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!





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.





[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!!





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.





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.





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.








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