A Summer Dose of Health and Love Served in a Plastic Bag

I don’t know where the summer went, but with Labor Day upon us, it is definitely gone! We do have some sweet memories from this past summer though, and we’d like to share one with you that was told on our social media in bits and pieces. Connecting City To Farm partnered with two different groups of students in the Dallas area that had different roles, which were ultimately woven together to bless the community served by Brother Bill’s Helping Hand

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It started in June, when we had the distinct privilege of representing the story of the American farmer during Vacation Bible School at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church. The team at PHPC was looking for ways to tie the farm into their curriculum for the week which involved lessons learned from harvest and nature. We brought the farm to the city and shared about the care and time farmers put into growing a crop from seed to harvest. Sharing videos from farmers in the field and dried cotton and corn stalks, Kris presented an animated glimpse into the life of a farmer. The kids were super engaged and gained more of an understanding of how food gets into their local grocery stores.

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In addition, the kids at PHPC made Healthy Connections Kits. These are kits that we use to promote 3 pillars of wellness: Eat Real Food, Move Every Day, Drink More Water. Each kit includes a water bottle, jump rope and nutritious snack. The students assembled these kits to be shared with our neighbors who live in a food desert and don’t have access to nutrient rich foods. The kits serve not only as a gift and encouragement for our under served neighbors, but they also raise awareness within the larger community about the realities of food insecurity within our city. 

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Once the kits were complete, we packed them into big boxes and delivered them to another group of students in north Dallas. This second group of students volunteered all summer long preparing and serving sack lunches to the neighbors at Brother Bill’s Helping Hand. This summer, they were able to include the Healthy Connections Kits along with the lunches that were distributed. 

Brother Bill’s provides a multitude of services and resources to their west Dallas neighborhood including medical care, grocery shopping, job training, and discipleship. Kris and Rachel recently toured the facility and were overwhelmed with the quality of their programs and facility. Their staff is courteous and optimistic. It truly is a beacon of hope and stability in that community. Playing a very small part in serving their community was an honor for us.

Our offering seemed small in scope compared to a neighborhood struggling with food insecurity and generational poverty. But, joining forces with 2 separate student groups around Dallas to serve a sweet community through an organization with the integrity of Brother Bill’s encouraged us about the good will and compassion among us. 

Yes, the summer moved along pretty fast. We’re so thankful for the opportunities we had to slow down and live in harmony with our community. We are stronger together!

****Below are some snaps of our volunteers distributing Healthy Connections Kits along with lunches and groceries at Brother Bill's Helping Hand.

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The Best Day Of The Year Is Coming!

On Thursday, September 14, 2017, Connecting City To Farm is participating in Communities Foundation of Texas’s ninth annual North Texas Giving Day, a one day online giving extravaganza! Our organization battles hunger and promotes health by taking underserved children to working farms and teaching them where their food is grown.  We teach them how to sustain their bodies and their environment. North Texas Giving Day will help us provide even more farm experiences to our underserved neighbors.

Last year, more than 2,500 organizations in 16 counties came together to celebrate North Texas Giving Day and raised over $37 million. Since 2009, North Texas Giving Day has inspired giving from around the world, resulting in increased donations and services provided.  We invite you to join the movement and help us reach our goal of $10,000 on September 14th.

Here’s how you can join the movement:

1. Get up and give on September 14th!
Make your dollar stretch further!  Our terrific Board of Directors has pooled their resources to create a dollar-for-dollar matching opportunity up to $5,000.  That means on September 14th if you donate to our organization on NorthTexasGivingDay.org between 6am and midnight your dollar will be doubled!  Also, each donation gives Connecting City To Farm entries to win bonus funds and prizes raised by the Communities Foundation of Texas! Your donation will help us receive extra funds for our work in the community. This year you can schedule your gift between September 7 and September 14 or make your gift on September 14 by visiting https://northtexasgivingday.org

2. Spread the word!
Spread the word to your friends and loved ones about our organization and North Texas Giving Day! Don’t forget to tag us and #NTxGivingDay if you’re posting online! Encourage your friends and family to get up and give as well!


3. Follow us!
Follow us on Instagram @connectingcitytofarm and our Connecting City To Farm Facebook page. 

For more information on how you can help our organization on North Texas Giving Day, September 14, please reach out to me. We look forward to partnering with you on this special day!

Kris Habashy

Executive Director

Connecting City To Farm

A Little Visit with Jae Lyn Huffman, Sophomore Ag Major

We're always intrigued with the perspectives of young adults majoring in Agriculture at universities around the country. The job market within agriculture is broader and more diverse than ever thanks to the use of technology and GPS, the growing world population, and the demand for more yield from less land. Recently, we met Jae Lyn Huffman, who majoring in agriculture, and asked her to give us some perspective on choosing that field of study now that she has completed her freshman year. Jae Lyn is an encouragement to us and the future of agriculture! Thanks for sharing your insight, Jae Lyn, we look forward to watching your future unfold!

CCTF: How did your first year as an Ag major inspire you?

Jae Lyn:  I just completed my first year of college at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas where I am pursuing a degree in Animal Science. Coming from a rural east Texas community, I have grown up around all things Agriculture, especially poultry. However, I never really took any interest in the field until my senior year of high school when I took an elective animal science class. This course piqued my interest in cattle, which will ultimately provide dairy and beef products. The intricate process from breeding to birth, and the hard work and knowledge it takes to raise heathy livestock is truly fascinating. Interestingly, choosing to major in animal science is not a one way road to becoming a veterinarian. This degree plan provides hands on work experience that will open many doors including agriculture sales, sustainable food and farming, and endless other facets of different industries.

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A Great Plan B for Farm Camp

Have you ever heard the phrase "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade"?  Well, recently we turned our lemons into honey and came up with a great plan B for Farm Camp that was rained out by Tropical Storm Cindy.  Even with all of our modern technology, we cannot control the weather, and it has a way of changing our plans from time to time.  It happens to all of us, and farmers understand keeping an eye on the sky more than most. In fact, that's Farming 101.  Farmers make a plan for planting, fertilizing or harvesting.  The execution of those plans are completely dependent on if, when and how much it rains.  

