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:





Boycott Bands?

21 02 2011

Sometimes I feel like the whole world is teaming up with PETA, HSUS, Beyond Pesticides against agriculture. And it doesn’t help when a few of my favorite bands are yielding lyrics. I was on my merry way back to Urbana, Illinois listening to Bright Eyes, a favorite band of mine when the lyrics finally registered. Listen for yourself! 

Did you catch it? I have listened to this CD a million times and I had never noticed the pesticide reference.

If you hate the taste of wine
Why do you drink it ’til you’re blind?
And if you swear that there’s no truth and who cares
How come you say it like you’re right?
Why are you scared to dream of god
When it’s salvation that you want?
You see stars that clear have been dead for years
But the idea just lives on

In our wheels that roll around
As we move over the ground
And all day it seems we’ve been in between the past and future town

We are nowhere, and it’s now
We are nowhere, and it’s now
You took a ten-minute dream in the passengers seat
While the world it was flying by
I haven’t been gone very long
But it feels like a lifetime

I’ve been sleeping so strange at night
Side effects they don’t advertise
I’ve been sleeping so strange
With a head full of pesticide

I got no plans and too much time
I feel too restless to unwind
I’m always lost in thought
As I walk a block to my favourite neon sign
Where the waitress looks concerned
But she never says a word
Just turns the jukebox on
And we hum along
And I smile back at her

And my friend comes after work
When the features start to blur
She says these bars are filled with things that kill
By now you probably should have learned

Did you forget that yellow bird?
How could you forget your yellow bird?

She took a small silver wreathe and pinned it onto me
She said this one will bring you love
I don’t know if it’s true but I keep it for good luck

I felt rotten, like it was one of those subconscious priming effects or something akin to backmasking (CHECK THIS OUT!).

What was I supposed to do now, join the  boycott craze? If people can boycott corn syrup (for no reason), then I can boycott something I enjoy on a daily basis too (but would it be for no reason as well?).

Then, I thought about other songs I like that criticize agricultural practices:

They paved paradise and put up a parkin’ lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parkin’ lot

They took all the trees, and put em in a tree museum
And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them
No, no, no, don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise, and put up a parkin’ lot

Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT
I don’t care about spots on my apples,
Leave me the birds and the bees – please
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Hey now, they’ve paved paradise to put up a parking lot
Why not?

Listen, late last night, I heard the screen door swing,
And a big yellow taxi took my girl away
Now don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Hey now now, don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got till it’s gone
They paved paradise to put up a parking lot
Why not, they paved paradise
They put up a parking lot
Hey hey hey, paved paradise and put up a parking lot

I don’t wanna give it
Why you wanna give it
Why you wanna givin it all away
Hey, hey, hey
Now you wanna give it
I should wanna give it
Cuz you’re givin it all away, no no

I don’t wanna give it
Why you wanna give it
Why you wanna givin it all away
Cuz you’re givin it all givin it all away yeah yeah
Cuz You’re givin it all away hey, hey, hey

Hey, paved paradise, to put up a parking lot
la,la, la, la, la, la, la ,la ,la ,la ,la
Paved paradise, and put up a parking lot

Now, I realize that we have stopped using DDT but would the average teenager realize that it is banned today? Would they take the initiative to research DDT and if so would they read to the third paragraph of the Wikipedia article? Agricultural concerns are pervasive in popular culture and through songs like these the environmental concerns of half a century ago survive and thrive today.

So what is the solution? Do I stop listening to my favorite bands because they raise these issues or do I take the initiative to communicate the truth about pesticides? I choose the second option.





We Love [Safe] Farmers

16 02 2011

In the spirit if Valentine’s Day week (because one day of loving is never enough!), I wanted to find a nice “We Love Farmers” youtube video. Here is what I came up with:

And I kept looking to give all you farmers a little loving this holiday season…. but what I ended up finding set this blog post in a totally different direction than I had anticipated. This next youtube video made me want to emphasize that farmers are loved and appreciated, so be safe! I think production agriculturalists sometimes take for granted how large and dangerous farm machinery can be.

