One of the best aspects of farming is taking both full responsibility and full pride in whatever happens in my fields.

Illinois Farm Families Blog

Jun 29 2016

What's Cooking Wednesday: Hot and Sweet Grilled Cheese

Spice up a classic grilled cheese with peach jalapeño jam. June is National Dairy Month, so we are celebrating with recipes featuring products from our local dairy farmers! Dale and Linda Drendel raise dairy cows with their son, Jeff, on their farm in Hampshire, Ill. Jesse and Mary Faber help Mary's family raise dairy cows on their farm in Pontiac, Ill.

From our families to yours, enjoy the food on your table!

INGREDIENTS


For peach jalapeño jam:
  • 3 tablespoons peach preserves
  • ½ fresh jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped (about 2 teaspoons)
For sandwiches:
  • 1½ tablespoons unsalted butter softened
  • 4 slices 12-grain bread
  • 2 slices white Cheddar cheese
  • 2 slices Pepper Jack cheese
  • 2 slices smoked Gouda cheese
  • ½ small avocado, thinly sliced

INSTRUCTIONS


  1. For peach jalapeño jam, combine peach preserves and jalapeño in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir mixture constantly until the preserves are melted. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. For sandwiches, preheat a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Butter one side each of 2 slices of bread. Turn buttered slices over, buttered side down, and spread jam over the second side of each bread slice. On top of jam side of each bread slice, layer 1 slice of white Cheddar cheese, 1 slice of Pepper Jack cheese, half the slices of avocado and 1 slice of smoked Gouda cheese. Spread jam on the 2 remaining slices of bread and place jam side onto the cheese. Spread remainder of butter on bread on top of sandwiches.
  3. Place sandwiches buttered side down in preheated pan. Partially cover with a lid, allowing steam to escape, and cook for 1½ to 2 minutes or until bread is toasted and browned. Flip sandwiches over with a spatula. Partially cover with a lid and cook for an additional 1 ½ to 2 minutes, watching carefully for the bread to brown and the cheese to melt. Remove lid and check for doneness. Remove sandwiches from heat and cut in half. Serve warm.

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Recipe courtesy of:

Jun 28 2016

Down and Back

We woke up Wednesday morning to rain. Blessed rain!

But it was 4:30 a.m. and it took me a few minutes to figure out it was also windy and stormy and thundering. Like, really windy. We got up and battened everything down and I basically prayed for the next half hour: “Please don’t blow the corn down.”

By 5:30, it was light but we had no power. We made some executive decisions (command decisions!), since we were both supposed to be in Springfield to help at the Red Angus junior nationals in a couple hours. John would stay home and figure out power (and water and livestock and crops) and I would go on to Springfield. (Plus, I had an interview with the new Illinois State Fair manager…stay tuned for that next week.)

Power was back on by 8:30 and John texted me later: “Went to look at corn. Threw up.”

What he found was corn down everywhere. Badly and thoroughly and consistently, in nearly every corn field we planted.

Prior to this storm, we were, as a friend described, “on the dry side of perfect.” For sure, it had been a great spring. Certainly, we were dry – I was in Kansas last week and it was greener there than here - but corn had only recently begun to suffer and roll in the heat. Overall, it was a good looking crop but as of Wednesday, it was mostly laying on the ground. So bummed.

Then Thursday morning? It was back up. Almost all of it. Redemption! Relief!

It may still be a little tangled at harvest. And for sure, we’re fortunate this happened now, instead of a couple weeks from now when everything will be tassling.

But we’ll take a little redemption after 24 hours of gloom.

And we know it could’ve been worse. While corn from here to three counties north and west was blown down, farms near Pontiac and Seneca lost homes, barns and buildings Wednesday night. Many prayers for those folks as they clean up and rebuild, and many praises that no one was killed or injured. That’s been the theme this spring as tornadoes have popped up across Illinois: damage, but no loss of life. We’ll take that, every day. Corn, barns, houses? They can all be replaced. People, not so much.

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Originally posted on My Generation: Prairie Farmer.

Marietta, IL

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise their three children. On their farm, they grow crops and raise cattle with John's parents. Holly is also an associate editor for Prairie Farmer magazine, a publication dedicated to sharing information about farm life and farm business.