 The rain just kept coming at the farm during Tropical Storm Cindy.

The rain just kept coming at the farm during Tropical Storm Cindy.

In June we planned to take a group of students from south Dallas to Farm Camp, but the drenching storm had other plans and covered southeast Arkansas with flooding rain during the exact days of our trip. The morning our group was set to leave Dallas, a decision was made to postpone camp. Food had been purchased, speakers had been engaged, activities had been planned, and at the last minute all the plans changed.  Not wanting to completely scrap the opportunity of our weekend, we quickly started to brainstorm about what we could do in Dallas on such short notice.

Marvin Walker and Reshod Fortenberry were set to be our health and wellness speakers for camp, and, as usual, were up for anything. They were willing to regroup with a remnant of our campers on Saturday morning and engage them. Also, Nature Nate’s came through at the last minute and offered to give our group a tour of their bottling facility, which is located on a lovely farm outside Dallas. 

 Reshod Fortenberry and Marvin Walker speaking on health and nutrition at Nature Nate's farm.

Reshod Fortenberry and Marvin Walker speaking on health and nutrition at Nature Nate's farm.

 Rachel Logan and Kris Habashy with Tim Spaight

Rachel Logan and Kris Habashy with Tim Spaight

Having a few key components pulled together, lots of fresh food on hand and a group of adventurous students, we decided to go for it. That Saturday morning brought heavy rain to Dallas, but our team didn’t let that stand in the way and moved forward with umbrellas and wet sneakers! 

First, we met for breakfast, games, and a devotion led by Marvin. He spoke truth to our students about their eternal value and the significance of each of their lives. 

 Have you ever tried to get a cookie into your mouth using just your facial muscles? It is NOT easy!

Have you ever tried to get a cookie into your mouth using just your facial muscles? It is NOT easy!

 Marvin helping our crew wake up and teaching them truth about the value of their lives.

Marvin helping our crew wake up and teaching them truth about the value of their lives.

Next we loaded up our crew and headed to Nature Nate’s farm. Tim Spaight greeted us and handed out hair nets, shoe covers and release forms. His quick wit (and the fact that we were all feeling pretty goofy in our hair nets) quickly gave our group a light hearted vibe. Once we were suited and ready, he took us through their process of bottling golden, delicious honey from beekeepers around the country and preparing it to be distributed and sold. nationwide. Our students were intrigued by the automated bottle filling process and the fascinating life of bees. Tim shared lots of facts about honey, bees, and the hospitable culture of Nature Nate’s. He allowed us to ask questions and certainly made us feel at home.

 Tim Spaight of Nature Nate's.

Tim Spaight of Nature Nate's.

After the tour, our group settled on a large porch to share a meal together. Any time we have a farm gathering, you know there will be plenty of wonderful, healthy food! From fresh tomatoes, corn, and blackberries to smoked turkey and fresh bread, we enjoyed a filling lunch.

 

Once we were full, Marvin and Reshod addressed our group about nutrition, stating that we are stewards of the bodies we’ve been given and have an opportunity to respond to God’s love by taking care of ourselves. Marvin and Reshod are both athletes and can speak first hand about the impact of food choices on a body’s performance.

Reshod's family lives in the Dallas area and they came to support him that morning. We were thrilled to host them as they encouraged Reshod. They added a great family dynamic to our group and even shared a few stories about their journey to health.

As our time wound down, the rain cleared and Nature Nate’s allowed our students to run on their spacious lawn and play a little football. Many of our students greatly appreciate the opportunity to play in a wide-open space and gather in safe environments. It’s always fun to see how a group of kids can come together with seemingly little in common and wind up laughing and playing before long.

While Tropical Storm Cindy kept us away from Farm Camp in Arkansas, our gracious partners and students rallied like champions and enjoyed a lovely Saturday morning together…and we all went home with honey!

We are so thankful to Nature Nate’s for their hospitality and to Marvin and Reshod for their flexibility!

 

 

First Farm Day

Our first Farm Day was a huge success!  We partnered with John Paul and Heather Dineen to host a group of 26 Middle and High School students who participate daily in the Baylor Scott & White Health and Wellness Institute’s Summer Program in Dallas, TX.  The Dineens farm wheat, corn, milo, pork and beef in Waxahachie, which is about an hour south of downtown Dallas, and have a passion equal to ours for bridging the gap between urbanites and agriculture.  They were a perfect fit for our vision!  

 

First stop:  the corn field.  The school bus pulled up to the corn field, and students unloaded into a warm day and a welcoming smile from John Paul who took the next several minutes to explain many of his farming practices.  We heard about the technology involved in modern farming, the cost of seed, the need for pest management and the current market price for corn.  As John Paul explained the intriguing way farmers use GPS and technology, I overheard a High School boy say “I just found my new career.”  Students asked great questions like, “How do you know when the corn is ready to harvest?”, “Did you plant this by hand?” and “How long did it take you to plant this field?”

 

After a great introduction to farming, students were released to explore the corn field.  While some chose to stay on the edge of the field, many braved the bugs and scratchy leaves to discover the ears, silks and husks for themselves.  

 

Next stop:  the kitchen.  The Dineens flung their doors wide open and welcomed us into their Yellow Farmhouse.  Using the milo grown in their fields, Heather demonstrated how grain is ground into meal and used for cooking.  The students divided into groups and sat around tables with recipes, ingredients and utensils ready to prepare fresh field to table dishes. 

 

“Try one new thing” was the challenge given as fresh, healthy snacks were passed around during a break.  Cucumbers, blue berries, strawberries, cantaloupe, grape tomatoes, walnuts, peanuts, and almonds were among the offerings.  Mixed reviews came back from the ones who accepted the challenge, but a light-hearted, adventurous atmosphere made trying new food fun and positive.  

