A holiday tradition of giving back to the community

November 27, 2013

REVISED-Crossroads-BlogWho says you can’t have a good time while doing a lot of good?

Since the early 1990s sixth graders at Crossroad Park elementary school in West Des Moines have made Thanksgiving baskets for the needy families in their area in conjunction with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Farm Bureau Financial Services and teachers at the school. Then the students travel with volunteers from Farm Bureau to deliver the baskets to needy families in the area just in time for Thanksgiving.

It’s a gift of good food that comes from the heart.

Photos by Gary Fandel.

A deal to really be thankful for

November 21, 2013

1turkey-plate-gfI had to hustle to a meeting in the country recently, so I stopped to gas up before leaving town. Even though the price of gasoline is down a bit from earlier this year, I easily rolled past $50 before my tank filled.

That experience was just another reminder of what a great deal Americans are getting when they sit down soon for their traditional Thanksgiving feast, or any other meal.

In its annual survey, the American Farm Bureau Federation recently found that the classic Thanksgiving dinner in 2013 will cost about $49.04. That hearty meal will serve 10 people, and there’s likely to be leftovers unless, of course, you’ve got more than one teenage boy at the table.

Do the math: it’s a feast for less than $5 a person. It’s actually down a bit from last year and compared to inflation, it’s an incredible deal.

We’re talking here about a really great meal: turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk. The survey takers certainly didn’t scrimp on the side dishes to keep the price down.

The affordability of the Thanksgiving meal, and really nearly all of the food we eat, is a testament to the skill, dedication and hard work of farmers, as well as everyone involved in American food production.

Americans spend less on food, as a percentage of income, of any other industrialized nation.

And the healthy food choices that Americans enjoy are simply incredible. If you want a free range turkey, it’s easy to find at the supermarket. How about gluten-free stuffing mix? Not a problem. And if you want to trim some calories and go for low-cal whip cream on that delicious pumpkin pie, just look in the dairy aisle.

Food is on Americans’ minds more than ever these days. Television is stacked with cooking shows and competitions. Magazines are stuffed with the latest recipes and cooking tips.

That’s great. But it’s worth noting that the myriad of food discussions seldom involve food prices or food choice. Most Americans take for granted that food is going to be affordable and there is going to be an almost endless variety to choose from. That’s because farmers and others in the food chain have taken care of it: something we can really be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is editor of the Farm Bureau Spokesman.

Sorting Out the Facts on Ethanol

November 12, 2013

Gasoline DropEthanol is getting pretty rough treatment in the media these days. And it’s got to make you wonder why critics are piling on to a corn-based fuel source that has aided the environment, spurred economic development in rural Iowa and, according to several studies, has saved consumers billions of dollars.

The latest attack is a report from the Associated Press, which was printed by the Des Moines Register and many other newspapers. The AP report claimed that ethanol production is causing farmers all over Iowa to abandon conservation practices and plow up grasslands and prairies to grow more corn. It paints a picture of farmers abusing the land to chase the bucks from the ethanol boom.

There’s one problem: the facts just don’t support it.

In fact, 40 of Iowa’s 99 counties saw a net gain of grassy habitat from 2007 to 2012, based on a study by Decision Innovation Solutions. In fact, only about 3,500 acres of grassland was converted to crops in that five-year period, the study showed.

And corn acreage in the states is not soaring because of ethanol, as the AP report claimed. Iowa acres planted to corn were about the same in 2007 as in 2012.

Much of the AP report centers on reduction of land in the Conservation Reserve Program or CRP. The report claims that the ethanol boom was behind the decline.

But what really changed was the federal government’s desire to reduce costs and redirect the funding for CRP to more sensitive areas. It wanted to get more bang for its conservation buck.

Instead of enrolling whole farms into the program, farmers are using CRP to plant buffer strips, sow grass waterways, install wetlands and adopt other practices to trim soil erosion and improve water quality.

Iowa farmers have more than 591,000 acres enrolled in the continuous, targeted Conservation Reserve Program, (CRP) more than any other state. It’s a better deal for the taxpayers and for the environment.

The AP report also says that farmers have abandoned conservation practices to cash in the ethanol boom. That’s definitely not what I see driving around the countryside.

Spurred on by the innovative Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, farmers are increasing their conservation practices. The most obvious example is cover crops.

In every county of Iowa this month, newly-germinated seeds of winter rye, tillage radish, triticale and other plants are pushing through the black dirt on thousands of acres. The cover crops will stay on the fields through the winter months, acting as a blanket to protect the soil from wind or water erosion In all, Iowa officials say cover crops and other conservation practices has been adopted on nearly 121,000 acres, and most observers say the total is likely far higher than that.

Sensational reports that appear to play fast and loose with the facts always grab a lot more attention than good news stories, like the one about a home-grown fuel that is good for the environment, good for consumers and a shot in the arm for rural communities. But that’s the real story behind ethanol.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is editor of the Farm Bureau Spokesman.

What is “Farm Strong”?

November 1, 2013
Jared DeVries waves to the crowd at Kinnick Stadium after joining the America Needs Farmers Wall of Honor.

Jared DeVries waves to the crowd at Kinnick Stadium after joining the America Needs Farmers Wall of Honor.

Jared DeVries doesn’t have an ounce of quit in him.

Iowa’s career leader in quarterback sacks played 12 injury-riddled seasons in the NFL. Thirteen surgeries later, he sat in front of a group of reporters last Friday and shared the source of his resilience.

“I think it was just the determination that my parents instilled in me along the way that allowed me to do that,” said DeVries. “I just kept my nose to the grindstone… And I just took it off the farm and put it in a football setting. You get off the surgery table and just go back to work.”

Today, DeVries farms near Clear Lake, Iowa, with long-time friend and former Hawkeye teammate Casey Weigmann. Last weekend he joined Weigmann as the second member of Kinnick Stadium’s America Needs Farmers Wall of Honor.

DeVries’ story has a familiar ring, but it’s a reminder we need to hear from time to time. You may not have to endure torn shoulders or a ruptured Achilles, but life is going to deal you challenges, and you’ll have to summon the strength to overcome them.

It’s a lesson my three-month-old daughter learned during a Sunday visit to her grandparents’ farm in early October.

Long story short – Dad’s combine broke down moments before Rowyn’s first combine ride. He spent the next hour diagnosing and experimenting before conceding that he couldn’t fix the problem before we had to return home.

Later that evening (around 9 p.m.), Dad called. He had used a hand grinder to fashion a castle nut and fix the combine’s malfunctioning slip clutch. It was ready to roll, and Rowyn was welcome to come back for her ride any time.

 “Farm Strong” Moments

I’m not saying you have to farm or have a farm background to have a resilient, get-it-done mentality.

We’re all capable of “farm strong” moments. You probably know a teacher who arrives early to help her students, a worker who won’t clock out until the job is done, or a friend who would never leave you sitting on the side of the road with a flat.

It’s not flashy heroism. It’s modest, behind-the-scenes grit. It’s what it means to be an Iowan. And it’s worth celebrating.

By Zach Bader. Zach is the Online Community Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

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