in the hallways just to post a video on YouTube, there are far more imminent threats facing our kids than chocolate milk.)

So, how about, I dunno, working healthy foods and exercise into their lives by being at least a role model who tries? Be the Mom who makes exercise a priority; be the Mom who always keeps fresh fruit in the house (organic, frozen or whatever), the Mom who encourages broccoli, even if it means bribing its consumption by way of melted cheese. And “yes” be the Mom who encourages her children to choose a glass of chocolate milk over a 20-ounce soda.

Frankly, I’d rather have my teen choose chocolate milk than an energy drink, and so would you if you read this:

Earlier this year, Joel Stager, director of the Human Performance laboratory at Indiana University, published a study that claimed chocolate milk is one of the best natural energy drinks out there, especially for high-endurance athletes.

“Compared to plain milk, water, or most sports drinks, it has double the carbohydrate and protein content, perfect for replenishing tired muscles. Its high water content replaces fluids lost as sweat, preventing dehydration. Plus it packs a nutritional bonus of calcium, and includes just a little sodium and sugar – additives that help recovering athletes retain water and regain energy. Drinking plain water after exercise replaces sweat losses – and that’s it. Chocolate milk provides carbohydrate replenishment to your muscles — something they can metabolize.” You can read more on this study from Fitness Magazine:

So let’s raise our glass to common sense and realize that we’ve got better things to do this summer than make plans to ban chocolate milk in our schools next year. Real World Working Moms today don’t need more finger-wagging admonitions from Hollywood-types trying to be sensational to hawk a TV show. How about we start by chasing our kids off the couch this summer? You know, chocolate milk comes in on-the-go containers, so you can lace up your sneakers and sport that chocolate milk moustache with pride!

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

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Celebrate June Dairy Month

June 3, 2011

Last week, I was driving along the old Lincoln Highway in western Iowa. Like most mornings, I was feeling a little groggy, so I stopped at Mac’s Cafe in Carroll for a vanilla latte and a much-needed caffeine jolt.

An hour later, I was energized and ready to meet with Farm Bureau member Chad Fertig on his family’s dairy farm near Wall Lake. Fertig, 22, a recent Iowa State University graduate, has returned to the family farm to start his own career as a dairy farmer.

As I looked over at the black-and-white Holsteins relaxing and munching on hay in a barn across the road, I couldn’t help but think how cool it was to shake hands with a dairy farmer who helped provide the milk for my morning latte.

And I felt a little guilty complaining about being tired after learning that Fertig was up a 5 a.m. feeding the cows for their morning milking. Fertig is up before dawn every morning, and his work doesn’t end until the last cow is milked around 8 p.m.

Yet Fertig doesn’t mind his non-stop schedule. In fact, that’s what he loves about dairy farming. “Dairy is one of the few things where you can work very hard and be successful,” the young farmer said.

Fertig also has the satisfaction of knowing he’s helping to put nutrient-rich milk and dairy foods on your family’s dinner table.

Dieticians and nutrition experts agree that milk, cheese and yogurt are an important part of a healthy diet. That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week gave dairy foods a reserved space on the new “Food Plate,” a simplified replacement for the Food Guide Pyramid.

It’s especially important that our kids enjoy a glass of milk with their meals. Milk is a nutrition powerhouse that provides vitamins, minerals and protein for strong bones and healthy bodies.

Personally, my mom has always been my dairy role model. She prefers milk to soda; she even orders it at fast-food restaurants. Now I happily enjoy my three servings of dairy a day, including my new favorite ways to get my dairy fix – iced lattes and Greek yogurt.

And to celebrate June Dairy Month, I’m drinking chocolate milk after my evening jogs and bike rides. Research shows that chocolate milk makes a better exercise recovery drink than sports drinks. Plus, it’s fun to drink.

If you want to join the celebration, bring your family to one of the many June Dairy Month events planned across the state. Your kids can learn how to milk a cow, and there will be plenty of ice cream for all. Visit for a schedule of events.

Written by Teresa Bjork
Teresa is a features Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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