 

Using Heather’s innovative baking mixes, leaders walked students through the process of making corn bread, milo bread, pinto beans, green salad and delicious brownies.  Tables buzzed as the ingredients were chopped, measured, stirred and poured.  And what better use of waiting time than getting some fresh air?  The students filed out to see the cows that came up to the fence and, of course, squeeze in a little game of catch. 

 

Students returned to find their water bottles refilled and plates served with warm breads and fresh salad awaiting them.  Heather explained the healthy benefit of eating whole grains and fresh produce on a regular basis.  

 

When people see first-hand where their food is grown, their attitude about food and nutrition begins to shift from skeptical to appreciative.  Seeds are planted that develop into new ideas about long term health.  

 

The majority of the students who attended this Farm Day live in neighborhoods where many of the residents struggle with nutrition-related health problems like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.  Limited access to fresh foods is a leading cause to many of these chronic issues.  We hope that by exposing these students to the idea that strong health is accessible by making a few simple lifestyle changes, the trajectory of their families and their community will turn toward more stability and hope.  

It was an honor to have our unique experience highlighted in the Dallas Morning News.  You can read the article here:  Dallas Morning News.

Welcome Our Grad Student from West Texas A&M University, Zahra Shihabuddin!

Agriculture graduate student from West Texas A&M Univeristy, Zahra Shihabuddin, joins us to learn more about our mission at Connecting City to Farm. We are thrilled to have her as part of our team! 

Zahra grew up in Mombasa, Kenya then her path led to pursue a college education in Canyon, Texas. At WTAMU she earned a Bachelors degree in Plant, Soil, and Environmental Science, and is currently working toward her Masters degree in the same field of study at the same university.  Her exposures at WTAMU have been so inspiring and rewarding that she states, "being part of the agriculture community is one of the best decisions I have made in my life."

She's passionate about the agriculture community, knowing that the world's population depends on their work. Zahra wrote an essay expressing her analysis and research on GMOs. Having close ties to developing countries, Zahra has seen hunger and poverty in different ways than many Americans. She sees great value in genetic modifications motivated by her knowledge of the significant hunger problems our world faces. We're intrigued by her experiences, perspective and enthusiasm for the monumental task of feeding our planet's growing population, and wanted to pass along her conclusions to you.

Welcome, Zahra! We're grateful to know you! You are a bright spot in the future of agriculture.

 Zahra in the AgriLife research plots at West Texas A&M University. 

Zahra in the AgriLife research plots at West Texas A&M University. 

Why are GMO’s important to you?

By: Zahra Hafidh Shihabuddin

GMO is an acronym for genetically modified organisms, according to University of California, San Diego, “When a gene from one organism is purposely moved to improve or change another organism in a laboratory, it is also sometimes called “transgenic” for transfer of genes,” this is done to develop plants that are insect, draught and freeze resistant and or tolerant. Furthermore, these plants’ produce are made to be of the best nutritional value for us (the consumers), farmers around the world work extremely hard to ensure that we have a constant and sufficient food supply all year round. 

There is a direct relationship between genetically modified food and the world’s growing population. It is important to recognize that the rapid increase of people translates to a more rapid demand for food, fiber and feed considering the significant decrease in arable land.

According to Leaver’s presentation (2014), FAO, World Bank Statistics show in 1960, approximately 2.5acres was sufficient to feed two people; 45 years later the same amount of land could feed four people, “As a result 1 in 6 of the world’s population, is hungry today, and we have to increase food production by 70-100% by 2050”. In addition, it is foreseen that, in the next 25 years the same land will feed five people and also the world will have 9 billion people at the same time (Leaver, 2014). 

Genetically modified food is important to us because a small portion of land can produce a large amount of food given the appropriate environment. However, the trending question remains “What is the difference between genetically modified food and organic food?” According to USDA (2016), organic food should be grown avoiding most synthetic materials for instance, pesticides and antibiotics using agricultural methods that conserve the environment. This does not mean that no pesticides are used! Genetically modified food is grown using synthetic pesticides, but it is important to remember that all pesticides are regulated and will not pose a threat to human health. Pesticides are used to protect our crops from insects and weed pressure, they have a time frame in which the toxicity reduces and disappears. Genetically modified food and organic food do not have much difference except that organic food is more labor intensive, not economical at large scale and the quality of the product is not assured juxtaposed to GM food.

Another thing to consider while obsessing over organic products is being aware of what is actually genetically modified and in the market. Many companies take advantage of buyers who perceive organic products as “safer” and “healthier”. An example from a study done by genetic literacy project, “a search of avocado oils from AvoHaus showed a 250 ml bottle of organic non-GMO Project certified avocado oil was $15, while a conventional extra-virgin avocado oil bottle of the same size was $12.50. An 8 oz. bottle of Non-GMO Project avocado oil was selling for $12.75, while a conventional bottle of avocado oil was selling for $7.35 for 17 oz.—interestingly there are no GMO avocados” (Porterfield, 2016).  

In conclusion, genetically modified food is produced for the benefit of the growing population, to ensure that everyone has sufficient nutritional food. This is the same for organic agriculture however considering the cost, labor and time it takes to produce organically in contrast to genetically modified is a decision we must be vigilant in making. 

References

  1. "GMO." GMO. University of California San Diego, n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. 
  2. Leaver, Chris. "The Challenge of Achieving Food Security and Sustainability For Nine Billion." LinkedIn Slide Share. 12 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. 
  3. "Organic Agriculture." U.S. Department of Agriculture. N.p., 02 June 2016. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. 
  4. Porterfield, Andrew. "Differences between Non-GMO and Organic: More Profits for Farmer, More Costs for Consumers | Genetic Literacy Project." Genetic Literacy Project. N.p., 27 Apr. 2016. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. 
  5. "World Population Growth Charts --- MORE Than Exponential." World Population Growth Charts --- MORE Than Exponential. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. 

