The group, made up of USFRA staff, marketing people, dietitians, and writers, was as outgoing and fun as you would expect.
First, we went on a tour at the Monsanto headquarters in St Louis. A side note - I thought everyone knew what Monsanto was, but this isn't the case. You definitely know it if you're in ag, you know it if you're anti-technology ... but not everyone knows this company. In short, they are an agricultural Fortune 500 company that sells seeds and crop protection chemicals. They have a long history - for instance, when I was at the Smithsonian I saw an exhibition that features "Monsanto’s Dr. Robert Fraley, chief technology officer, for his contributions to agriculture biotechnology, as well as the economic benefits of genetically modified crops... Monsanto donated several items for the exhibit, including a photograph of Fraley with the world’s first genetically modified petunia and a souvenir connected to agriculture’s widely planted and adopted Roundup Ready® soybean."
They had an entire room of machines that extracted DNA from plant samples. They had growing closets that mimicked the conditions of different places in the world - this was the Brazil room. Hot, humid, and so bright! We couldn't open the doors to the cooler rooms because they didn't want us to bring down the temperature, so we just looked through the windows.
Our guide, Lara, was very entertaining. In the beginning of the tour she said, "We can't have alcohol at work, but we do have cheese and ice cream!"
(Of course, as a dairy farmer I found this especially funny. Eat up, people.)
She also said, "Sometimes you see something on Pinterest like, we share 99.9 of our genetic material with BLANK. And you know there's some scientist reading that saying, "That 0.1 makes a huge difference!" and crying over his PhD."
"Is 'crying over your PhD' a common phrase around here?" I asked.
"Yes, but I just have my masters, so I say 'crying over my masters," she answered.
(Best tour guide ever!)
She showed us a display with genetically engineered soybeans, bred to be resistant to the soybean looper larvae, and ones that were not. We looked at different types of corn in greenhouses. They walked us through how biotechnology works on a plant. They introduced us to scientists and we got to ask them about their work.
We continued on to the Deppe hog farm. Why do I say hogs instead of pigs? Because that's what they said, and they're the farmers.
This is only the second time I've been on a (pig) farm, and it was the first time for many of the attendees.
We saw them at every age, from birth to sows to pregnant sows to right before they're sold.
I held a piglet, then the older one in the next barn, and planned to try until I couldn't lift them any more ... but that was the third stop. They are huge!
We learned about their 90% conception rate, rode the pig trailer, checked out their corn, and enjoyed talking to the Deppe family and team. Thanks for the tour!
The next day I had the chance to speak to the group about dairy farming and the issues I get asked about - specifically how there are no antibiotics in milk, no added hormones, and how organic and conventional milk are the same nutritionally and differ only in process, not product.
Randy Krotz (CEO) and Nancy Kavazanjian (chair) were also there - it was great hearing them as well. Darrell Glaser, another Faces of Farming & Ranching, and dietitian Charlotte Rommereim also spoke.
We had a lively discussion, and I think we all enjoyed the tours and the conversation.
Meanwhile, back on the farm ... it's been two weeks since we started calving and we're up to 40 heifers. That means we've had lots of bulls, too, who also need bottle feeding. The boys and I have been trying to help out where we can, since it's a lot of work no matter how many people are helping.
Through all of us - seed companies, individual farmers, educators - we're all trying to produce, market, and sell food ... because we all like to eat. There is so much that goes into all of this, from education to bottle feeding a calf. I celebrated my return with ice cream, and the only way I'd cry into my masters would be from happiness that these are my coworkers.
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