Please read before getting to my post: Everything in today's post is my own opinion, thoughts and feelings with the addition of facts listed by experts. I signed up for this trip when I was originally asked to come out to Iowa to learn more about the journey of how food gets to our plate. This was way before I knew that it was an all expense paid trip which included flight, hotel and meals. I was not paid to attend nor was I told to tell you any scripted text. I'm blogging about my experience is my choice and my personal mission to share what I learned. You'll also be able to find links to back up supporting information from the experts whom I was able to speak with. As with any of my post I welcome any and all feed back whether you disagree or have additional questions, I will do my best to have those questions answered by any of the people I've spoken to in a timely manner. I will not tolerate any comments left which are name calling and disrespectful. I do hope you read with an open mind before jumping to any conclusions. This will be a long post, but I want you to have all of the information I was given in order to make your own opinions.
I have to admit this was an amazing opportunity to attend the Iowa Corn Tour with 6 other talented bloggers, which I hope you stop by their blogs to see their points of views from the trip as well. (Laurie, Lisa, Shanda, Susan, Tanya, Vanessa). It was an action packed 2 days full of fun and knowledge, which left me feel like a sponge taking it all in. The thing that stuck out most for me is we all have a choice. As with everything we do in life we have a choice each and every day of our lives. You have a choice to share the information I've taken away from this experience and share your opinion. Having a choice gives you the option of buying organic, natural or the cheapest priced food items for your family. Of course we want to always get what's best for our family, but is everything we see in the news and read in books the right thing? I think we all listen to what is said on the news and that rules how we view things. What's the best way to find out where our food comes from? I bet if I told you if you called your local farmers you could ask them anything you wanted you probably didn't know you could do that. Well, in fact you can and many times you can go out and visit them, see for yourself first hand without it being edited to what makes good TV. Not all of your food is local, but with all of the labeling now a days you can find out where your food originated from and still call or email them. I never knew farmers cared to talk to little old people like me and answer my questions and respond to my concerns, but that seemed to be one major factor all of the farmers I met had in common. They wall said "how do we reach out to hear from our consumers?". Do you ever hear the farmers being interviewed when there's news related to their industry? Go to the source when you are scared to buy a product not knowing how it was farmed and handled.
I understand that with anything there are some bad systems out there, but not every farm you see is such a horror place like the ones depicted in the movies. If you don't visit them, see for yourself and stand up to help pass laws and vote, then you have no right to fuss about how things are handled. I think people find it easy to play the blame game and they don't take the time to find out what happened, why it happened and how we can better our system. I do hope that this post will help shed some light on issues we have misunderstood as a city girl myself I certainly can say spending a few hours with several farmers has really opened my eyes. Now on to show you all the things we got to do and issues we addressed along the way.
First off let me introduce you to some wonderful people I met…
From left to right: Mindy Williamson - Director of Communications and Public Relations, myself, Claire Masker - Communications Manager, Shannon Textor - Director of Market Development (all from Iowa Corn Growers Association)
Day 1 - October 13th
We left our hotel and headed for a mouth watering breakfast at Iowa Machine Shed which was opened and "dedicated to the American Farmer." That dedication meant that they worked hard to have a restaurant that wasn't just 'farm themed' but would be something that farmers could be proud of. We started out sharing a giant sweet roll. These are delicious and made from scratch and huge so be sure if you come here not to order one for everyone.
While we ate our breakfast we heard from Kevin and Sara Ross, farmers from Minden, Iowa. We learned about what they do and why they are so passionate about educating others. Unlike other farmers we met with Kevin didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps of being a computer programmer and was exposed to farming by his grandparents farm. They now own a 650 acre farm growing corn, soybeans and cattle. Kevin was the first giving us insight of what goes into farming and how you don’t just farm you have to be the onsite mechanic, salesman, vet, and he even supplements his income by selling crop insurance.
After our discussion with Kevin and Sara we headed of to the Living History Farms. If you’ve never been to one of these, I urge you to go. It’s a fascinating trip into time showing the advancements of technology and the significance of agriculture in the development of America.
We headed to the 1900’s section since we where limited on time to get a hands on opportunity for farming.
We met Bill, a Percheron work horse that was a popular farm breed in the 1900s that was used during harvesting before they had the machines we have today. We also met Bill, a farmer in his late 80’s who talked to us about the many changes he's seen in agriculture over the years. Did you know soybeans where first harvested in the 1930’s? When soybeans first made the scene in the 1700’s it was a novelty item and for a while no one knew what to do with them.
We kept walking passing a cow munching on his breakfast.
Then headed into a shed where they had a hand grinder set up so we could take turns at running ears of corn through the machine which removed the corn from the cob. Mike meanwhile continued to tell us the effects of the changing farm technology.
The cobs where then stored to dry and then used to burn in the stoves and fires which produces more heat then wood. Corn feeds others just as it does us. This pig for instance is fed corn which will fatten him up and then he will be sold at the market which will yield a farmer more money then selling the corn out right by the bushel.
Back in the old days they had to be more resourceful with what they cooked. Hillary explained how meals where made and usually eaten for lunch and dinner so they wouldn’t waste anything. Pie safes where used to store items till the next meal as well as cellars since they where a cooler temperature by 50 degrees. Eggs will last up to 6 weeks at room temperature if the bloom is kept on and not washed. (Do not try this using grocery store eggs, it’s already been washed off!!)
With the technology advancements they had a sample field of different corns produced. Similar to crossing breads of flowers and grapes, farmers could get a better yielding crops out of the different hybrids they produced. One example of this is Biotech Corn which has a natural insecticide and Roundup Ready Corn has resistance to the herbicide in roundup that kills weeds while not killing the corn.