 

 

 

 

How Do I Get my Kids to Eat More Vegetables? Do I Need to Pay for Organic Food Only? And Other FAQs from the "Christian Parenting" Magazine.

I am often asked questions like how do I get my kids to eat more vegetables? and do I need to pay for Organic Food Only? I recently had the privilege of writing for an online magazine called Christian Parenting to answer these questions and other FAQs. The editor, Kelly Matthews, conducted an interview and split the content into a few different topics.  You can read the first one highlighting Farm Camp here:

Kelly asked me how I get my kids to eat more vegetables.  She made my tips look so good!

The next question Kelly asked me was one that I discuss with fellow consumers very often:  "Do I have to buy organics to be healthy?"  Read the article below to learn why I am so confident in my answer which is "No way!"  

Texas Farm Bureau

We recently had the privilege of meeting several of the Directors at Texas Farm Bureau.  

 

This terrific organization tirelessly promotes Texas agriculture and enthusiastically supports farmers around the state.  Gary Joiner was kind enough to give us a few minutes of airtime on his daily radio program to spread the good news about how Connecting City To Farm is using the lens of agriculture to battle hunger and promote health.  Listen here.

 

 

 

 

Flexibility at Farm Camp

We recently had the privilege of hosting our fourth Farm Camp, and the thing I can confidently say about camp is that every one is different!  Flexibility is essential at Farm Camp. It's always exciting to plan and prepare, coordinate and collaborate, but you never know what's actually going to develop until you live it out.  Each Farm Camp has its own unique set of opportunities, logistics, and dynamics.  

Dallas Farm Camp: We're Off to Arkansas

On April 27th, we collected students from different schools throughout West Dallas and North Dallas to load into a 15 passenger van and travel to our farmhouse in southeast Arkansas.  After a 6 hour journey, we arrived just after dark, enjoyed a healthy snack, and settled into our rooms. Introductions were made.  Ground rules were set.  And we were ready to enjoy the weekend together.  

Health and Wellness

Dennis Kelly joined us as our guest speaker and health expert.  With his vast experience of training athletes in physical development and nutritional wisdom, Dennis was a terrific fit for imparting simple, accessible health truths to our campers.  Throughout the weekend, he shared a series of health-focused lessons teaching basic facts about how food affects our bodies, the benefits of regular physical movement and the value of living intentionally.  The students engaged with his lessons and thoroughly enjoyed his companionship as they explored the outdoor activities.  What an honor to have him as part of our team!  

Mobil Classroom

I learn something new at every Farm Camp.  The field of agriculture is deep and rich and extensive, and every facet has its intricacies.  Our gratitude is great for our partners at the University of Arkansas Ag Extension Department who supply us with an endless range of learning opportunities.   Jason Davis hauled his traveling classroom four hours to give us the experience of an outdoor learning center in which he led us through a fascinating lesson on the use of GPS in agriculture.  He began with an advanced mathematical formula and ended up with a spray simulator that works like a video game.  And yes, it is all directly related to ag!  Jason gave our campers a vision to pursue their education and prepare for the many career opportunities that ag offers.  Experts in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math are all in demand for modern famers to continue safely feeding our world's growing population, and Jason inspired the next generation to be ready to take on the challenge.  

A Community Affair

One of my favorite parts about Farm Camp is the beautiful blend of folks who find their way to the farmhouse.  Lunch on Friday served as the platform for a community gathering as we opened our doors and enjoyed a cookout graciously sponsored by Rabo Agri Finance. Local farmers, regional salesmen and national bankers descended upon our little farmhouse to share a meal with our student campers, nurturing leaders and committed volunteers.  A wide variety of ages, careers, cultures, and backgrounds were represented as we gathered around to meet and learn together.  How exciting to discover commonalities in the midst of deep diversity!  

BBQ and Airplanes

Aerial Applicators take risks in their job every day.  Most of the risks involve flying long hours over acres of crops staying intensely focused on instrument readings and multiple gauges.  But some times the risks look like hosting a group of 30 students and leaders from Dallas for lunch in their hangar!  David Glover of Precision Air and Timber graciously welcomed us to his airplane hangar and served us a delicious BBQ lunch while we learned about his fascinating craft.  Ryan Simmons joined David as these men explained the strict federal safety regulations required for aerial farming.  We also learned about the speed of the aircraft, the weight it can carry, and the acreage it can cover.  Our time ended with a closeup look at the plane and a peak inside the cockpit.  What an enriching experience to Farm Camp!

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Invest In Your Community 

Greg Jones is a leader who is courageous and faithful, committed and fearless.  He serves as the Outreach Minister at West Dallas Community Church and took on the challenge of bringing his Middle School students to Farm Camp.  With his deep belief that the youth in his community desperately needed to experience the freedom and peace found in wide open spaces, he led them to our farm to receive the seeds planted in their hearts that could change the trajectory of their lives.  Greg saw the opportunity for the future of his neighborhood to be improved by showing these kids where their food is grown and learning how their bodies were designed to respond to it.  My respect for this kind gentleman knows no end.

Here Comes Summer!

As we look to our Summer Farm Camps with great anticipation, we wait expectantly to see how things will unfold.  But there is one thing we already know: it's going to be a tremendous time together as we learn to sustain ourselves and the environment!  

International Harvests

On a windy winter day in Little Rock overlooking the Arkansas River, I had the privilege of hearing about Isbell Farms from Mark Isbell.  My time with Mark proved once again what I regularly tell people about farmers:  "When you stand next to a farmer you're going to get smarter!" Follow along as Mark guides us on a fascinating agricultural journey of international harvests from Arkansas to Cuba and beyond.

Family Farm versus Corporate Farm: What's the difference?

Mark began our conversation by giving us the history of Isbell Farms and explaining why many people are confused by the terms "Family Farm" and "Corporate Farm."  