Jun 27 2016

Surprised By How My Local Farmers Treat The Environment

A week after my first IL farm tour day my mind is still reeling with everything I learned! I wanted to be a field mom so I could get out and see my food at its source. Assuming I knew at least the basics of how corn was grown, I was most interested to see the cattle and dairy cows being raised by the Martz and Drendel families. My biggest concerns were regarding their daily routine, level of care and learning about hormones and antibiotics used and how they may impact my family.  I definitely learned a lot about the animals, but learned so much more about topics I didn’t even consider. Overall it was a great day to learn and experience a day on a farm—combine and grain cart rides included!


Like many other field moms, I was quite surprised when we arrived at the Larson Farms. We were expecting a farm house and instead got a modern house that functions as an office for a very substantial farming operation.  Within the first few minutes I was struck by how the Martz family uses technology in their farming operation. Mike described using ultrasound to determine the fat/muscle ratio for the cattle.  Lynn later described how they use GPS on the farm machinery to determine how much nitrogen or phosphorous is in the soil, the amount that needs to be added, how much seed to plant where and the yield of each section of field. In both instances the use of assistive technology allows them to be restrained in the use of their resources to keep costs down and reduce their environmental impact.

I was surprised to hear about the environment repeatedly on our farm day. The Mississipi River, run-off, and strategies for nurturing their land were all mentioned multiple times. It was apparent that each family farm valued the land they had, but were also aware that their actions affect others down the road or downstream.  Both families referred to the growing world population and what they personally were doing to try to meet that demand (much of the grain and soybeans in IL and specifically at Larson Farms already goes to China).

Overall it was an amazing, busy day that taught me a ton about the planning and processes that go into making some of my families favorite foods. There is no way to capture all of the day’s events and discussions adequately. I am thankful for family farms like these when we sit down for steaks on the grill and ice cream for dessert!

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Fascinated with Fertilizer
Science: The Farmer's AND Consumer's Friend

Amy Hansmann
River Forrest, IL

Amy is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2012 City Moms. Throughout the year she visited Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.

Jun 23 2016

Not So Sure About GMOs: An open conversation with Monsanto

GMOs and biotechnology are among the most asked about topics on watchusgrow.org. Recently, a group of IFF City Moms, who have toured Illinois farms and wanted to ask additional questions about Monsanto, were given the opportunity to visit their Biotechnology Research Center. The tour was provided by Illinois Farm Families.

When Illinois Farm Families reached out to the City Moms to offer us a tour of Monsanto’s facilities, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew that it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. There is quite the social media buzz around Monsanto, and I couldn’t wait to check it out for myself. Before I knew it, I was off the plane in St. Louis and heading towards Monsanto’s compound.

Once we were there, things got interesting. The Monsanto employees were more than open to conversations addressing any questions and concerns that we had. And trust me, we had plenty. Honestly, it was a bit of information overload. It really would be next to impossible to sum it all up in a concise blog post. Instead of attempting (and likely failing) to share everything that I learned during our day at Monsanto, I’m going to focus in on an area that I know many people have concerns about: genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Standard molecular breeding involves only DNA from the plant you are trying to change, while genetic modification involves taking DNA from other organisms and using an agrobacterium method to incorporate that into the plant you are trying to change. As a Janice Person, the online engagement director at Monsanto, told us, with GMOs, “we find something in nature that would be awesome to have in this plant, and we find a way to make it happen”. For example, one of the philanthropies that Monsanto is involved with in Sub-Saharan Africa, Water Efficient Maize for Africa, or WEMA, used GMO technology to develop a drought-resistant corn. They took plants that had collapsible roots in times of drought and used their genetics in corn. This way, even in such harsh conditions, the plants are still open to the idea that water is coming, and while they might not be actively growing during these periods, they do not die off like corn typically would in such circumstances. Monsanto is also working on using GMOs to develop a soybean that would produce healthy omega 3s, which would benefit vegans or other people with limited meat and seafood intake.

Monsanto’s facility houses the largest concentration of plant science in the world. Seeing it in person was a bit surreal. We’d walk down hallways made of industrial-looking concrete, open a door, and step into a corn field, or messes of green soy plants. Different rooms are controlled to reproduce the environmental conditions of specific regions. From a hallway in a building in Missouri to a room full of soy growing in the oppressively humid conditions of the Mississippi Delta. The industry is required to do specific studies in order to receive approval for each product that they want to introduce into the market. Monsanto spends years and millions of dollars to get a product through the approval process. Among other things, they are required to prove that there is no significant nutritional difference between the GMOs and conventional produce. Monsanto has faith in the science behind both their product development and the testing for the regulatory process, and they are trusting that science to ensure that they distribute safe, nutritious products.

