Just Watching Bad Stuff Happen

February 29, 2012

At my last routine checkup, my doctor brought in a physician’s assistant who was ‘in training’ and there to observe. He stood there, scribbling, as I chatted about my insomnia, my diet, my stomach issues. I had to trust that he really was there to learn, maybe even add new information about recommended prescriptions (being a new medical school graduate, he should have the latest information, right?) or help spot impending signs of illness or concern. I had to trust he was there to learn, not there because he might ‘dish’ about private information he learned about recognizable patients in this respected doctor’s office.

If I sound hesitant, it’s because I’ve had my medical privacy invaded many times when I was a TV news anchor in Des Moines, so have others I’ve worked with. I’m sure you’d agree it’s absolutely justifiable to expect that everyone who helps care for their personal or family medical needs is well-trained and professional enough to let them know immediately if they saw something ‘out of line’, ‘out of whack’ or potentially dangerous.

Putting those same concerns in another setting, it also seems reasonable to expect that if a person comes to work on an Iowa livestock farm, they’re well-trained and professional enough to let a farmer (or law enforcement agent) know immediately if they see something ‘out of line,’ ‘out of whack’ or potentially dangerous when it comes to animals that are raised for our food.

Consumers are justifiably concerned about how animals they eat are treated on farms in Iowa. I’m not saying the Ag Protection Bill just passed at the Statehouse is perfect, but at least it gets to the heart of the matter: trust. I want to trust that if an animal is being mistreated on a farm, the person who sees it says something, and the person who does it, is removed or punished immediately. It would also be nice if farmers could trust that people who work on their farms know what they’re doing and stand up to correct or report bad behavior.

I understand we all are concerned about animals; we don’t have to live and work with livestock animals every day to get that they deserve good food, timely medical attention and a compassionate, safe environment during their (somewhat short) lives. Maybe that’s why the majority of farmers speak out against bad actors when they see it because it’s not just the industry that gets smeared when some grainy, heavily-edited, undercover video emerges; it also smears the character of the 99.9% of farmers who also wonder why someone would just stand there and watch.

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

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The pursuit of bacon

February 21, 2012

This past weekend, I discovered that there is no such thing as too much bacon.

I quickly lost track of how much bacon I sampled at the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival Feb. 18 in Des Moines (or to be more honest, I stopped counting after the sixth piece of bacon). Yet I kept standing in long lines waiting for more, amazed at the endless variety of bacon-inspired dishes.

In its fifth year, the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival attracted national attention and has become the must-eat event for Iowa foodies. It was my first visit to the festival, and I was lucky to get a ticket. The 4,000 available tickets were sold out in less than 20 minutes.

The fun-loving crowd arrived with hearty appetites as they gathered at the Iowa State Fairgrounds to celebrate all things bacon. Banners hanging from the rafters of the Varied Industries Building proudly declared, “Ohhhh, bacon!” Attendees donned plastic pig snouts, bacon costumes and humorous T-shirts, many paying homage to the actor Kevin Bacon.

The lines at the vendor booths were so long it was hard to tell where they began. Often, I didn’t know what bacon concoction the vendor was serving until I got to the front of the line.

I ended up sampling bacon sausages, bacon and blue cheese appetizers, and bacon gumbo. I gobbled up a quesadilla filled with bacon, grilled pineapple and melted mozzarella cheese. I watched while a restaurant vendor stuffed bacon inside a soft corn tortilla, then topped it with hot sauce, onions and cilantro, for a twist on the traditional BLT.

And who would have guessed that I would fall head-over-heals with “The Elvis” – a bacon, honey, peanut butter and banana pizza. The bacon cheesecake and caramel bacon gelato were life-changing. I may never eat ice cream without bacon again.

Of course, I also found plenty of vendors offering just plain ol’ bacon. Often, the farmers themselves were serving up the bacon slices, hot off the frying pan. I walked around the festival with bacon grease dripping from my fingers. Thankfully, the napkins were plentiful.

It only makes sense that Iowans celebrate their love of bacon. As the top pork-producing state in the nation, bacon is part of our heritage. Nearly every Iowan has a connection to the pork industry, either directly or indirectly.

Iowa farmers are known for raising the best pork in the world, and we should be proud of their accomplishments. After all, could you imagine a world without bacon – on your burger, your omelet or even your salad? So whenever you hear bacon sizzling in a pan, feel free to shout out: “Ohhh, bacon!” You’ll be in good company.

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

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Text messages from the barn

February 20, 2012


Today I was just laughing about texting and tweeting to my teenage daughter, wondering if it was normal and thinking about how much technology has changed. And then I read an article about texting dairy cows. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/agriculture/farming/9091611/Farmers-give-cows-texting-collars.html.

I can see it now…

“#Mlking 2day was epic!”

“Hey @FarmerBob:Calf onway! #dairymom.”

It’s the latest in technology being used on dairy farms in Scotland. Based upon the 3D technology used in Wii game devices, dairy cow collars are programmed to detect changes in the cows’ movements that can signal distress, illness, birth signals and more. (It’s all about computer chips and algorithms and behavior benchmarks…very technical stuff.)

The collar sends a text message to the farmers’ cell phone or computer using a wireless network. The innovation in technology is helping farmers keep closer tabs on their livestock, enhancing animal welfare and allowing farmers to be more efficient with their time and money. They can call the veterinarian to deal with possible health concerns faster and be ready to assist with baby calves quicker, too.

One farmer who has outfitted 80 cows with the collars says it’s like having an extra, full-time staff member on the farm; keeping those Holsteins healthier than ever.