Sustainability

Our visit led into questions about sustainability. I hear that word often and asked Mark to speak in greater detail about what has motivated the sustainable movement and how their farm has used advanced technology and accumulated knowledge to become more efficient. 

What Happened to Crop Rotation?

Mark shared specific sustainable practices that have evolved through the four generations of farmers at Isbell Farms.  I found it interesting when he explained that, along with the sustainable practices of zero grade rice and AWD, they are in the process of perfecting the use of cover crops to enhance the soil.  He helped me understand why the best stewardship of some land types is often planting the same crop year after year rather than rotating crops. 

Ethical Farming: Holding Onto Family Values

Even though Isbell Farms is a large family operation, Mark explained how his family still holds the same ethical farming values for sustainability as we remember former generations representing.  

American Rice Exports

Mark lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and chose this location along the river since a large percentage of American rice is exported.  Do you know how much rice America exports around the world and how integral agriculture is to the country's job market?  

Why would a farmer from Arkansas be concerned about what people in Cuba eat?  

Mark, who was named Rice Farmer of the Year in 2016, is working hard to transform the economic relationship between Cuba and America.  He believes in using the food market as an invitation to the table even between governments who don't agree on much of anything.  After joining Congressman Rick Crawford (AR) as part of a delegation sent to Cuba, Mark testified to the US House Committee on Agriculture in support of the  Cuba Agricultural Exports Act.  He explained his position while we visited.  

Global Marketing

Farmers are uniquely positioned to intimately know the land and fully invest in the global market.  Watch as Mark explains how he navigates these two worlds.

Number Five

My visit with Mark was enlightening and engaging as we touched on many issues faced by American farmers.  Isbell Farms is on the cutting edge of these issues as they are committed to feeding the world's growing population while caring for the land to pass along to its fifth generation.  

Spring Break 2017

No beach trips or skiing expeditions for us.  Nope, we headed to our farmhouse in rural southeast Arkansas!  The Mississippi River Delta might not be known for its tropical beach or mountain views, but it was a terrific setting for our unique week together on the farm.  We had the privilege of hosting Mercy Street at Farm Camp for Spring Break 2017!  And what a privilege it was......

Over 30 high school students and leaders from West Dallas joined us for an engaging time of learning about a complete healthy lifestyle through the lens of modern agriculture.  It was an honor to hear from experts in a broad range of fields.

 Marvin Walker

Marvin Walker

Wellness:

Marvin Walker grew up in Southern California and moved to Dallas, TX with his lovely wife two years ago. Marvin played D1 football at Weber State University and is currently attending Dallas Theological Seminary.  He is actively engaged in the physical, emotional and spiritual development of young adults and has a heart for helping youth identify and embrace their purpose, believing that "Feeding your body with the proper fuel will transform you into a precious jewel!" The kids loved learning about healthy living from Marvin and were inspired to make longterm changes in their lives.

 Rick Fields

Rick Fields

Machinery:

Rick Fields is the Science and Curriculum Coordinator for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, 4-H Youth Development program. Rick is a graduate of Alabama A&M University, where he earned a master's degree in Plant and Soil Science.  His engaging lesson on hydraulic/pneumatic systems uniquely and beautifully connected our areas of agriculture and health as he taught us that our heart displays a hydraulic system while our lungs model a pneumatic system of functioning.   

 David Glover

David Glover

Aviation:

David Glover of Precision Air is an aerial applicator with over 20,000 hours of flight experience.   David and his team hosted us at their airport and taught us about ag aviation.  Among many interesting aspects of the industry, we learned about the federal regulations under which these professionals work to provide an invaluable service to crop farmers.  Our time at Precision Air ended with an impressive air show and personal peak inside the cockpit.  

 Dr. Karen Ballard with Leigh Ann Bullington in the background

Dr. Karen Ballard with Leigh Ann Bullington in the background

Science:

Dr. Karen Ballard, Leigh Ann Bullington, and Keith Cleek from the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Educators taught our students about soybean science.  We learned about the history and uses of soy and the importance of soy for human nutrition.  Did you know that the nitrogen added to the soil through the root system of this unique legume saved American agriculture during the Dust Bowl?!  Our special guests even gave us the pleasure of taste testing a number of soy food product!

Music:

Charles Graham is a renowned gospel singer who grew up working the fields with his family in the Mississippi River Delta.  After going away to college then traveling the world, he returned to the area and purchased the "big house" that he had only dreamed of seeing inside as a small boy.  He now uses his beautifully renovated home to welcome guests from around the world to spread the message of overcoming barriers and healing wounds in order to promote community.  What a privilege for us to gather and soak in this respite!

Outdoor Fun and Delicious Food!

Well, it wouldn't be Farm Camp without outdoor fun and delicious food.  There was plenty of both!  

We can't think of a better place to have spent Spring Break 2017!  Our time together brought us greater understanding of so many areas of wellness throughout our world, and we're all better for it.  See for yourself in this highlight video:

 

 

  

Women in Agriculture: McGehee Producers Gin

guest post by Donna Watts of McGehee Producers Ginn

Team Work

‘Women in Ag’ these days does not necessarily mean that you are married to a farmer.  I am a cotton ginner.  I am proud to be a part of McGehee Producers Gin.  I have always said that success is only possible when you have a group of people who are as dedicated to the job as you are.  Let me start out by saying that my co-workers are family to me.  The five of us have been working together for more than twenty years, one of them being my husband of 31 years. We have seen changes in the ginning industry and are fortunate enough to have leaders that make these changes become a reality in the way our gin is updated and maintained.  We have seen lean years and we have seen abundant years.  We employ between 35-40 workers during ginning season, which this year started on Sept. 13 and ended Dec. 18.  At the beginning of each season I always think of Matt 9:37 “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” 

Ginning Season

My responsibilities are numerous.  In the off season I am pretty much free to come and go, but once the gin cranks up, I am there for the duration.  I am responsible for the day to day operations of the office.  During ginning season, I turn into Gin Mama!   Ginning season has always been my favorite time of the year, and when it quits being rewarding is when I will hang up my hat.  I complain about the hours and no time to spend at home with the dogs, no time to clean house, no time to cook a decent meal, no time to go anywhere or do anything, and the fact that there is no time for anything but go home, eat, sleep, and get up and do it all over again, and again, and again.  I am rewarded, though, with the friendships I have made, and the respect that I have earned from my co-workers, the producers, the truck drivers, my bankers, and all those who I am in contact with on a daily basis.