Monsanto believes that they have the science on their side to prove that GMOs are not a safety issue, but some feel that using GMOs is more of a moral issue. The great thing is that we, as consumers, have options. If you still feel uncomfortable with GMOs, it’s not difficult to avoid them. Right now, there are 8 GMO crops in the market: corn, soybeans, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, canola, papaya, and squash. If you see any of those key crops listed on the nutritional label, there is a chance that that product contains GMOs. GMO apples and potatoes were recently approved to be sold commercially, but they are not yet on the market. If you don’t want to consume GMOs at all, buying products labeled “certified organic” is a great option.

If GMOs are an area of concern for you, my suggestion would be to do the research so that you can make an educated decision of your own. In visiting Monsanto, I found that they were very open to discussion, regardless of how many skeptical questions we threw their way. They admit that the biotech industry hasn’t done a great job of communicating about GMOs, and they are trying to change that through open conversation. You can find more information through several on-line sources, including GMOAnswers.com, or you can contact Monsanto directly through their social media profiles like Facebook and Twitter. While I’m still figuring out my own comfort levels regarding GMOs, I appreciate Monsanto letting us come in, see what they are doing, and have an open discussion with them about our concerns.  It was an experience that I’m glad I didn’t pass up.



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Bollingbrook, IL

Ellen is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.

Jun 22 2016

What's Cooking Wednesday: Beef Burrito with Pepper Jack Cheese and Black Beans

Spice up this classic beef burrito by adding warm pepper jack cheese and black beans. June is National Dairy Month, so we are celebrating with recipes featuring products from our local dairy farmers! Dale and Linda Drendel raise dairy cows with their son, Jeff, on their farm in Hampshire, Ill. Jesse and Mary Faber help Mary's family raise dairy cows on their farm in Pontiac, Ill.

From our families to yours, enjoy the food on your table!

INGREDIENTS

  • ½ pound ground beef sirloin
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 cup chunky salsa, divided
  • 2 cups cooked brown or white rice
  • 6 (9-inch) whole wheat flour tortillas
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (11-ounce) can corn kernels, drained
  • 2 cups shredded Pepper Jack cheese
  • sliced green onion, including green tops

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In medium non-stick skillet, brown ground beef and garlic over medium heat; (break beef mixture up into smaller chunks with a spoon). Drain fat and stir in ½ cup of the salsa; set aside.
  2. Spread ⅓ cup of rice on center of a tortilla, leaving a ½-inch border. Scatter about 2 tablespoons of beans and 1½ tablespoons of corn over rice. Spread ⅓ cup of the beef mixture and ¼ cup of the cheese over corn. Top with 2 teaspoons of the salsa and a few pieces of green onion. Fold in two opposite edges of tortilla one inch each and roll up. Place, seam side down, on microwave-safe dish.
  3. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Place burritos in a microwave oven and heat 1 minute or until heated through. Serve with remaining salsa.

Related posts:

Recipe courtesy of:

Jun 21 2016

How Farmers Are Protecting Illinois Water

The IL Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy was released last year.  It was a big deal for farmers.  But maybe (probably?) you have no idea what it is or what it means.  If so, this post is for you.

Farmers apply nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients to their fields to help crops grow and maximize yields.  This is pretty much like you applying MiracleGro to your potted house plants or your garden, but on a huge scale.

In a perfect world, farmers apply the nutrients, the plants grow enormously big, strong, and prolific because they are “eating” the nutrients, and everyone is happy.  But what happens when the nutrients are applied at the wrong time?  In the wrong amount?  Or the plants don’t grow and don’t use the nutrients like what happened to farmers during the drought?

In each of those cases, the nutrients are left in the field.  And when the spring rains come, the nutrients hitch a ride with the running water to the nearest ditch, then a creek, then a stream, a river, and end up exactly where we don’t want them.

This is bad for clean water, but also bad for farmers.  They paid for those nutrients (and nutrients are VERY expensive!) and they really want the plants to use them instead of watching them escape the field.

So the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy is basically exactly what it says – its a list of ways that farmers can help minimize nutrient loss from their fields.  The EPA has written the list, and now they leave it to ag associations and agribusiness to help farmers understand and implement the strategies on their own fields.

