The Running Score: Organic Verse Conventional

15 03 2011

Today is it virtually impossible to buy or eat everything we want without something be labeled “organic.” My favorite snack, fruit leather, has cashed in on this growing niche market… and at $6.00 a box or so it must be working out for them. I would gladly eat fruit leather of the non-organic variety and when it comes down to cost, I would prefer it.

So why are so many people doling out the dough to eat organic diets? It might be that it protects the environment, saves the soil, or that is better for our bodies, healthier. It might be that they just don’t know the facts.

And truthfully, neither did I.

What makes something organic? Common answer: it’s all natural. Even more correct, scientifically based answer: Soluble mineral inputs are prohibited and synthetic herbicides and pesticidesare rejected in favour of natural pesticides. Natural, yes. But is it better?

And why is it so expensive? Well, organic farming practices mean lower yields and inefficient use of the land.

An article by Anthony Trewavas said that the leading organic researcher admits that in organic farming “there is very little science” and “this gives rise to a great deal of illogicality and confusion particularly insome areas of production.”

I would think that when it comes to the health of the environment and our families, science would be of the utmost importance.

So here is the break down so far: organic means expensive, unscientific production of food. Conventional is, and again Trewavas said it best: a diverse set of technologies using the best available knowledge, whose ultimate goal is the safe, efficient provision of foods in abundance and at lowest price.  And the score stands:

And as we stand:


Rural vs. City: The Running Score

26 02 2011

Now that I find myself in the big city of Urbana, IL I have discovered there are a lot of things I took for granted throughout my rural childhood. Like the fact that you can have a bonfire anytime, anywhere of any size… without the police showing up. Do city people roast marshmallows in their fireplaces and over stoves? I simply wouldn’t even know! But seriously.

And what about pets? Our family had every kind of pet imaginable: snakes, toads, snapping turtles, mice, pygmy hedgehogs, pigeons, button quail, doves, deer, turkeys, a peacock, snails, etc. But the one thing we never had: a pot bellied pig.

And the thing is, in the city I guess you can’t own barn animals. This I learned from an episode of Animal Cops on Animal planet… when they confiscated a woman’s baby pot bellied pig. In the end, I can see where having roosters would annoy the neighbors (I can hear our neighbor’s from half a mile away!).

And how about the whole well water deal? My brother just opened up a bottle of “Spring Water” and seriously considered dumping it out in favor or good ol’ country well water. I have considered packing a suitcase of well water to bring with me if I ever study abroad. But here I am in the big city with chlorinated water.

Now one would think cities would be preferred in winter weather with better snow removal for their larger populations. But that just isn’t so! I would take my snowed-in driveway I could easily fish-tail my way out of than this: 

Yes, that is my car embedded in snow with an ice consistency. Yes, it took longer to dig my car out of that than to pull my car out of a snow drift with my Dad’s tractor. So farms win again.

Except in ice storms. If a farm loses power your only communication with the outside world was through a land line non-cordless phone. Remember what those look like?

A traditional land line phone for the home or office.

An even bigger annoyance than not being able to pace around your house while you chat up a friend: you loose your access to water. Therefore, a rural family must anticipate such a problem and fill various pitchers, gallon jugs, and even the bathtub with water. Yes, I did say bathtub because a lot of families, including mine, function perfectly well with only one bathroom with one bathtub. Another issue with the loss of water: going to the bathroom. There is the wait and flush later method or the use your water preserve method where you manually flush the toilet with said water.

So these are just a few of my farm vs. city observations. In case you were keeping track the running score is: Rural 4, City 1.

But you don’t have to take my word for it (phrase from Reading Rainbow, a popular television show of my youth): comment if you can think of any other pros/cons for either side or have a different opinion. I’d love to hear from you!

This Blogger Visits the Hospital…

24 02 2011

Sorry for the delay in posting… I started my Wednesday morning with a trip to Memorial Hospital in Springfield, Illinois to visit my boyfriend’s father who had a severe heart attack. He had three stints put in and looks much, much better today. Thank goodness.

However, I did end up finding a copy of farm journal in the cardiac waiting room which sparked a conversation about agriculture. One gentleman was a hired hand, another talked about his experiences on the farm, my boyfriend’s sister-in-law talked about how her parent’s are considering selling a vacation home in order to buy some farm land and I of course had a lot to offer on urbanization near our home farm.

It surprised me that within this room each of us had something to say about agriculture. It was a topic of conversation like where we are from and the weather. I wonder how many generations later will be so far removed from the farm that they don’t have anything to contribute but questions, but that’s okay.

As agriculturalists we should take every opportunity to talk about agriculture (it’s not as taboo as politics, yet!). And as non-agriculturalists we should take every opportunity to ask questions.

Now, I am going to jump off my soapbox I’ve stood on for most of this week and go back into the hospital room.

And please keep this blogger and her almost-family in your thoughts and prayers!

Celebrate National History Month!

31 01 2011

Today officially kicks off National History Month and there is a lot to celebrate! A few generations back, in 1930, my family could provide for 10 people (according to Crop Life Ambassador Network) and today my dad could feed 130 people (I’m not sure how many cows that equals). However, this month is not just about celebrating where we are today but celebrating where we come from.

I come from Benjaminville, Illinois-founded by my great-great-great grandfather John R. Benjamin. While Benjaminville, known today as Bentown, is an important part of my family’s history-it does not define our history.