Details Matter

During the ginning season, my job is to see that the producers' modules have been entered into our system and the weight for each module is entered. After the bales are ginned, I check to make sure each bale has been posted to the correct farm.  I send a file to the warehouse where our weights are compared.  Once we are satisfied, the electronic warehouse receipts (EWR) are issued to me as the holder.  The process is sort of like handling a car title.  The EWR is transferred from me to the marketer, then to the buyer.  At the end of the season, once all business for the year has been concluded, we return money to the producer and his landlords in the form of a per bale gin rebate.  This is very nerve racking, as I have to see that all information on both the producer and the landlord along with all addresses, tax id numbers, and percentages are correct.  Once that is out of my hands, I can start to breathe again. 

Paychecks

Another duty is payroll.  If you have never done payroll for 35-40 people, you should do it just once.  I manually add up the time cards, then use my Quickbooks program.  I enter time, print checks, sign them pass them out, and pray that everyone’s is correct.  This process usually takes a couple of hours to complete, that is, if the phone leaves me alone.

Grand Central Station

We gin for the cottonseed and store it in three seed houses.  When the contracts are filled, the seed tickets are invoiced and mailed.  Our scales stay busy.  At any given time, there may be three module trucks that belong to the gin, a seed truck, weighing both empty, then full, three trailers that carry eight round modules coming from Leland and Greenville, MS, three trucks carrying 8 rounds from Indianola, MS, two trucks with dual trailers carrying 9 rounds each from England, AR, and one truck carrying 8 rounds that hauls from the Star City, AR area.  That, along with local cattle ranchers who come by for cottonseed to feed with, the scales keep the office help hopping.

By The Dawn's Early Light

I work seven days a week during the season.  I try to get to the gin by 7am, as there is always something to do as soon as I get there.  Sunday mornings are my early days.  Sunday is Safety Meeting Day.  I am the Gin Safety Director and it is up to me to see that our employees are informed, trained, and provided with the safest environment possible to work in. 

Safety First

We have regulations that are set by Southern Cotton Ginners Association and it is my job to see that we are in compliance.  Our yearly inspections have always been rewarding and I have the highest regard and deepest respect for our Safety Director in Memphis.  We have received awards for 'Safety' and 'No Lost Time' each year since 2005 when I assumed the responsibility.  This year, we have received the Diamond Award again which is the highest award possible.  This is the third consecutive year for the Diamond.

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Work Hard, Play Hard

In my “spare” time when I just feel the need to escape the office, my favorite activity is to paint on the round modules that are facing the highway.  I am a huge Razorback fan, so we get out there with our module paint and start decorating.  I’m not an artist, so I always inlist the help of Donnie Peacock to draw what we lovingly call the “jumping hog”.  People stop and take pictures and sometimes it leads to them asking questions that result in what I call my fifty cent tour. 

The 50 Cent Tour

I love to take people through the gin and explain the cotton ginning process to people who have never seen cotton and think that everything is just blown out the back.  It’s amazing to hear where they are from and how they ended up in McGehee, AR. 

Love What You Do

I love my job.  I love the sights and the sounds.  I love the people I work with.  I love riding in (and sometimes driving) the module trucks.  I love the smell of fresh cotton being ginned---- and no---- “Clean Cotton” does not smell like those candles with that label.  I love the technology.  I love the bonds that are formed and I especially love the fact that I have been entrusted with this job which literally puts people’s livelihood in my hands.

Women In Agriculture: Ryane Miles Married into Farming

Ryane Miles is a courageous young woman who took on an adventurous new culture, job and lifestyle when she married Layne Miles.  That's what women in ag do!

 

Ryane did not grow up around agriculture but has been on a learning curve sense she met Layne.  With wisdom and grace she listens and asks questions to understand this new world.  Guided by her experienced mother-in-law Sherrie Miles, Ryane puts her knowledge to work as she contributes to the growing family farming operation.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the next generation of farmers, and we could not be more hopeful about the future of agriculture!   

Certified Organic Products: Facts and Myths

I had a conversation with my friend Emily Thomas recently about the common myths of certified organic products.  Emily is a terrific girl and a dear friend.  She hosts a weekly podcast highlighting the struggles of motherhood and how we can link arms and encourage one another.  

 Emily Thomas of  Mom Struggling Well

Emily Thomas of Mom Struggling Well

Understanding Brings Relief

Emily had seen a little of my journey on social media but we hadn’t had a chance to visit in person about it.  I saw her at a conference and had the opportunity to tell her what I had discovered about modern agriculture.  I shared the freedom I now feel in the grocery store because I am confident in my food choices.  She was very interested and began inquiring.  I was happy to share the 5 things I assumed about Certified Organic Products before I dug past the food labels to find relief in understanding.

 my kids

my kids

#1 Organic Is Healthier

I had assumed that organic products were healthier, but I learned that after many independent scientific studies, no nutritional differences have been found between organic and non-organic foods.  Since it’s not healthier or better for me, that means I couldn’t be poisoning myself or my kids if we eat non-organic produce.  Relief.

