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:





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!





[Fill in the blank]less Mondays?

11 02 2011

So I was trying to hunt down a really inspiring Meat on Mondays youtube video, but there are apparently none to be found. Instead, I found a bagillion Meatless Monday campaign videos. The playing field is more like concert hall with Meatless Mondays taking center stage.

What I am wondering is why meat is the topic of debate. It is a renewable resource after all and one that is not even endangered. If we are going to be here a long time, let’s protect a resource that is actually in need of protection. And last I checked, meat was a vital part of human diets… except maybe not the way the Big Mac does it. What about paper and lumber supplies threatening the rainforest or the ever decreasing fossil fuel reserves? These are the items that need to protected! Let’s start paperless Thursdays or Gasless Tuesdays!!





Meat on Mondays

7 02 2011

HAPPY MEAT ON MONDAY!

Meat On Monday

Here is the article in the National Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow newsletter about Meat on Mondays:

University of Arkansas ACT Promotes Meat on Mondays written by Megan Crudup, University of Arkansas ACT

The University of Arkansas’ Block and Bridle and Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow clubs have teamed up to educate students on campus about the importance of beef as part of a healthy diet. With the support of the Arkansas Beef Checkoff and several other sponsors, the clubs have started a college-wide event called “Meat on Mondays.”

“We wanted to counteract the “Meatless Mondays” campaign, but still shed a positive light on the Beef Industry,” said Crystal Ahrens, Block and Bridle president. “We wanted to educate students around the university about the health benefits of having Beef in your everyday diet.”

Free packets of beef jerky and silly bands in the shape of steers and ZIP (Zinc, Iron and Protein) were passed out in various locations around campus as well as at the Arkansas State Fair. The Arkansas Beef Checkoff donated the beef jerky and silly bands for the first wave of handouts.

The Arkansas ACT chapter designed a logo and labels for the packets of beef, as well as orchestrated all media relations. Students worked closely with Jefferson Miller, University of Arkansas agricultural communications professor, to create the promotional materials. Press releases were also sent out to area newspapers and university media outlets.

“This is a great way for our agriculture students to get involved in promoting their industry,” said Miller. “Plus, they can apply their PR skills and their knowledge of meat science and human nutrition along the way.”

I personally love:





A Once Deadly Ice Cream Topping…

27 01 2011

The almond enjoyed today atop ice cream sundaes and amidst trail mix is a far cry from its bitter, fatal roots. The two billion almond industry (I contribute to the Almond Joy sector) of today is made possible by a genetic variation that made domestication of almonds possible. Before domestication, eating only a few dozen of the nuts would be lethal…

The lethal effect is due to the presence of glucoside amygdalin which becomes deadly prussic acid  if the nut is crushed or chewed. And the by-product of prussic acid…. cyanide! Due to the genetic variation the domesticated almond is sweet, instead of bitter, and lacks the ability to produce to the deadly prussic acid. Who knew almond  trees had such a nasty trick up their sleeves branches! Not only does this glucoside amygdalin protect the almond tree from potential predators (including us!) but it also safely attracts pollinating insects and harms potential predators… does anyone else detect a biotech innovation?

The ideal characteristics of the almond are made possible through a single recessive mutation in a gene that blocks the production of amygdalin. The simplicity of the difference between the two means genetic variation amongst wild and domesticated varieties continues today where a handful of individual trees will produce the opposite type of nut.

Almonds have been around awhile now, some 3200 years bp (in case you haven’t heard of bp that means before present and present = the 1950s when carbon dating came in vogue… I learn something new every day!) according to archaeological finds in Numeria, Jordan that included the remains of almond shells alongside other domesticated foods: wheat, barely, and parched grapes.

Almonds were ideal candidates for domestication because a tree is able to grow from the seed alone even before the invention of grafting practices. It’s funny how I am so far removed from horticultural practices that I never think of that as a problem, like people who are far removed from the farm don’t mind if it doesn’t rain hardly at all in the summer.

By domesticating the wild almond a new food source was established that would one day become a major agricultural product (and sundae topping!) we know and love today.





What was, what could be, and what should be?

14 01 2011

In agriculture there is a constant tension between what was, what could be and what should be. It exists in farming practices, where new developments are questioned by consumers who look on past generations with nostalgia.While I see the incredible value of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and pesticide applications, I also look back on old farming practices with nostalgia for the sense of community it reinforced and nurtured. There was a time when harvest was a community effort. Ears were harvested with a corn picker (which is where the term picking corn derived from). The ears of corn would then be stored in a corn crib until the neighbors would get together and shell it. Baling hay was also a community effort. In this way I feel I can relate to the feelings of many consumers.

The tension between what was, what could be and what should be exists for farmers across the United States who struggle to maintain dilapidated outbuildings. My own farm has a cattle barn with a hole in the roof big enough for an elephant to fit through. Due to the fact we do not have any animals sheltered there, it is put on the back burner when there are costly machinery repairs, ever rising costs of farming inputs, etc to attend to. The original barn the cattle barn is attached to has been in existence since 1855 or so with other parts being built in the 1870s, which is about as nostalgic as a barn can get. Ultimately, the barn serves no purpose today (as our machinery is housed in a Morton building and our livestock in a remodeled chicken coop) and each year its disrepair becomes more and more striking. However, for now it is here to stay as a warm, but depressing, reminder of another era.

As more and more barns are replaced with Morton buildings, I believe many farmers can relate to the feeling of valuing what was, seeing the worth of what is and looking forward to what could be. With further education and discusssion I hope doubtful consumers may also come to value what was, see the worth of farming practices today as a safe means to feed the word, and look forward to what could be with members of the farming community. Hopefully this blog post can give us all a little insight to the mutual, or somewhat related feelings, we all have.








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