Of course IL Corn is doing just that – along with Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Council on Best Management Practices, Illinois Pork Producers Association, GROWMARK, Syngenta, and others.

What are some of the things farmers are being asked to do?


  1. Change the timing of their nitrogen applications.  It makes a lot of sense for farmers to apply nutrients when the plant needs them most to grow.  The problem is that equipment and availability doesn’t always make it possible for every farmer to apply their nitrogen at the exact same time of year … but we’re working on helping farmers through that.
  2. Change the amount of nutrients they apply.  Farmers like this one because applying fewer nutrients means paying less money.  We’re encouraging farmers to do soil testing throughout their field, determine which areas of the field need a boost and which do not, and then apply nutrients only where needed.  New GPS technology helps with this and makes the process very efficient.
  3. Grow cover crops.  We’ve figured out that for some farmers, applying nutrients in the fall, but also planting a crop that will grow a bit in the fall, hold the nitrogen within the plant through the winter, and then kill that crop before planting corn in the spring can work very well.  The techniques will be different for every farmer in Illinois because of our diverse weather from north to south.

These are just a couple of the options, but each can make a big difference for individual farmers and for the water supply!

Maybe hearing from a real farmer will help!  This is Garry Niemeyer, Illinois farmer, talking about what his conservation plan is for one of his fields near the Springfield watershed.

Do you have more questions about clean water, nutrient loss, or the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy?  I’d love to answer them!



Originally posted on Corn Corps.

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Lindsay Mitchell
Bloomginton, IL

Jun 17 2016

The Science and Safety Behind GMOs

GMOs and biotechnology are among the most asked about topics on watchusgrow.org. Recently, a group of IFF City Moms, who have toured Illinois farms and wanted to ask additional questions about Monsanto, were given the opportunity to visit their Biotechnology Research Center. The tour was provided by Illinois Farm Families.

On a beautiful spring day I jetted down to St. Louis to visit the massive and impressive Monsanto facilities. It was an informative visit with discussions, a tour, and a couple of panel discussions. I learned a wealth of information about the giant seed company. The greatest takeaway from the day, though, is that there is a lot more science behind seed development than you may think.  


Monsanto employs a vast number of scientists in order to produce seeds that are safe and will do what they set out for them to do. There are over 1500 PhD’s on staff, and 5000 employees with Masters degrees or above. Our tour guide himself had 4 degrees! On the visit I also met an entomologist (bug scientist) and a toxicologist. I asked a Monsanto employee to give me a run down of some other scientists that they employ, and that list is impressive: agronomists, analytical chemists, bioinformatics scientists, chemists, chemical engineers, data scientists, discovery scientists, ecologists, environmental scientists, environmental chemists, field research associates, formulations, chemists, imaging scientists, lab research associates, material scientists, medical doctors, microbiologists, molecular biologists, patent scientists, plant breeders, plant pathologists, and statisticians.  That list isn’t even exhaustive!   

The majority of our tour was spent talking about and observing the science behind the seed development and the amount of time, money, and work that goes into seed development. There are 600 scientists alone devoted just to safety. As an informed consumer, I trust these experts. There is just so much that I don’t know, but that they do know. Just like I wouldn’t go into my doctor’s office and make my own diagnosis, I’m not going to tell Monsanto, or any other seed company what they should do or not do. They have the knowledge. They have the wisdom. They have the expertise.

 

Travel expenses within St. Louis and lunch courtesy of Monsanto.

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Chicago, IL

Nicole is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.

Jun 15 2016

What's Cooking Wednesday: Chocolate Berry Smoothie

Stay cool this summer by treating your taste buds and your muscles to this delicious, protein-packed drink. June is National Dairy Month, so we are celebrating with dairy products from our local dairy farmers! Dale and Linda Drendel raise dairy cows with their son, Jeff, on their farm in Hampshire, Ill. Jesse and Mary Faber help Mary's family raise dairy cows on their farm in Pontiac, Ill.

From our families to yours, enjoy the food on your table!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1¼ cups fat-free chocolate milk
  • 1 cup frozen mixed berries without sugar (blackberries, blueberries and raspberries)
  • 1 container (5.3 ounces) fat-free mixed berry Greek yogurt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Combine chocolate milk, frozen berries, and yogurt in a blender. 
  2. Blend until creamy. Serve immediately.

Related posts:
What's Cooking Wednesday: Make your own ice cream!