 a congenitally grown corn crop   photo credit:  Morgan Baugh

a congenitally grown corn crop

photo credit:  Morgan Baugh

#2 Organic Is Better For The Environment 

I had assumed that organic farming was better for the environment, but I learned that it is actually much more demanding on our natural resources like water, land and climate.  Because organic farmers are limited in the kinds of nutrient management practices they can use based on their 30 year old regulations, the yields in organic fields are significantly lower.  As a result, more acreage is required to produce the same amount of yield that a conventional farmer can produce.  This unnecessarily removes chunks of prairies, forests and wetlands from natural habitation.  More water is required because the weeds are competing with the crops.  Tilling is a common practice to try to reduce these weeds, but scientists now know that breaking up the soil is a major way Green House Gases are released into the atmosphere.  Additionally, more fuel is burned as a result of the increased number of passes tractors have to make over each field.  Armed with modern scientific discoveries and the freedom to use a broader repertoire of farming practices, conventional farming is more sustainable for the environment.   Since these practices are more eco-friendly, I have confidence to purchase non-organic.  Relief.  

 conventionally grown rice being loaded into a truck

conventionally grown rice being loaded into a truck

#3 Organic Labels Describe The Food

I had assumed that the Certified Organic label was an indication about the actual food that I consumed, but I learned that it's really just a label that indicates what type of farming practices were employed.  Again, in order to sell under the Certified Organic label, farms must adhere to regulations set 30 years ago by the USDA.  Science, medicine, technology, transportation and so many other industries reflect ever-changing improvements, and conventional farmers do too.  Their food is safe and their practices are sustainable.  Since it doesn’t truly reflect a standard about the food, that means it’s just extra background information that shouldn't necessarily influence my decision about the food itself.  Relief.

#4 Organic Is More Expensive So It Is A Better Value

I had assumed that organic products were better because they were more expensive.  I learned that there are two reasons they are more expensive.  1)  It costs more to farm organically because labor and fuel costs are higher and yields are smaller than non-organic farming.  2)  Consumers will pay higher prices for the perceived value.  I learned that the overall production costs of Certified Organic products are only slightly higher than conventional farming, and most of the inflated prices are a result of effective marketing and willing consumers.  Since it costs more for reasons I don't value, I can save money and buy non-organic products.  Relief.  

 An ag plane being loaded with fertilizer

An ag plane being loaded with fertilizer

#5 Organic Farms Don't Use Chemicals

I had assumed that Certified Organic farmers didn’t use any fertilizers or chemicals.  I learned that there are more than 50 pesticides that are allowable on Certified Organic farms which are often applied in excess because they are ineffective.  Since both conventionally grown and organically grown crops use chemicals, I choose to buy non-organic products which have been grown under equally strict guidelines that are prescribed and overseen by the USDA.  Relief.  

Listen In

Emily was fascinated and also relieved by this information.  She invited me on her podcast to share these and other thoughts about our Connecting City To Farm journey.  Also, we get into some other fun mothering issues.  Hope you’ll enjoy listening by clicking here

A New Voice...and a Honey Harvest

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You may notice that this post has a little different voice than you’re used to from this blog. That’s because Kris has allowed me to introduce myself and my new role with Connecting City to Farm. I’m Rachel Logan, and recently I’ve come on board as the Director of Media for this purposeful organization. Among other responsibilities, I’m assisting with some of the social media and blog posting. I'm a photographer and delve in graphic design, so I'm helping with both our digital and print presentation. Speaking of social media, if you’re following us on Instagram, you’ve seen that it’s honeybee week. Beekeeping has become pretty personal to me because, after his retirement, my dad began beekeeping as a hobby, and at this point it might be bordering on an obsession.

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In this post, I’m going to share the process of filtering my dad’s first honey harvest. This was in the summer of 2013, and my boys look so much younger! This harvest is the result of his first year of beekeeping, when he had just two hives (I believe he now has 10). He invited us to all come and participate. It was quite a field trip, and, of course, I documented the whole process!

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To prepare for harvesting the honey, Dad had pulled the honey frames from the hives and had gone to a fellow beekeeper’s house to use his filtering facility. That’s the point at which we joined him, there were no bees or hives and we were just going to remove the honey from the frames with as little processing as possible. Basically, we got to be part of the reward and the fun part after months of work. The bees work for months creating their honeycombs in the frames beekeepers provide in their box hives. Eventually, they get full and are ready for harvest.

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To begin, the wax seal on the honey combs has to be opened. The bees sort of lock the honey in place and close it in with wax. Wax removal is done with a rake like comb instrument and a hot knife the melts the outer seal of the honey comb. For a small harvest, this process is not super labor intensive, but you can understand why commercial bee keepers have a more efficient process for the volume of frames in their inventory.

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 As the wax is removed from the frames, it can be collected to use for other things such as candles. It’s a very fragrant byproduct! Interestingly, we have found that cheesecloth that has been used for filtering honey makes great kindling.   

As the wax is removed from the frames, it can be collected to use for other things such as candles. It’s a very fragrant byproduct! Interestingly, we have found that cheesecloth that has been used for filtering honey makes great kindling.

 

 Once the honey combs have been opened, the frames are placed in a large, spinning barrel. It can hold several frames at one time. It spins the honey lose from the comb and it collects in the bottom of the barrel.   

Once the honey combs have been opened, the frames are placed in a large, spinning barrel. It can hold several frames at one time. It spins the honey lose from the comb and it collects in the bottom of the barrel.

 

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 The honey can then flow from the barrel and into a strainer. The strainer offers just enough filtering to remove any stray bee parts that might have made there way into the process. In this process, little to no heat was used and the straining is minimal, so the end product is as raw as possible.

The honey can then flow from the barrel and into a strainer. The strainer offers just enough filtering to remove any stray bee parts that might have made there way into the process. In this process, little to no heat was used and the straining is minimal, so the end product is as raw as possible.

 And, that's basically it! From there, the honey is ready to enjoy. It can be poured into smaller containers and will never spoil. It will eventually crystallize, but can be heated gently to return it to its liquid state. We couldn't wait and sampled it every chance we got!   

