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.

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.  

Not the Story You Hoped to Tell

Maybe you didn’t put all your eggs in this one basket, and maybe you knew better than to hang all your hopes on this one deal.  But you were really hoping this one would go your way.  You worked hard.  You analyzed all the angles.  You invested energy, money and emotion in this one.  Turns out, your ship didn’t come in.  You’re disappointed and down.  This is not the story you hoped to tell.

What Now?

Keep plugging along?  Go back to the drawing board?  Change directions? 

Factors Out Of Our Control

Matt Miles was in the middle of the best cotton season he had seen in a while.  His fields were about a month away from harvesting when the weather took an unseasonably cool, wet turn.    August, which is typically the hottest and driest month of the year, brought 14 consecutive days of rainy, cloudy weather to southeast Arkansas.  There was nothing Matt could do about it and certainly no way to anticipate the anomaly.  

Basic Botany

While we all learn in elementary school that plants need water and sun to thrive, farmers know first-hand the effects of minor changes in the weather.  The young cotton bolls on Matt’s plants were at an early stage of development that requires consecutive hot, sunny days to expand into the full fluffy cotton that can be used in so many products.  Instead, there was damp, cool weather that stalled the bolls’ development and even mold and rot on the stem.  Matt lost 30-40% of his cotton.  In just a few short weeks, his year changed.  

Reaction

Matt’s response:  Grateful and Hopeful.  Of course he is disappointed.  He had invested the same time, money and energy as always into the 2016 crop and had high hopes for a big harvest.  But he is also grateful for the excellent crop he had on his farm that was able to withstand the unpredictable weather.  And hopeful because he knows what it means to recover and “farm through” difficult years.

Long-term Perspective

This seasoned farmer has known disappointment like this before.  He's a courageous leader who has surrounded himself with good financial and scientific counsel.  Matt understands that a farming operation is not defined by one year:  not one good year or one bad year.  He has the perspective of time that has taught him to look at a 5-10 year business model to determine success.  

Looking Ahead

Matt’s a fighter.  He has been all his life.  He will survive.  He will trust.  He will get back on the horse and plant again next year.

Unexpected Joy

What about you?  How do you respond to disappointment?  Maybe you throw a tantrum or reach for your favorite comfort food or binge-watch Netflix.  Maybe you run it off at the gym or give yourself a timeout to regroup.  Whatever the strategy, we all must figure out how to push through disappointing seasons.  It’s often in these hard times that we remember our priorities and we rehearse the truth that it’s our response to our struggles that strengthens us not our avoidance of them.  That's the unexpected joy of maturity.

Changing with Grace

Change is often gradual and subtle. 

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Right Before Your Eyes

You hardly realize the growth and development that is happening before your eyes.  Plants, animals, and even skylines are constantly changing with grace and beauty all around us.  

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Crops Transform

A cotton plant grows deep roots and a sturdy stem.  The next thing you know, you see white blooms, then they turn pink.  Next, the bloom falls off to make a way for an emerging boll of cotton.

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Time to Harvest

You drive by a field every day and one day you realize the bolls are opening and fluffy white cotton can be seen throughout the field.  Suddenly, it's harvest time and change is upon us again.  

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Neighborhoods Transform

Our established, urban neighborhood here in Dallas is busy with renovation.  For years we have driven down the same residential streets and seen the same homes full of character and stories.  Lately, we drive down a familiar avenue and see a cleared lot where a bulldozer has just finished tearing down one of those old homes. 

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Within a few weeks, a foundation is poured, a new home is built and a moving truck is unloading the new owners’ possessions.  The neighborhood changes again.  

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Missed Opportunity

So many times in my life, change isn’t received with grace.  I often resist and work against the development.  I continue to try to stick to the old processes, digging in my heels, so things will stay the same.  In doing so, I miss the character that deepens in the process and the improvements that are enjoyed from the results.  

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Be Kind to Yourself

By design, seeds must die before they sprout new life.  Leaving the old ways behind so that something new can sprout in one's life sometimes feels like death.  We have to shift our minds and emotions and bodies to align in a new direction for the fruits of change to blossom and bloom.  I know in my head that change is good and brings new opportunities.  But in hard moments of growth, I don’t always give myself grace for the journey.

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Worth the Hard Work

Modern farmers can’t afford to dig in their heels and resist change.  They must stay on the cutting edge of science, conservation, technology and marketing in order to stay afloat.  “How can we do this better?” is a question they must ask themselves daily.  By regularly asking this question over the last 30 years, agricultural professionals have developed practices that conserve water, enrich the soil, reduce chemicals, and produce more yield with fewer inputs.  Now that kind of change is certainly worth all the hard work! 

 

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Life is Messy

The process may not always be graceful to the outsider, but I like how Sam Whitaker speaks about their farming operation.  Whether it’s new farming practices they implement or financial growth strategies they analyze, Whitaker Farms looks at a five year picture of development to get accurate numbers and comparisons.  This perspective allows time get the kinks worked out of a new strategy.  Many of the steps along the journey will probably look messy to an outside observer— and maybe even to you.