I hope this video encourages us all to take our time. Don’t rush into the planting season too soon when it is too wet. Be aware of your surroundings (especially deep ditches and power lines).

Here is an informational video about tractor safety tips involving a tractor and liquid manure spreader:

Another thing, don’t text and drive in a car OR a tractor OR combine OR any other motorized vehicle. Teenagers aren’t the only one abusing texting and smart phone apps.

The overall take home message: be safe! And…. Peace Love and Corn, which is apparently available as a bumper sticker too: http://images2.cpcache.com/product/450061762v3_480x480_Front.jpg… in case you need a belated Valentine’s Day gift!!

Corn Bumper Sticker





Valentine’s Day=Flowers=Agriculture!

14 02 2011

If you are lucky enough to ever have received flowers on Valentine’s Day you are playing a role in the agricultural sector called Horticulture: Horticulture is the industry and science of plant cultivation including the process of preparing soil for the planting of seeds, tubers, or cuttings…etc

We all know that scientists are mixing and matching genes to make brilliant corn plants for our fields that ward off pesky bugs or to make wonderful bean plants that are resistant to important herbicides that kill off pesky weeds.

But what are these brilliant scientists doing in Horticulture to bring you even more spectacular flowers than mother nature can provide? Who would have guessed that your flower bed could be a product of genetic engineering?!

Even more amazing, that the same technology bringing us super purple petunias, could be life-saving (or at least life-altering!!) as well!

NOVA has the answer.

For more information/the longer 14 minute version go to: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/rnai.html.





Anti-Ag Propaganda Anyone?

4 02 2011

A pig practically in tears to accompany this article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=antibiotic–in-food-animals. It is time to make sure that our rebuttals are heard by more than just the agricultural community.





Roundup Ready [Insert Name of Crop Here]

3 02 2011

The Roundup ready revolution is here… agriculturalists are all well aware of the miracles roundup can provide. First with soybeans now alfalfa, corn, cotton, spring canola, sugarbeets and winter canola. However the phrase “We have the technology” doesn’t mean we can use the technology. Lower courts had actually prohibited Roundup alfalfa to be sold without further study which was appealed by the Supreme Court. Many feared that alfalfa regulations (such as dictating where it could and could not be planted) would be a precedent for other GM crops. 

Well, the fat lady finally sang and Roundup Ready Alfalfa growers enjoyed their front row seats. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that Roundup Ready Alfalfa may be planted without restriction. “After conducting a thorough and transparent examination of alfalfa through a multi-alternative environmental impact statement (EIS) and several public comment opportunities, APHIS has determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “All of the alfalfa production stakeholders involved in this issue have stressed their willingness to work together to find solutions. We greatly appreciate and value the work they’ve done so far and will continue to provide support to the wide variety of sectors that make American agriculture successful.”

However, many seem upset that the show is finally over. One article states, “USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops and its decision to appease the few companies who seek to benefit from this technology comes despite increasing evidence that GE alfalfa will threaten the rights of American farmers and consumers, as well as damage the environment.”  It goes on to say, “To win these critical and difficult battles, the entire organic community, and our allies in the conventional food and farming community, will have to work together.” Apparently those in favor of organic foods are the Allies and biotechnology is the Axis Powers… I didn’t know that trying to feed the world was a crime.

And another states, “This creates a perplexing situation when the market calls for a supply of crops free of genetic engineering. The organic standards prohibit the use of genetic engineering, and consumers will not tolerate the accidental presence of genetic engineered materials in organic products yet GE crops continue to proliferate unchecked,” said Christine Bushway, executive director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association in a statement. If anything the high prices of organic foods is the crime. Regardless, I’m not sure why organic is such an issue when people don’t necessarily eat alfalfa (who really eats alfalfa sprouts anyways). I don’t know any organic cows or rabbits who are overly concerned about organic verse GM crops.

Finally, and most importantly, I feel that farmers have the right to grow whatever they wish on their own property. It is each individual’s responsibility to preserve the integrity of their fields in the best way we see fit. Part of that responsibility is detasseling and other measures to preserve that integrity. Regulations are not the answer to this issue. The important issue is food safety and that was established.

Please leave comments, concerns, corrections, or opinions.





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.








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