It’s just another example of how important technology is to farmers; whether it’s GPS units that help farm equipment understand every inch of every field to aid in efficient planting and fertilizing efforts to temperature-controlled barns that keep livestock comfortable. I talked to Iowa hog farmers during the Iowa Pork Congress last month who receive messages from their “barns back home” to alert them of temperature changes and other concerns. Livestock farmers are always thinking about their animals and such technology allows them to keep constant tabs on their environment and conditions.

Hey! I’m a parent who likes to keep constant tabs on her daughter and I’m thankful for technology that allows me to do that. What did we do without cell phones and text messages….or tweets about what she made for lunch?

We survived, yes. But now we know so much more and can make better informed decisions. That’s a good thing for parents, farmers and texting dairy cows!

Written by Heather Lilienthal
Heather is a communications specialist with the Iowa Farm Bureau.

Organic Romance

February 2, 2012

To buy or not to buy organic? That is the question.

But why does it have to be?

I thought about this question alot, while preparing this post. In fact, most of my posts are written in a very short amount of time, usually 10 minutes or less. Sometimes it’s as if the words were already there, I just needed to type them out. But not today.

As a farmer, I am proud of almost every aspect of agriculture. I truly value the organic movement, because anything we can do to continue to provide food is important. We NEED every farmer, every type, every size, to continue providing food for our world.

Over the weekend, a slideshow by WebMD was brought to my attention. At first, I was kind of excited about it…hoping it was going to put to rest some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding conventional and organic foods. But it didn’t. In fact, it went a step or two further than most articles. And I feel the need to set some “facts” straight.

1) It was stated in the slide show, that fruit and vegetables such as apples and peaches should be bought organic whenever possible, to reduce the exposure risks of pesticides. The site said, “If you can’t afford to buy organic apples, scrubbing their skins under running water can help reduce pesticide residues, too.”

Well, to tell you the truth people, no matter where you get your apples, you should ALWAYS wash them. Period. The same is true for organic, just as it is conventionally grown fruit and veggies.

2) Directly quoted from WebMD, “According to the Organic Trade Association, livestock on an organic farm cannot be given antibiotics or growth hormones unnecessarily — a common practice in conventional agriculture. Some experts think using antibiotics this way may contribute to the rise of superbugs. And although the risk to humans isn’t clear, added hormones do show up in supermarket beef.”

Let me shed some light on what happens on our farm (since I can’t speak for everyone, but know that most follow the same type of protocol). We give antibiotics only when necessary, such as when an animal is showing sign of being sick. We would never consider giving all of our animals antibiotics on a set schedule for many reasons, including: a) cost, b) time and feasibility and c) we need those antibiotics to work when we truly need them. To say that most conventional ranchers use antibiotics unneccessarily is simply not true.

And on the hormone subject…let me break down the actual facts for you:

4 oz. beef from steer given hormones: 1.6 nanograms of estrogen

4 oz. beef from untreated steer: 1.2 nanograms of estrogen

4 oz. beef from non-pregnant heifer: 1.5 nanograms of estrogen

4 oz. raw cabbage: 2700 ng estrogen

4 oz. raw peas: 454 ng estrogen.

3 oz. soy oil: 168,000 nanograms of estrogen

3.5 oz. of soy protein concentrate: 102,000 nanograms of estrogen.

3 oz. of milk from cow given rBST: 11 nanograms of estrogen

3 oz. of milk from untreated (non-BST) cow: 11 nanograms of estrogen
Data from feedstuffs foodlink.

Hmmm…so those extra hormones are a problem, but raw peas have 400% more estrogen in them. Perhaps we need to lay off the peas? I’m kidding, of course. That would be obsurd. Right?

3) This one I found funny. Broccoli. Yep, you should grow your own organic broccoli. Have any of you grown broccoli? I have no problem with growing your own food, even broccoli. I just appreciate the ability to choose not to. I don’t like the extra protein.

Well, those are just a few of the examples in the slide show…there are 29 slides to go through, all with varying degrees of ridiculousness. What’s funny to me is that it wraps it all up with this advice, “One thing the experts agree on: Regardless of whether you choose locally grown, organic, or conventional foods, the important thing is to eat plenty of produce. The health benefits of such a diet far outweigh any potential risks from pesticide exposure.” Oh, so the first 28 slides are supposed to make you terrified of all food not organic, and the last one says, “Eh, the risks aren’t that great, just eat.” Whew. I was worried for a minute.

Let’s cut to the chase. When it comes down to it: eat. Eat what you want, eat sensibly and get it from whatever source you have available. Supermarket, farmer’s market, online…just eat. If you have the desire and time to grow your own, do it. If you have the desire and time to shop farmer’s markets, do it. If you are a busy person with limited time and whatever is at the one-stop-shop is what you can grab, do it.

It’s time we stop making parents feel guilty for what we eat and just relish in the fact that we can feed our children. And by that, I mean HEALTHY foods, not just fast food.

That all being said, I respect organic farmers and see a true need for their products. There isn’t a single method of agriculture that isn’t needed for our future. I have not one problem with their product. Not one.

Organic farmers: thank you for all you do and the food you provide. Conventional farmers: thank you for all you do and the food you provide. WebMD: quit making me scared of the people that feed me, they’re nice.

I know, because I am one.

This is a guest blog by Val Wagner

My name is Val Wagner and I have 4 boys that keep me on my toes constantly! But it’s so much fun! Come along on our adventures, while we give you a glimpse as to what life is REALLY like on a farm…with boys! Feel free to ask questions, make comments, give suggestions, whatever may be. I’m so glad to meet you and can’t wait to tell you my story!

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