Tuesday, October 27, 2015

City Mom - Mom's Choice

I was chosen to participate in the Illinois Farm Families City Mom program for 2015.  I have chosen to write about my experiences while taking part in this program. 

So, I was thinking last night about marketing and farming.  Marketing is such a powerful vehicle because in the end it influences what I think to be truth and how I spend my money.  

Antibiotic free

Hormone free



...and on and on and on.  

What do these claims really mean, though?  

I signed up to share a blog post at the end of this year's City Mom program because I wanted to do a re-cap of what I learned while participating in it.  

I shared about what I learned on the Spring Planting Tour HERE, and what I learned on the Beef & Harvest Tour HERE.  Both were focused on agricultural technology mainly because my misconception of what I farmer is, that of being some guy in overalls using the Farmer's Almanac to figure out when to plant his crop and then doing so in such a way that lacked education and resources to do so as a steward of the land, totally got shot out of the water, quickly, after my participation in the Spring Plating Tour.  

The thing, though, is why isn't the farmer's voice as loud as his opponents?  There are documentaries about how farmers and agricultural business are destroying the American food supply, monopolizing it, trying to control it, don't care about us as consumers, that it's all about making lots and lots of money and at any means.  So, lets spray this, mutate that and push the limits here. 

The one thing that has come up over and over and OVER again in these tours is the "Open Door" policy that all of the farmers have.  "Have a question?  Here's my contact information and the contact information of every other farmer and/or agricultural representative here today."   

Here are some "touchy" topics that I feel should be explained in more detail - 

So, what DOES "Antibiotic Free" mean?

NO ANTIBIOTICS (red meat and poultry):

The terms "no antibiotics added" may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if sufficient documentation is provided by the producer to the Agency demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.

The USDA requires all beef, pork, poultry or milk destined for grocery stores or restaurants be tested and inspected by the Food Safety Inspection Service to ensure there are no antibiotic residues. Farmers also are required to follow strict withdrawal periods for animals given antibiotics.

Learn More about the role antibiotics play on the farm.
(Illinois Farm Families website)
What does this really mean?  The milk and meat that you are consuming is antibiotic free regardless of what it says on the label.  
So, what DOES "Hormone Free" mean?
NO HORMONES (pork or poultry):

Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. Therefore, the claim "no hormones added" cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says "Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones."

The term "no hormones administered" may be approved for use on the label of beef products if sufficient documentation is provided to the Agency by the producer showing no hormones have been used in raising the animals.

(*Specific to the question "Are hormones in food making girls develop early?" & highlighted text to note)
There is no science-based research linking food to early development. Higher body weight has been suggested as a contributing factor. You might not realize it, but all living things contain hormones. Watch this video as Illinois farmers talk about hormones in dairy and meat compared to other food items.https://youtu.be/Lbt3yfdFpQU

I learned on the Beef & Harvest tour that there are 8.5 nanograms of estrogen in a 1 lb. steak that came from cattle that has not been treated with hormones.  There are 11 nanograms of estrogen in a 1 lb. steak that came from cattle that has been treated with hormones.    

Do you eat a one pound steak in one sitting?  I know that I don't.

Also, there are 25 nanograms of estrogen in a potato.  

Oh, and by the way, there are 1 billion nanograms in one gram.  I didn't know that which is why I wanted to pass that information along.  

"People have lots of estrogen, too. An adult male will produce 136,000 nanograms of estrogen every day. A non-pregnant adult female will produce around 513,000 nanograms of estrogen a day. And a pregnant woman will produce 19,600,000 nanograms of estrogen a day."

Oh, and check out the packaging on your next chicken purchase.  Does it say "Hormone Free"?  It doesn't need to.  All poultry is hormone free.  Again, marketing to influence what you think and how you spend your money.  

So, what DOES "Organic" mean?  