Recipe courtesy of:

Jun 14 2016

The Non-GMO Food Label Is A Lie

You may have noticed more and more food items being marketed as “Non-GMO Certified.” As Americans, we are familiar with food being sold for what it is not, so we don’t think much about the fundamental absurdity of this new labeling.

After decades of being sold “non-fat,” “zero cholesterol” or more recently “gluten-free,” this looks like just one more marketing claim. In fact, the non-GMO label is fundamentally different because it is based on an entirely false assumption.

The truth is, virtually all the foods we eat have been “genetically modified,” and often in dramatic ways. The widespread belief that our food still resembles what our ancestors domesticated out of “nature” is only a demonstration of how little we understand history and science. However, this new appeal to our ignorance is definitely coming from “someone who is selling something.”

Recently, I saw an ad in a trade magazine that compelled me to go tilt with the windmill that is “non-GMO” labeling. The ad was promoting the potential “Texas-Sized Sales” of bags of Sweet Scarlett’s grapefruits. I love those grapefruits. They are tasty and sweet, a beautiful red color, and seedless. I’m happy that my favorite stores carry this excellent product. But at the bottom of this particular ad, I noticed the logo declaring that these are “Non-GMO Project Verified.” That crossed a line for me.

These delicious grapefruit varieties are a textbook example of how crops were genetically modified back in the 1960s and ’70s using a method called “mutagenesis breeding.” Basically, seeds (or in this case pieces of budwood) were exposed to gamma radiation in substantial doses, and then sifted through to find ones with mutations to their DNA that had desirable qualities. You don’t get much more “genetically modified” than that! That positive plant breeding story could certainly be made to sound scary in terms of unintended consequences, but in fact, thousands of modern plant varieties were modified this way. To date there is no track record of bad effects on consumers. There are now far more precise and controlled ways to genetically modify crops, but only certain new methods have been singled out for opposition as “GMOs,” while clumsy old methods, like mutagenesis breeding, escape this demonization.

So my problem with calling these grapefruits “non-GMO” is simple. These fruits are absolutely “genetically modified.” To call this product non-GMO is a lie. That is true for most other non-GMO labels. These are also lies that dovetail with another long-term lie that has been widely disseminated in the Internet age – a “lie with pictures.” I’m talking about the widely used, stock-photo images illustrate of ready to eat fruits and vegetables stuck full of large hypodermic needles that are used in campaigns against “GMO food” Those images bear absolutely no resemblance to how plants are genetically engineered, but they are a powerful lie that has been quite effectively used to manipulate consumers.

What is truly disappointing is that the non-GMO “labeling lie,” and its inevitable connection to the photo-lie, is officially sanctioned by the very federal agency charged with truth in labeling for foods. In its guidance document on the subject, the FDA says that while it “prefers” more accurate wording on labels, it “will not pursue enforcement actions” with regard to the use of the “non-GMO” terminology. Thanks for protecting us from inaccurate labeling, FDA.

There is another reason that this particular kind of disinformation is a problem. The grapefruit farmers in Texas are facing a threat that is common to all citrus growers. Already, an exotic bacterial disease spread by a newly introduced insect (Asian Citrus Psyllid) has destroyed half of the oranges in Florida. The pathogen and vector have already made it to many other states, including Texas and California, and even with intensive efforts to contain the threat, it is probably only a matter of time before other citrus crops go into decline. For me, this intensifies the absurdity of marketing a very much “genetically modified” crop as non-GMO, because one of the best hopes for saving citrus crops is through modern genetic engineering – the kind where you actually know what you are doing to the genes. How will the marketers then back-track on their implicit message that “GMO” is a bad thing? Most likely the bacteria will win and the farmers and consumers will lose.

I have spent a vast amount of my own time over the last seven years writing blogs and articles defending modern agriculture against disinformation. I have great respect for the farmers who produce our food and for companies like Wonderful Citrus who clean, pack and ship that food to consumers. Thus, I’m uncomfortable calling out this and other food/produce companies who have jumped on the non-GMO labeling train. Even so, I feel compelled to do that, not just in the case of this “Texas Sized” lie, but also across the board. I challenge the food industry to reject this kind of marketing even if it is FDA sanctioned and highly appealing to your marketing folks. I’ll leave you with another thought that has been well articulated by “the Dread Pirate Robert.”

