Farmer hospitality shines on RAGBRAI

July 29, 2011

For the first time ever, I joined the Register’s Great Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) as it rolled through central Iowa last week.

Before the ride, my only experience with RAGBRAI was reading about it in the paper. But as a life-long Iowan, I figured I might as well see what all the hoopla was about.

And boy, am I glad I did! In just the 15 miles I rode along the RAGBRAI route, I saw the best of rural Iowa and agriculture on display.

I seriously was overwhelmed by the hospitality of the farmers along the way. I stopped at one scenic farm that offered free use of the restroom in the barn, a welcome alternative to the dreaded porta-potty lines.

A couple days earlier, I was invited to visit the Farmers Feed Us stop along the RAGBRAI route north of Kimballtown. Audubon County Farm Bureau member Greg Hansen opened up his farm to the more than 10,000 cyclists riding RAGBRAI this year.

Located on the top of a steep hill, his farm became a popular stop along the RAGBRAI route. Cyclists sought shade under the grain bins, and a few walked over to the feedlot to see the Hereford cattle.
Audubon and Shelby County Farm Bureau members greeted the RAGBRAI riders with free beef samples from the Iowa Beef Industry Council. They also handed out free ag-themed bike spoke cards designed by Iowa illustrator Brian Duffy.

Farmers from across the state joined together in the Farmers Feed Us effort, which aimed to educate RAGBRAI riders about Iowa agriculture and show farmers’ commitment to providing safe, nutritious and affordable food.

“It’s important to make sure consumers know what we do as farmers…,” said Cass County Farm Bureau member and livestock farmer Stacie Euken. “RAGBRAI is such a diverse crowd, and with so many different backgrounds, we can reach a lot of people at one time.”

Sue Creager, a RAGBRAI rider from Michigan, said she appreciated the chance to shake hands with a farmer. “It’s good to put a face behind (your food), because all consumers see is a package in the store,” Creager said.

Once again, Iowa farmers made a positive, lasting impression on the RAGBRAI riders. And after enjoying all hospitality and food (pork chops-on-a-stick!), I can’t wait to ride RAGBRAI again.

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

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Get out and enjoy Iowa’s county fairs!

July 22, 2011

Franklin County Fair

It’s mid-summer. That means it’s high season for county fairs across Iowa. So consider yourself lucky that you’re never more than a tank of gas away from one of our state’s county fairs.

From the Missouri River to the Mississippi River, Iowa county fairs showcase the best of our state. There are great fairs in Franklin County, in Mahaska County, in Plymouth County, in Madison County and the list goes on and on.

At the fair you’ll see young people showing the cattle, hogs, sheep and all types of livestock they have carefully tended for months with dreams of making it to the big show: The Iowa State Fair. You can check out the cakes and quilts that carry on the state’s grand traditions. There are 4-H displays, talent competitions, entertainment and, oh, did I mention the food?

There’s nothing like pulling up a chair at one of the community sponsored food stands, visiting with a stranger, and sampling a piece of pie, homemade ice cream or a great pork sandwich or a turkey leg.
So take a minute to look through these photos. Then I encourage you to go to http://www.iowafairs.com/ and find some fun of your own.
County fairs are the jewels of Iowa’s summer!

For more fun fair photos you can visit: http://goo.gl/al21m

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

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Hot new diet: Common sense

July 19, 2011

There’s nothing like getting a fresh look at your world, through the eyes of visiting relatives.  In my case, some cousins from Australia have given me a lot to ‘chew on’ (so to speak) when it comes to our relationship with food.  Or rather, who we blame for our ‘super-sized’ waistlines.

I recently went to lunch at a popular West Des Moines chain restaurant last weekend with the Aussie cousins in tow.  They ordered raspberry tea and my daughter and I followed suit.   They were amazed at the size of the glasses and the fact that before the ice even got to melt, the harried server was coming ‘round to refill’.  In Melbourne, where Mandy and Ellie live, the glasses are half that size and there are no ‘free refills’.
Right away, the server brought out bread: huge, thick, white slabs of it.  A bowlful of butter was included on the platter, arranged in a pyramid.  More surprised looks.  “This is free?”

We ordered appetizers; I thought the bruschetta sounded great.  We all split a huge salad.  My order arrived first, as big as a football.  “Good heavens, Laurie, if you can eat all that, we’ll give you a prize!” they laughed.