For information about the National Organic Program and use of the term "organic" on labels, refer to these factsheets from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service:

Organic Food Standards and Labels: The Facts
Labeling and Marketing Information

Standards-Related Fact Sheets

Can GMOs be Used in Organic Products?
Organic Livestock Requirements
Organic Production + Handling Standards
Labeling Organic Products
Allowed + Prohibited Substances in Organic Production + Handling
Introduction to Organic Practices

While organic and non-organic foods are produced using different farming methods, nutritionally they aren't different.
(Illinois Farm Families website)
And here is a blog post regarding organic labeling

Personally, I don't buy organic anything unless it's the least expensive option.  And, mostly, it's not.  I have chosen not to make food purchases in this manner because I see no difference in the food.

So, what DOES "Natural" mean?

A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as "no artificial ingredients; minimally processed").
(US Department of Agricultural website)

Then why does my package of split chicken breasts say "natural"?  Why does my carton of soy milk say "natural"?  Aren't they by nature, natural? 

It took me about an hour to write this blog post with all the research to link out all the above information.  The best suggestion that I can give is to educate yourself.  Knowledge is power.  And, if you have a question about your food, ask a farmer.  Here is the link to ask a question at the Illinois Farm Families website. In the end, it is a choice.  Educate yourself so that you can make a more informed decision, and not one based on fear or marketing gimmicks.    

Monday, October 26, 2015

City Mom - Beef & Harvest Tour

I was chosen to participate in the Illinois Farm Families City Mom program for 2015.  I have chosen to write about my experiences while taking part in the Beef & Harvest Tour, which happened in early October. 

Let's Talk Analytics!

No, really, let's talk data sets and analytical analysis.  

I shared about agricultural technology when I went on the Spring Planting Tour, and I'm going to share a bit more about technology in this post as well...but, also data sets.  

I know - thrilling!

Also, really?  Farming. Agriculture. Data Sets??  Yes!

I have to qualify here, my husband is a data scientist.  Our dinner table conversations revolve around data use and analytics and dash boards and plot graphs and all that jazz.  I find this particularly interesting from a PR and marketing standpoint.  How can I take that data and market growth or positive output with what I do?  

But, farming and THAT?  

Like I've shared in the past, my mind is being blown open with the technological advances that farmers are using to help better run their operations. And, where my mind opened a bit more on this past trip to Larson Farms, a feed lot (or "Hotel") in Maple Park where they are in charge of the daily care of cattle and grain farm, was when Linda (of Larson Farms) said "This is a Family Farm, it's a business."  It's a business - of course it is and also, there's nothing wrong with that.  I know that I can attest that when I think of farming and business in the same sentence my visual is often warehouse like farming where little to no care is being contributed to the animals and it's about "more" - more animals, more meat, for more profits..and however that needs to be accomplished. That's not the case, though.  And, it has not been the case on any of the tours that I've gone on this year with the Illinois Farm Families.   It definitely was not the case at Larson Farms.  


Let's Talk Tech, ... first

Larson Farms has utilized Temple Gradin's designs for their ultrasound barn.  I knew of Temple Grandin from my subscription to Mother Earth News Magazine as she was a speaker at one of their tours.  I note this only to illustrate that Mother Earth News isn't all that into animal cruelty and harming the earth....so, if a farmer is implementing the barn designs of a noted professor of animal science who is known for her stance on animal welfare, then I kind of think that this farm (and many others) care about the livelihood of their animals.

What the ultrasound allows Larson Farms to do is determine back fat and marbling in their cattle. The genetics of the animal (as in what breed of cattle it is) determines the meat grade cut.  Prime is top, then Choice, then Select. Since Larson Farms is a cattle feed lot, the middle point of the beef cycle, individualized care of the cattle is what's being stressed, and technology allows that to happen because everything is computerized.  From what the cattle are fed, when and how much, to checking the cattle for marbling prior to slaughter via the ultrasound.  This ensures that nothing is wasted, whether it be feed or resources...or manure.  Larson Farms is a self contained farm.  Their bar has an 8 foot basement where manure is collected and then used on their grain crops.  The application of manure on the crops allows for less chemical applications.

Let's Talk Data Sets  

On the grain side of Larson Farms, trucks of corn are brought in from the fields where the corn is tested for moister (prior to being dried) and the truck load is weighed to determine how much product is being brought in.  