You are welcome to comment here and/or to email me at sdsavage@gmail.com.  I have tried to contact the marketing company for these grapefruits and have gotten no response.  I have contacted the non-GMO certification group, but they have yet to put me in contact with anyone willing to discuss the science related to their certification of this or other crops.  I don’t know who to talk to at the FDA about this. If you know a good contact there, please let me know.



Originally posted on Forbes.

Related posts:


Steve has been involved with agricultural technologies for more than 30 years. After a B.S. in biology at Stanford he pursued an M.S. and Ph.D in Plant Pathology (study of the diseases of plants) at the University of California, Davis, working on grape diseases. He has worked on dozens of crops from strawberries to potatoes to wheat. He has worked on topics ranging from biotechnology, to bio-fuels, to pesticide residues assessments, to technologies that reduce food waste. Since 2009 he has also been blogging and speaking with the goal of sharing true stories about the people and innovations characteristic of modern food and agriculture.
Jun 08 2016

Why I No Longer Believe That Monsanto Is The Devil

GMOs and biotechnology are among the most asked about topics on watchusgrow.org. Recently, a group of IFF City Moms, who have toured Illinois farms and wanted to ask additional questions about Monsanto, were given the opportunity to visit their Biotechnology Research Center. The tour was provided by Illinois Farm Families.

On Saturday, May 21st (March Against Monsanto Day) I was walking through the Monsanto Research Center in Chesterfield, MO., not outside of its gates.

Since participating in multiple farm tours with the Illinois Farm Families City Mom program, my outlook on farming and agriculture has changed - drastically.  I flew into St. Louis with an open mind, yet knowing that I was about to cross the threshold of a company that I associated with trying to take over the world's food supply; a company that was sue happy with farmers, destroying entire communities in the process; a company that knowingly manufactured cancer causing chemicals; a company whose mutant plants were causing everything from allergies to autism...pretty much a visual picture of a skull and crossbones is how I would have described Monsanto. 

I'm the person who got maybe 80 pages into the book The World According to Monsanto and couldn't continue because it was raising my anxiety level and messing with my sleep.  I waited an additional month before I forced myself to watch the documentary.  I was the person who "liked" the social media pages and groups that created the memes and posted the articles that perpetuated my misguided notions about not only Monsanto, but farming and agriculture as well.

Do you know what happened to me at Monsanto?

I was put at ease.


"Oh, but you saw a dog and pony show."
"Oh, but they only told you want they wanted you to know, not the truth."
"You're a fool!"

Sure, why not and yes to all of that.  Because you know what, I know that those comments are going to continue to come.

Here's what I learned, though:


World Population vs. Food Supply


In 2011 (5 years ago), the world population hit 7 billion people. 
The world population by 2050 is projected to hit 9 billion people.

Currently, farmers are not producing enough food to feed the current population.  Let me say that again, THERE IS NOT ENOUGH FOOD BEING PRODUCED.  Additionally, food is not evenly distributed leading to malnourishment and hunger.   

What is Monsanto doing to help this?

"We are working to double yields in our core crops by 2030. These yield gains will come from a combination of advanced plant breeding, biotechnology, and improved farm-management practices."

How?

Well, let's talk soybeans, shall we? 

Monsanto is working on increasing the soybean yield from 3 beans per pod to 4 beans per pod.  What exactly does that mean? 

  • 1 more bean per pod over 1 acre will equal 
  • 1 additional bushel at harvest

That means more food.

Let's talk drought tolerant corn.

Monsanto joined the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) partnership to bring drought tolerant and pest protected seeds to improve food security to more than 25 million people in Sub-Sahara Africa.  

Here is a wonderful Q&A post that illustrates how this is impacting world hunger:

Q. World hunger is a growing concern. How many lives would you estimate that the WEMA partnership has impacted?

A. With the deployment so far of 367 tons reaching 36,700 farm-households in Kenya, if we assume an average of 6 people per household, the products in Kenya alone would have impacted at least 220,200 lives since the deployment to farmers started in September 2013.

Again, more food...


GMO Seeds - What I Thought vs. Reality


What I thought - probably like some of you, was that Monsanto was injecting individual seeds with questionable chemicals that would mutate the seed without ever taking my (or your) health or quality of life into consideration when doing so. 

That's not the case, though. 

First, let's start with what a GMO is:

"A genetically modified organism is created by taking a beneficial trait, like insect or disease resistance, from one living thing and introducing it into another to help it thrive in its environment. They are often referred to as GMO's." 