My family’s history is defined by their beliefs. Benjaminville was founded as a Quaker Community. Quakers do not believe in war. They also believe in equality for different races and women, even at a time when this was a rarity. Therefore, black people lived in Bentown because they knew they would be treated well. Women were respected leaders within the Quaker church. These are important values that my family has preserved to pass down to me.

My family’s history is defined by kindness. A poor gypsy family buried their son on our land because they could not afford a burial plot at the cemetery. My great-grandfather would adopt an orphan boy from the community. My grandmother would call a widower across the way each morning to keep him company and have him over for Sunday dinner each week.

Ingenuity is also an important part of my agrarian heritage. John R. Benjamin, the founder of Benjaminville-regardless of what Wikipedia says, once got lost coming home in the sea of prairie grass (or perhaps it was just dark). He found his way home by following the familiar bark of his dog and later would plow a “road” to Bloomington, Ill. so that it wouldn’t happen again…. as family legend goes t this was essentially the Oakland Ave. Bloomington knows and loves today. Also, my grandfather was an early adapter of terraces and contour plowing. My dad can remember the USDA hosting a tour from Washington DC to see his farming practices.

And yes, my family even has small claims to fame: John R. hired a German immigrant to work for him and in return gave him a tract of land. One day this land would be farmed by his nephew-George J. Mecherle, founder of State Farm. John R’s brother, Rubin, was given his bar exam (to practice law in Illinois after the family relocated) by none other than Abraham Lincoln! The local history museum states that Rubin Benjamin was instrumental to antitrust legislation that limited the power of railroads. Bentown also was home to a semi-pro baseball player at one time.

This list is just a small cross section of the values and stories that make me proud of my family’s agrarian history. I also posted some of the pictures of the last two generations of Benjaminville. I hope to post other pictures throughout the month as well.

This is a picture of my dad, George Benjamin, in front of our old combine. It might not be the newest or shiniest but it gets the job done and there is something to be said for that. There is also something to be said for worn out blue jeans and dirty shirts that represent a hard days work.

This is our tractor, in the back you can see some of our outbuildings on the original farm. We call the red building pictured the shop building. My brother and I used to explore it to see what family treasures we could find, including an old fashioned horse drawn sleigh!

Two generations of Benjamin siblings at Napa Valley.

Women Changing the Face of Agriculture… and vice versa

26 01 2011

It’s no secret that women are constantly changing the face of agriculture in a myriad of ways and for me, this statement has always held a certain sentiment. For thirteen years I watched my mom work alongside my dad on the family farm. Most mothers came to pick their kids up from school in business suits with perfectly applied makeup… mine came covered head to toe in dirt, grime and less than perfectly applied sunscreen-and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I can remember riding around with her in the tractor cab sitting on her lunch-box or sprawled across the extremely cramped back window. Like any farmer-wagon-hauling-tractor-driving-mom knows, she would hold my head or warn me whenever a big bump was coming up so my head wouldn’t tap the window accidentally. I always felt extreme pride pulling up to the elevator alongside her, she was my Rosie the Riveter.

But its not just women in the tractor cab that are changing the face of agriculture, many are doing just as much in business suits and perfectly applied makeup. To find out more, attend the  “Women Changing the Face of Agriculture” conference, held March 4th, 2011, at the Bone Student Center – Illinois State University Campus – in Normal from 9:30 to 3:15, with lunch included. This conference showcases just what all women can and are doing for agriculture. Learn more than what careers are available in agriculture, learn what a difference agriculture can make in your life. I know that my farming background has given me an appreciation for my food, clothing and the land and people that provides it. Women don’t just make a difference for agriculture, agriculture makes a difference to us as well.

In lieu of this conference, I wanted to make one more non-makeup reference and suggestion. For those of you who are changing agriculture outside of a 9-5 office environment check out this website. Red Ants Pants is a company devoted to helping chance the… pants of the working women work force. They are specially designed to fit women and put up with the hard work on day to day basis (not to mention they have a great pants-less marketing campaign!).

So here here to all the women who are changing the face of agriculture! And let’s have a special toast to (not that I’m bias or anything) my mom, who showed me the difference that I can make in agriculture too and guiding me towards that noble path.

Here is a picture of my mom and I on a very, very cold Wisconsin weekend trip.

Hello Everyone!

14 01 2011

Hello! I thought the best way to kick start this blog would be to introduce you to your friendly internet neighborhood blogger, me!! So who exactly am I?

To begin, I was born on a small farm in Central Illinois founded by my great-great-great grandfather (in case you are counting in your head, that’s six generations). You know the saying “location, location, LOCATION!…” well it’s definitely true-growing up on this small farm has pretty much defined me completely.

I learned to love and appreciate animals, from ducks and cows to snakes and garden spiders. In fact, my brother and I had an animal rescue operation when we were in elementary school. Our regular clients included birds and rodents our cats had injured… needless to say we didn’t have video games, internet, or cable television. Other activities included making hybrid dams/bridges to cross from one side of the creek to the other from mud, seaweed, rocks and field tiles.

Today, I refuse to drive on a particular road near our farm that went from field to suburb rather dramatically. Every year the city seems to creep closer and closer, developing more and more prime farmland into excess developments (excess gas stations, Subways, golf courses, etc). Don’t get me wrong, I love shopping and eating and going to movies too… but I know the value in good soil and good people to take care of it too.

Hopefully this introduction gives you a little insight as to who I am. And make sure to stay tuned for more anecdotes and family history!

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