In the weight station at Larson Farms

Computerized system in the weight station 

Measures the moister in the corn prior to being dried

Weight scale

About 25% of what is being harvested is being used on the feed lot. Everything else is being sent to an ethanol plant to ship overseas.

Everything that is happening on this farm is not only computerized, but also being filtered into software to produce data sets so that variances can be managed and to determine what needs to be done the following year.  Not only is data being generated and analyzed, but its findings are being applied on the farm to make sure that cost-benefit analysis is utilized to drive the family business, which is farming  

What's new, what's better?

This was the very first time that I was told "if you have an idea, please let us know because we may utilize it here."  The fresh eyes, people who are seeing the farm from a different perspective, we were being encouraged to contribute in an effort to help them.  Not only were we encouraged to ask any questions while there, but to be told that our input was encouraged?  That was fascinating to me.

I heard on this tour that "fear trumps science", and this has been true in my case.  Being someone who works in marketing I know how words can be used to sell things, like food.  What I have learned over and over again on these tours is that farmers want to answer my questions regarding what they do.  They are transparent.  There is nothing to hide.  They do the best to produce what we consume because they, too, are consuming it as well.  Advances in agricultural technology allows for a more streamlined approach so that this can be achieved, better.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Slinging Words, Bearing My Soul - I'm a Storyteller

I'm a storyteller

That seems kind of weird, still, to write...let alone say out loud.  But, I've been sharing bits and pieces about myself in a public setting for well over 13 years.  Though I'm comfortable doing so, because I'm usually exposing my vulnerable, it can still be emotionally and mentally draining.  I do it, though, because I'm a firm believer in the redemptive qualities a good story can have.  And, I know,  KNOW, that what comes from the heart, goes to the heart.  And that, that is a thing of beauty.

My very first public storytelling performance was in May of 2012.  AND IT WAS AMAZING!!  The entire experience completely changed me and I am so indebted to the producers (whom I now count as friends) and the founder of Listen to Your Mother.
Here is the video (with, sadly, bad audio - so crank that volume up).  If you still can't hear it, here is a blog post with the story that I shared .

My next public storytelling performance was in May of 2015.  And that, well, that was even more amazing.  I was able to return to the stage as a Listen to Your Mother Alumna and got to share another little piece of me.
Here is the video (with fabulous audio).

And then, well, it just kind of snowballed...in large part and with gratitude to, David Slattery, fellow LTYM Chicago 2015 cast member and complete know-it-all regarding storytelling events in Chicago.

I went on to take the stage at Second City at the Sunday Morning Stories and was able to stretch a little  >very little<  and try my hand at something a bit funnier by recounting a story about "The Party".

*I've self designated myself as the wet blanket of storytelling, and I'm pretty good at it*
Me on stage                      In front of the banner

Me with LTYM Chicago Alumni & fellow Sunday Morning Story storytellers,
Pamela Valentine & Kathleen Buckley; Group shot of storytellers on stage
(David Slattery is in the front and was one of the hosts of the event);
Pamela Valentine and I at Second City

From there I went on to Uncommon Ground to share a little something about Postpartum Depression on the topic of "Unhinged" at TenX9.

Me on stage                         Group photo of storytellers

The most recent performance I did was last month at Homewood Stories.  I absolutely love what Karen O'Donnell is doing over there and am so grateful that she is bringing storytelling to the south suburbs.
Fellow LTYM Chicago Alumni came to support me at Homewood Stories,
Kathleen Buckley, Tracey Becker & Pamela Valentine; Me with my husband
and father (who came up from Texas)

Here is an audio file that I recorded of the story that I shared at Homewood Stories on September 15, 2015.

And...I'm owning that whole being a storyteller thing.

I'm always reminded of some pearls of wisdom, sage advise, common sense...that a fellow cast member of the 2012 Chicago Listen to Your Mother show shared with me as I talked about being nervous about taking the stage - "Just image you and me sitting at a table, sharing a drink and talking."  Because when I share honestly and am open to the process and am willing to let go of my fears, what comes from the heart, goes to the heart.