About that time, a family of four very large people came to the next table.  Right away they ordered appetizers, entrees and asked up-front if the restaurant served milk shakes.   That’s when 18-year-old Ellie, a college freshman in Melbourne who is studying to be a dietician, whispered, “In Melbourne, you don’t see such large servings, or people!”

I leaned in and confessed that here, we’ve gotten used to over-sized buffets and massive menu choices, so it’s not uncommon to see so many folks struggling with their weight.  I also told them that’s why the exercise industry is a multi-billion dollar empire; people are grasping for straws.  In fact, I told them we even have exercise gurus who claim high fructose corn syrup and Iowa corn farmers are to blame. (That last bit made the Aussies laugh even harder than the arrival of my football ‘appetizer.’)

Well, something is going on; the obesity rate has DOUBLED in Iowa the last 15 years.  We are now the 20th fattest state: http://healthyamericans.org/reports/obesity2011/release.php?stateid=IA.

It didn’t used to be like this.  Our grandparents didn’t have to worry about outliving their children because of obesity-related illnesses http://tiny.cc/sgsm0.  Maybe it’s because they walked more, worked harder and had fewer conveniences or entertainment gizmos that kept them seated for hours on end.  There were four TV channels and no internet; no one sat in front of a box all night (especially not to watch a show about morbidly overweight people struggling to lose weight!)  Restaurants were a treat and the servings were modest.   Ironically, it’s much the same today for our Aussie cousins.  Maybe they’re on to something…

We’ve heard that we need to exercise every day, but saying it and doing it are two different things.    And really, that’s just half the story.
Clearly we need to eat less…less of everything!   We also need to spend less time looking for scapegoats (like farmers) to blame, and more time making a lifestyle change.   Skip the appetizers, make water your ‘refill’ and get up from your desk job once an hour and at least walk to the water fountain.  If you can, take the stairs, not the elevator.  But, no matter what you do, lifestyle change needs to start with a long, hard look in the mirror.    And remember, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”—Maya Angelou

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

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On the cutting edge to feed a hungry world

July 15, 2011

Farm Technology

I’ve been covering agriculture for many years now, but I continue to be amazed by the ways that farmers have embraced the latest technology in their quest to efficiently increase food production while protecting the environment.

The old image of a stuck-in-the-mud farmer stubbornly clinging to the old ways couldn’t be farther from today’s reality. Most of today’s farmers are way out on the cutting edge, adapting their operations to new technologies, from biotechnology to robotics, a whole lot faster than their city cousins.

A good example is global positioning systems or GPS.

For most of us GPS is a cool accessory in our cars or on our smartphones. We use it to find a restaurant an unfamiliar city or maybe a road to avoid during construction. It’s handy, but hardly essential to our everyday lives.

For most farmers, though, GPS is not a high-tech toy. It’s become an essential tool that farmers use to precisely plant, harvest and even steer their tractors, combines and other equipment.

Using GPS signals from satellites more than 13 miles in space, today’s farmers can operate with a precision that their parents and grandparents could only dream about. This means that the right amount of fertilizers and herbicides go exactly where they are supposed to go. It reduces costs, increases efficiency and significantly reduces agriculture’s environmental footprint.

By using GPS and other tools to efficiently produce more food from acres in Iowa and other states in the American Heartland, farmers reduce the pressure to produce more in developing, and often environmentally sensitive, areas of the world.

GPS for farmers, and for everybody else in America, could soon be at risk from a proposed satellite-based internet system. Farmers are worried that the proposed internet system, called LightSquared, would interfere with the GPS satellite signals because it would use a spectrum too close to the one used by GPS. Sensitive GPS receivers, they fear, would be bombarded by stronger signals from the LightSquared system.

A roster of a newly-formed group concerned about the interference from the proposed service, called Coalition to Save Our GPS, reads like a who’s-who of American business giants and leading safety agencies. It includes the biggest shippers, FedEx and UPS, airlines and even the New York City Fire Department.

And farmers are right with them working to protect GPS, the essential precision agriculture tool. Because when you take on the monumental task of feeding an increasingly hungry world while protecting the environment, farmers know they need the best technology they can get.

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


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