How Much Do You Really Know About Your Food?

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How much do you really know about the food you eat? If you don’t get your information from the folks that produce the food, it may not be much as you think.

I just got back from a 3-day tour of farms across Kansas, sponsored by the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Soybean. (Like always, the opinions that follow are mine alone.)

By and large, low carbers pay a lot of attention to their food. Many are concerned about issues like pesticides and antibiotics and GMOs. We’ve become accustomed to questioning conventional sources of information because sometimes, personal experience told us different. So I am right there with you, always encouraging people to make their own, informed decisions about food.

I will tell you upfront, though: I didn’t set foot on the tour bus with a lot of worries about my food. (I don’t frequent some of the websites y’all do! ) But I left the tour with even fewer concerns.

The trip was immersive. So much information! I’ve lived in the Midwest amidst farms all my life, but had never formally toured one. Well, now I’ve toured eight! And I got a good, up close and personal look at where some of our food comes from, thanks to the hospitality of Kansas farmers.

The Farms

What I Saw Touring Kansas Farms

I was impressed. The amount of technology employed to run even a small, family farm was more in keeping with what you’d expect in a hospital than a barn! And the knowledge base these folks had about both the land and animals was staggering.

But what I’ve found sticking with me more than the facts and figures were impressions–a picture of the people producing the food most of us are blessed enough to take for granted.

The farms we visited were often family-oriented, multi-generational operations. One of the first things you’ll hear is how many generations have farmed. Parents spoke of their parents’ and grandparents’ farms, and of their children and grandchildren–decisions constantly being made with the intention of maintaining a legacy, to pass down to future generations. It was prevalent enough that a first generation farmer was remarkable.

“If the kids want to farm…” they’d say. Always “if.” Never an expectation, but just making sure, farm life remained an option.

“Farming gets in your blood,” I heard more than once.  “It’s more a lifestyle than a job.”

It would have to be! The demands of farm life are significant, complicated by factors like weather, harvest times, and birthing seasons. I learned produce even tastes different based on the temperature outside when it’s picked! Farmers don’t set their own priorities in many respects: the farm does.

To make a viable living, farming requires substantial investment in technology and equipment; hence significant debt is part of the picture for many if not most. Mix in fluctuating market conditions, high risk of loss and unpredictable prices for yield–and shifting food trends among consumers–and it’s pretty easy to see how modern farming is essentially a form a gambling. This isn’t a “fast buck” occupation in any sense of the word.

So why do it?

The sense I got was that the rewards are much more intrinsic. It’s something people seem to do because they feel called to it, sometimes from an early age.

Watch a farmer light up when they talk about what they do, or eat with a farmer, enjoying the food their own labor has produced–and you’ll feel a quiet, yet still palpable satisfaction.

They are feeding people, you know? Your work cannot be more relevant than feeding people!

After spending time with farmers, you won’t wonder for long, whether or not these folks are concerned about the long-term impact of what they do.

Craig Good of Good Pork introduces us to a couple of the farm’s latest additions.

 

Craig reasons that applying the latest research to raise the healthiest pigs possible also ensures they’ll be the happiest pigs possible.

 

Meier Dairy Automated Milking

At Meier Dairy, we saw the first completely automated milking operation in Kansas. The cows come in when they want to be milked! We learned how their investment not only made life better for both humans and cows, but actually saved the farm.

 

Ronda Meier explains how the milk of cows who’ve been treated with antibiotics is automatically discarded by the computer, as each cow is individually tracked through the collars they wear.

 

Beth Holle explains how the feed is mixed and finely ground to ensure the livestock get maximum nutritional benefit. The Holles employ a nutritionist for their animals.

 

For many, farming is a family affair. The Holles talked about how their children have their own calves to care for, as a way to learn responsibility and earn money for college. (Their kids are wicked cute, too!)

 

Tractor tour at the Holles: A GPS system tracks every row in every field, down to an inch accuracy! Modern farming is seriously high tech.

 

Innovative Livestock Services started when two independent feed yards decided to work together to address challenges they each faced. Farmers coming together to help one another was a recurring theme amongst those we visited.