We moved along to a building where they had demonstrations of “then and now”, experiments of how to make plastic out of cornstarch and timelines of technology changing over time.
We left the historical farm, traveling on to our next stop at Couser Cattle Farm to meet Jay and Emily Lynch. This was also our stop for lunch in his barn also known as his “man cave”. For lunch we had grilled marinated flat iron steak sandwiches on a baguette roll and Maytag blue cheese spread, fresh spinach salad, candied walnuts, mushrooms, roasted sweet peppers and tomato tarragon vinaigrette, corn risotto, pasta with tangy tossed vegetables and pumpkin cheesecake for dessert.
Jay is a cattle and grain farmer in Nevada, Iowa and is a leading example of how biofuels are helping farmers everywhere giving them more choices on where their corn goes. The seed his family grows goes into seed bags and is planted locally. The crop he grows is used in his feed lot and also goes to the local ethanol plant. Then the left over distillers grain which can’t be used by the ethanol plant is bought back at a low price and fed to the cattle he raises. As he stood in front of a table full of corn in each stage of it’s life, he explained why he gets upset when people claim corn has to be used for fuel or food for us, that’s not true. 1/3 of corn produced goes into ethanol out of that 1/3 comes back as high protein feed, 1/3 goes to making alcohol, 1/3 goes to ethanol itself.
Another fact for you: 3 gallons of water is used to make 1 gallon of ethanol and it takes 9 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of gasoline. So which is more environmentally friendly? Ethanol is made in the US and can be added to gasoline in order to reduce the harmful gases that come from a car’s tailpipe. Iowa currently has 39 ethanol plants and has created 70,000 direct and indirect jobs. 1 bushel of corn can produce at least 2.8 gallons of ethanol and 17 pounds of valuable feed.
We got a sneak peek into his feed lot now accommodates over 10,000 cattle a year. He acquires the cattle between the ages of 5-7 months old once winged from their mother they are then bulked up at his feed lot and sold to be processed.
Another interesting thing I learned is meat should be aged before you eat it. Sounds a little gross, but it’s true. We usually buy the bright red meat because it looks pretty, but to get the best result in tenderness the meat should sit in your fridge for 1-2 weeks before it’s eaten or if you buy it and eat it that day let it sit on the counter for 4 hours exposed to the air. It should be brown in color that’s the aging process and by doing this you’ll be able to cut it with a fork and have no need for a knife. Smell is important of course, if it smells bad then it’s bad. Brown meat = Tenderness. He’s not a fan of veal which if you know anything about that, it’s kept on an iron free diet which turns the meat white.
One main point he kept saying was that we should have the choice to buy organic and pay for it if we want to, while others eat what they can afford by benefiting from the advances in technology. We can not feed the world with organic food alone. We need to take advantage of the genetically modified corn which will yield high seed in order to meet the demand. In the 1900s, an acre of corn yielded 40 to 60 bushels of corn. Today, corn seed modified by Monsanto and Dupont technology can yield 200 bushels an acre.
With the advancements in technology Jay favors spraying the crop by land and not by air. You want to control what is sprayed and where which can be done with 120 foot sprayers without waste.
Next stop was to ride the big machines that cost a farmer $300,000. I’ve ridden in a tractor before, but not one like this. It’s got ac, radio and more technology then you know what to do with. It’s so advanced it will do all the work for you and knows where to turn, tells you the moister in the ground and in the corn. We rode down the isle in the combine then swapped to the dump truck which captures the corn when the combine is full.
A big misunderstanding all farmers say is they don’t want the checks issued by government to supplement their income. They all love what they do and know how to do it so we need to keep that going.
We got a short break resting on the way to our next stop the Iowa Speedway. I really didn’t know what to expect when we got there. I don’t understand everything about cars so I hoped they dumbed it down for us. To my pleasant surprise we got a quick overview of how their track is ran fully off of Ethanol. In my personal opinion if a car goes around the track 180 miles an hour, then why is everyone so scared of it? Corn is not used 100% to make the fuel and we aren’t starving ourselves just to make an alternate fuel source.
I got my pictures with President and CFO Jerry Jauron before heading out to the track.
We walked by where they do their victory pictures then out to the track where we climbed into the lap car and took it for a spin.
3 at a time we got in the car with a driver and hit speeds up into 109 miles an hour.
When we got done we got to walk on the track for some photo ops and check out the slope of the track.
We headed back to the hotel to freshen up then to Jasper Winery where we got an overview of their winery and Iowa’s growing wine industry.
While we feasted on dinner and sipped on wines we heard from Tim and Darla Recker who are hog and seed farmers. Until recently they raised hogs until the prices dropped and they made the decision that the toll it takes on your family and being such a hands on full time job wasn’t worth it. They spoke of how they now grow Monsanto seeds full time which is harvested earlier then seed corn, allowing them not to worry about the weather affected their crops a few months earlier.
Tim mentioned the advances of technology allow him to broker deals finding the best prices by the buyer right over his phone. This allows him to control if his crops go to the ethanol plant, domestically, over to China or other overseas markets. You really get a better understanding of all the hats a farmer wears now a days when you hear of all the work they do to control their land.
After an action packed day I felt like a kid egger to soak in as much knowledge as I could and my head was trying to process everything I learned. Today 98% of all farms in the US are family farms, and the vast majority US agricultural products sold are produced on those farms. Farming today may look different then in years past, but family farmers’ commitment to animal care, environmental protection and wholesome food remains the same.
Stay tuned to Part 2 on Monday which will be full of information provided by Doctor Ruth MacDonald covering all the myths and facts of high fructose corn syrup and other difficult questions asked.