-Farm to Plate: Learning How Food is Grown - Monsanto

"Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. The technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology”, sometimes also “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering”. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between nonrelated species. Foods produced from or using GM organisms are often referred to as GM foods." 

-World Health Organization

"...an organism or microorganism whose genetic material has been altered by means of genetic engineering."

-Random House Dictionary

How is the seed modified?

Through an agrobacterium transfer where the parent plants' DNA is modified with the gene they want to add and then the plants are propagated. 

What GMO seeds allow for farmers is the ability to minimize damage to crops from weeds and pests. What this then allows the farmers to do is limit their use of herbicides and pesticides to improve their environmental impact, on all of us.  It also leads to no-till farming which improves soil health and water retention. It also helps cut farm costs by reducing the use of insecticides on insect-resistant crops and water usage during droughts with drought-tolerant crops.

And, you know what? GMO's aren't every food. Currently there are NINE crops available commercially:

  • Corn *Monsanto produced seed*
  • Soybean *Monsanto produced seed*
  • Cotton (used for oil) *Monsanto produced seed*
  • Alfalfa (used for animal feed, not those yummy sprouts on your sandwich) *Monsanto produced seed*
  • Sugar Beets (used to make refined sugar) *Monsanto produced seed*
  • Canola (used for oil) *Monsanto produced seed*
  • Papaya
  • Squash *Monsanto produced seed*
  • Potatoes
  • And, keep your eyes on rice - enriched with beta-carotene (Vitamin A), which should be coming to market soon.  Why GMO rice?  30% of the world's population is deficient in iron according to the World Health Organization.  Want more information, check out this link: Golden Rice Project.

I'm not sure about you, but that is not all the food that I eat, and I'm a pescetarianism.  I don't think that I've ever had a papaya before in my life.  I'm just saying, I'm not worried about this.

Roundup - What I Thought vs. Reality


What I thought - it's a cancer causing chemical that is poisoning not only humans, but the earth.

You too, huh?

Well, here's the deal, IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) is an agency that looks at cancer causing hazards.  It does not evaluate actual human risk, that's what regulatory agencies do.  In 2015, IARC claimed that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.  This classification (2A) is also held by those who consume red meat, work a shift that involves circadian disruption, and if you are a hairdresser or barber.

*Sidebar* I don't know about you, but I used to eat red meat, I worked the third shift, and I grew up in a beauty salon... and my mom used Roundup.  And today, I'm okay.  Just saying.  

And, actually, Reuters did an investigation on how IARC confuses consumers.  And, in May of 2016 the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) concluded that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet."  Oh, and here is what Monsanto has to say about it.

So, no.  Roundup does not cause cancer. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization says so and so does the Wold Health Organization.  

And, there were so many other really, really good questions asked while I was at Monstanto.  

Bees

You actually need bees to pollinate crops.  Monstanto is not killing them off.  While on the tour, we learned that there are multiple factors contributing to the bee population decline including the varroa mite, pesticides, weather and disease. Here's some additional information to look at:

Militia

Monsanto does not have a militia.  They also did not hire Blackwater. "What we did do was hire an organization called TIS as a consultant to understand some of the atmosphere in which employees were working.  It's especially important in some of the global markets we are in to know what is happening. As a company we place travel freezes, etc.



To close out this very long blog post about my visit to Monsanto, I just wanted to let you know that it was not the very cool "Monsanto" salad shaker that swayed my opinion about them.

The tour and the Monsanto employees answering our questions did. 

Resources

Here's a reference list of farmers and scientists who are blogging that Janice sent to me when I asked for additional resources to help debunk the loud "anti" voice that is out there.  I wanted to pass it along as a resource for you. From my own experience, the "anti" voice is very loud.  It fueled my negative notions of farming and agriculture prior to going on tours as a City Mom.  Hopefully they will either give you a different perspective to think about, or help strengthen your beliefs about agriculture.

Janice's list

Her favorites in the farming community (and why):

Her favorites in the science community (and why):

  • Bio Fortified is a group of scientists… sometimes it is too in-depth but I find @geneticmaize is a great resource to explain more on my level and she’s one of the founders
  • Applied Mythology is a scientist who was in ag chemistry
  • Science Babe is an off-beat scientist
  • Groups like League of Nerds are podcasting about the topic

Travel expenses within St. Louis and lunch courtesy of Monsanto.

Related posts:
I'm No Scientist 
GMO Questions Answered

Stephanie Kush
Frankfort, IL

Stephanie is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.