Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What’s going down on the farm? Questions you’d ask a farmer if she were your best friend.

Seriously, what’s going on with GMOs?  What are GMOs, anyway?

GMO stands for genetically modified organisms.  If you’ve ever grown a garden, you know that it’s not easy.  Now, imagine that your garden crop is your field and your job.  Imagine that you’re responsible for providing food for your country. (If this were my garden, we would all starve.)  Guess what?  People keep trying to do a better job. 

For about 10,000 years, farmers have been picking desirable characteristics of plants and crossbreeding them to get better plants – ones that grow better or taste better.  Now, lab technicians insert genes from one plant into another to speed the process along.  They can also be more precise this way.  For an in depth view from Popular Science, read: How to genetically modify a seed, step by step. 

GMOs allow farmers to use less water, land, and pesticides to produce more food.  For instance, we grow corn to feed our cattle.  The corn seed we buy has been genetically modified to be more resistant to drought.

From the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance page: “Since 1995, food from GM seeds has been commercially available and has been proven safe for human and animal consumption. No other crops have been more studied or subject to greater scientific review. GM seeds undergo testing for safety, health and nutritional value – and regulation is overseen by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”

But!  None of that matters if people think that GMOs are evil and killing us all.  I’m a firm believer in choice – I think we all are – but I also want people to have a deep understanding of what GMOs are, why farmers use them, and why they were developed in the first place.  Farmers are consumers just like you – we only want the best for our families, too.  My family has been farming here for 135 years.  We care about our land, our water, our animals, our product, and ultimately – you!
What’s the difference between organic milk and regular milk?  What’s up with antibiotics and hormones?

Good news for anyone wondering!

Conventional and organic milk have no antibiotics in it.

Conventional and organic milk have hormones in it.  (All milk has natural hormones.)

All milk is tested repeatedly on the farm and at the lab to ensure that it is antibiotic free.  We don't feed any antibiotics to cows.  We only give them medicine when they're sick, and then we don't milk them into the tank when they have the medicine still in their systems.  Then when they're better and the medicine is out of their system - only then do we begin milking them again.  No one wants antibiotics in the milk - the farmer or the consumer.

As for hormones - in Michigan, farmers don't give their cows hormones to help them produce more milk.  (We never have on this farm, either.)  When farmers did it in the past, there was no way to tell the synthetic hormone from the natural hormone, because cows already produced it.  (So there was no test for it.)  But when consumers didn't want it, farmers stopped using it.  In Michigan, that happened in 2008. 

I’m hugely in favor of capitalism and choice, and it's easier to make a decision when you know all milk is healthy and nutritious.    

So what is the difference, then? 

The difference is in the farm practice, not the product.  Organic milk comes from cows that are on certified organic farms.  They are fed organic feed, they are not treated with medicine when sick (they are sold or put into a traditional herd), and they have mandated outdoor access.

On our farm, they’re fed feed we grow, given medicine when sick and not milked into the tank until it’s out of their system, and are out on pasture.  We take fantastic care of our animals – just like all farmers try to do. 

There have been many studies – like by the USDA and the American Dietetic Association – that show organic and conventional milk is equally nutritious and safe.

So, once again – it’s America!  You can choose whatever you want in the land of the free and the home of the brave!  We have giant grocery stores at our disposal!  Just know that all farmers – organic and conventional – are trying our best to provide for you.

Isn’t the manure part of farming kind of gross?

Yes.  But only when it’s wet.  Dry manure just seems like dirt.

Here’s a little fun fact for you … many dairy farmers I know have a separate entry to their houses!  Many of them also have separate showers!  Many of them are also in the basement, for good reason.

Farms each have their own smell.  One day Kris came home and I said, “Where have you been?  You smell different.”

(Note – this is the exact opposite of a scene when a wife smells another woman’s perfume on her husband.  I smelled someone else’s farm manure.)

But the truth is - we need manure!  We save it up and spread it on our fields so we can grow well-fertilized crops to feed our cattle.  Our cattle all - with no training! - spread manure on their pasture themselves!

Do our boots have manure on them?  Yes.  Do our barn clothes smell like manure?  Yes.  Do we have a really good washing machine?  Yes.

Manure is just part of working on a farm and living on a farm.  But that’s where we keep it – on the farm.  We don’t ever go out in our work boots and clothes.  

Not even the boys … no matter how much they want to wear their barn boots to the library.

Any questions for me?  Let me know!   You can like the page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter@carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by good old, old-fashioned email - the form is on the right side of the page.

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