And, that's basically it! From there, the honey is ready to enjoy. It can be poured into smaller containers and will never spoil. It will eventually crystallize, but can be heated gently to return it to its liquid state. We couldn't wait and sampled it every chance we got!

 

 Our time at the Honey House made for some sweet memories, in every sense of the word! I hope we get to tag along on another harvest soon. 

Our time at the Honey House made for some sweet memories, in every sense of the word! I hope we get to tag along on another harvest soon. 

Fighting Childhood Obesity in Dallas: An Interview with Joy In Our Town

What a delightful conversation with Cheri Duckworth!  Cheri is the lovely host of a TV show (Joy In Our Town) that highlights the ways people are addressing public issues in the Dallas/Forth Worth area.  Rachel Logan, our Director of Media and Urban Strategies, joined me to tell our story of Farm Camp.  

Watch the video and learn about how we are combating childhood obesity in Dallas and beyond by taking underserved kids to our farmhouse to teach them where their food is grown and how to have a healthy lifestyle.

Rediscovering Nature in the Concrete Jungle

As urbanites, we spend the majority of our time surrounded by man-made things. 

There's a Big World Out There

We often forget that there are vast oceans to be navigated and deep forests to be explored and expansive mountain ranges to be traversed.  We fool ourselves into believing that most problems can be solved by well-designed blueprints and well-placed raw materials.  

Fast Moving

The daily expectations of perfectly functioning infrastructure, buildings, cars, restaurants and shops leave us far from the perspective a hike in the woods can bring.  People, images and messages are everywhere.  There’s no mental space to think and regain sight of our small place on the planet.  We need vastness to right-size ourselves in the midst of a world typically focused on self reliance.

No Waiting

Expectations and demands are high.  During any day or season, I can stop by a grocery store with fully stocked shelves and overflowing piles of produce from around the world.  In an urban culture of Amazon Prime Now, where many items can be delivered to my doorstep within an hour, the idea of delaying desires is antiquated.  No one waits for fresh, in-season blackberries, they just grab the expensive ones that have been imported from another climate.  

Patience Required

We lose sight of the fact that a seed had to be planted, watered, fertilized and protected.  And the fruit had to be nurtured, harvested, sorted, packaged and shipped.  There are farmers, brokers, bankers, truckers, cold/dry storage managers, marketers and retailers involved throughout the lengthy process of getting our food from the field to our tables.  

Perspective

For me, the farm provides space to come to the end of myself and see the natural order designed to sustain life beyond my neighborhood.  Beaches, mountains and campgrounds are frequented for this same dose of reality.  Current circumstances are reviewed, gratitude is refreshed and priorities are renewed.  

Nuggets of Truth

I remember that I am a tiny piece of a giant puzzle.  I remember that just as the grass withers away and the flowers fade into the winter, my life is but a sliver of the story of this beautiful earth.  I remember to not take myself too seriously.  I remember that there is very little I can control.  I remember that the images I see on social media are only images, not the real-life experience of smelling the fragrant trees while climbing a mountain or feeling the salty air on my face at the beach or looking for miles across the sprawling prairie that provides life for so many creatures.  

Freedom to Be

We gain perspective about ourselves and the world when we observe the miraculous order of creation.  It feels good to feel small.  It feels empowering to release the weight of the world from my shoulders.  It feels productive to labor within the limitations of my own design and not worry about circumstances out of my control.  I am free to take responsibility for what is mine and leave the rest behind.  

Women in Agriculture: Sherrie Miles of Miles Farms

Sherrie Miles is running a corporation!  

Expansion

You may not realize that modern farming operations have to run more like corporations than ever before. The profit margins are so small that in order to stay in business, family farms must grow and expand to be sustainable.

Starting Young

Hear from Sherrie Miles of Miles Farms as she explains her integral role and how she began her "career" as a 13 year old!  She is a terrific model of a strong, intelligent woman in the field of agriculture.

Life Lessons

I love my brothers! 

Starting Young

They are all older than I am:  12, 10 and 5 years older.  Because of the age gap, I always thought they were so big.  To my young eyes, they were mature, strong and serious young men.  Other than playing sports for our rural school, they spent their available time working on the farm.  There are so many life lessons that these men learned through hard work and long hours.  

My mom has always referred to them as “the boys”.  She still does.  Funny, when I talk to my daughter now about her older brothers, I say the same thing.  

Summer Routine

These developing men worked many hours in the heat during the summer months since there was no school and so much work to do on the farm.  Mom would cook all morning preparing a big meal for dinner (that’s what we called the mid-day meal).  Of course she always had a big meat dish like pot roast or meatloaf or pepper steak.  The table was full of fresh, in-season vegetables (from someone’s garden) like green beans, tomatoes, corn or black-eyed peas.  Sweet iced tea was a staple.  She made it just right.  Dessert might have been chocolate cake or apple pie.  Once the boys were replenished, they graciously thanked her for lunch and headed back out in the fields to walk rice levees, flag for the ag plane or dig out a pivot system.  She cleaned up and got ready for round two:  supper, which was the leftovers from noon with the necessary additions to make another full meal.  I helped her some, but she did most of the real work.  

Experience for Life

Countless opportunities presented themselves.  The boys learned how to work hard with their minds and bodies.  They learned how to appreciate the money they earned.  They learned that good things are worth investing in and waiting for.  When the weather didn’t do what they hoped, they learned that most things can’t be controlled and you have do your best with what you have.  When the equipment needed repairing, they learned to solve problems with the available resources and make a new plan.  When co-workers didn’t understand a project, my bothers learned how to communicate clearly and to patiently train others to do a job with excellence. 

Leaving a Legacy

Today these men are kind, strong, servant-hearted gentleman who have continued to spend long hours investing in the lives of others and providing richly for their own families.  The lessons they learned on the farm have sustained them through many seasons of life.  I am so proud to be their sister and hope my sons are learning some of these valuable lessons, too.