 

The cattle at Innovative Livestock Services are tracked via extensive computer records throughout their life cycle, including routine audits for partner farms to make sure all the beef is healthy and consistently handled according to their exacting quality standards.

 

Jason Goyer of Ahlerich Farms discusses the importance of efficiency in running a farm and weighing out sometimes difficult decisions about when to “make do” versus when to invest in costly upgrades.

 

This river behind Ahlerich Farms was a crossing point for cattle and horses in the 1800s. Farmers often become caretakers of local history as well as the land!

 

Looking utterly like the legit cowboy he is, Matt Perrier explains Kansas native grassland preservation at Dalebanks Angus–and his handy phone app that tells him if it’s safe to do a controlled burn on a field without negatively impacting nearby communities.

 

Our group had lots of questions about breeding and artificial insemination, and our farmer/rancher friends answered every question with both facts and good humor.

 

Soybeans from GMO seeds, bred to be resistant to pests and produce higher yield, make it possible for the Sawyers to use far less pesticide and make the best use of land they have available.

 

Horses at the Sawyer Farm enjoyed the treats almost as much as we enjoyed feeding them. Almost.

 

Organic vegetable field of Juniper Hills Farms: I was especially excited about this stop since they’re local to me. I’ve most certainly enjoyed their food without even knowing it!

 

The satisfaction that comes from feeding people is evident when you listen to farmers talk about farming. Scotty Thellman of Juniper Hills Farms is a first generation farmer who is full of enthusiasm for his work–and it shows.

 

Juniper Hills Farms takes hospitality seriously! Nothing in this world like sharing a meal with those who have produced the food you’re enjoying.

 

The sense of connection to the land–and responsibility felt for preserving it–was very evident among those we met. The love they had for the animals was also apparent, as they talked about nights spent in the barn during calving seasons or how they use the latest research to continually adapt their operations to make life more comfortable for their animals.

Now, I’m not one to tell folks what to think. If you’re uncomfortable eating something, don’t! This is a very personal decision and what I think doesn’t matter as much as what YOU think.

But I would suggest you consider information from a variety of sources, to make a more balanced determination. Some people don’t trust industry sources for their information, because businesses are looking to make a profit. That’s how business is sustained. But the same consideration is true for alternative information sources. Controversy sells. So just go in with your eyes, open, you know?

In the end, you’ll have to make the call based on what’s most credible to you.

What I know: the folks I talked to in the course of these few days obviously know more about food than I could ever hope to, even if I had a few lifetimes to study. Personally? I can tell you that I left this trip more convinced than ever, our food supply is in good hands.

Farmers eat the same food we do. They feed their kids the same food we go on to buy in the grocery store.

And if I were a farmer waking up to a face like this? I couldn’t imagine doing anything that might jeopardize his future.

Next generation farmer?

For more info about your food, check out Kansas Living Magazine, the Kansas Farm Food Connection or Best Food Facts. Or just contact your local Agricultural Extension office. They can hook you up with more information than you can easily fit into your brain.

I know, I tried to fit a lot of it into my brain!

Special thanks to Meagan Cramer of Kansas Farm Bureau and Jancey Hall of Kansas Soybean for being such awesome hosts. They saw to it the trip was fun as well as educational, every step of the way.

Thank you to ALL the farmers out there, for all you do. I appreciated y’all before, no question. But getting more of a glimpse into how you do it has only enhanced my respect.

Be kind to farmers, y’all! They feed us.

Do you feel confident about the food you eat?

Dessert in Five

2017-10-04T18:51:22+00:00 Oct 4, 2017 / 1:21 pm |Inspiration|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Eliz~ October 6, 2017 at 11:23 pm - Reply

    I buy alot of farm products near us here in MN. I joined FFA when we moved to this area as a highschool student. Even tho I was a big city girl, I wanted to marry a farmer! Instead I married my old boyfriend from the city. (41 years now)
    But my most favorite meat comes from White Oak Farms. I think they are in Georgia. We save up and splurge! We even eat organ meats we never thought we’d try! :o)

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