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Choose to Focus Ahead

Change is hard for some people, but hard doesn’t mean bad.  It’s in the challenging seasons that we build character, grow gratitude, increase perspective and strengthen perseverance.  Set your mind on the prize ahead and the journey will be worth it.  

 

Plants and People are Growing

Did you know the world's population is growing at a tremendous rate?  

In 2010, there were 6.5 billion people on the earth.  It is projected that 9.5 billion people will be alive in 2050.  What are all these people going to eat and wear?  American farmers are answering that question by responsibly squeezing every drop of efficiency out of our natural resources while protecting our environment so the next generation can continue to thrive.

 

Watch Robb Dedman's short video about how farmers take their role as conservationists seriously and work hard to meet the challenges of feeding and clothing the world.

 

 

Farm Camp with Cornerstone Baptist Church in Dallas - July 2015

We wrapped up our very first Farm Camp, and it was such a huge success!

We took 12 kids and 2 leaders from South Dallas.  We taught them about nutrition and physical activity.  They took turns preparing, serving and cleaning up heathy meals for each other. 

Plenty of unstructured play time was allowed for them to play frisbee golf, soccer, kickball, and even plan and dig an elaborate water flow system from the irrigation water in the cotton field beside the farm house! 

Jim and other farmers came to give us tours of their rice, corn, soybean and cotton fields.  Kids clearly heard the gospel of Jesus which will give them eternal healthy life with Him!  

Most of them said they would eat more vegetables, cut down on sodas and be more active when they returned home.  Those sound like great seeds that were planted in their minds and hearts!

Out of the mouth of babes - quotes from our Farm Camp Kids:

"What are those?"  (pointing to blueberries)

"Is ALL this food for us?"

"Being out here...it just feels free."

"The showers...really?  Is it hot water??"

"What is corn on the cob?"

"What do you mean by 'play in the dirt'?"

"Does this tractor have a honk?"

"Every bite is delightful."

"That was my first s'more and it was great."

 

Only a Spectator

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To be a spectator means you watch an activity without taking part. Even though I become emotionally invested in my sons’ baseball games, I am still only a spectator.  I’m not actually taking part in the game. 

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Questioning the Coach

So many times, I have watched a game from the bleachers and questioned the coach in my head: “Why doesn’t he teach him to swing at a perfect pitch like that?” only to find out later that my son was doing exactly what the coach gave him signs to do.  By “taking a pitch” and not swinging, the batter allows his teammate to steal a base and get on second, or at least it works that way in youth baseball.  

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Leave it to the Expert

The coach has a plan.  The coach knows more than I do about baseball.  The coach has analyzed the game and all the risks and consequences involved.   Good coaches combine their experience and knowledge to create job security and better opportunities for themselves and their players.

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Is Farming a Spectator Sport?

With concerns about food safety and the environment being highlighted today, it seems as though farming has become a bit of a spectator sport.  From the sidelines, many who are removed from agriculture are wanting farmers to go back to the processes used in the twentieth century because they assume they're safer and better for the environment.  Some call for no irrigation so we don’t continue to deplete our water supply.  Others suggest that farmers should never, under any circumstances, use pesticides.  But in the words of Sam Whitaker:  “Everyone would have to grab their hoe and come back to the farm if we revert to the way things were.”  

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How Things Were

In the 1900’s, farmers represented 38 percent of the American population, on an average of 147 acres of land.  Today, farmers represent just 2 percent of the American population, on an average of 440 acres of land.  Where did all the farmers go?  The same place I did…. to the city.  

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The Faithful Few

Farming practices are continuing to develop, so thankfully the two percent of the population can keep feeding the rest of us.  By perfecting the balance of farming and science, agriculture professionals allow us to continue pursuing our interests and creating new ones.  

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Willing Partners

Accountability is a good thing.  As Matt Miles said on his recent video, farmers are implementing better practices today than they were several years ago because the public has asked questions and raised concerns.  

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Thoroughly Invested

While this accountability has brought about obvious improvements, as a spectator and one who is not actually taking part in farming, it helps me to remember that the farmer knows more than I do about what is and what isn’t possible in his operation.  He has more experience than I do, and his own natural resources are what he’s investing in order to succeed.  It’s his livelihood.

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Farmers are doing their part

Jim Whitaker has developed a section of his rice farm that is irrigated solely by runoff and rain water so he is not using any water from the underground aquifer.  Farmers are quick to tell you that they must follow strict, regulated prescriptions for all fertilizers or chemicals applied to their crops.  Any product they use has been thoroughly tested by the FDA and standardized at a level that is set to be conservatively safe for human consumption.  This process is very similar to the regulations placed on medications here in America.  They keep us safe and healthy.  

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Trust the System

The experts are qualified for a reason, and we can't all be experts at everything.  Whether it’s a farmer or a doctor or a coach or a plumber, they are more experienced and better educated on the subject than I am.  They aren’t perfect, but they are professionals who combine their knowledge and experience to benefit all of us.  

 

The First Farm Camp

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What is Farm Camp?  It is the action piece of Connecting City to Farm.  Following our mission to promote healthy food choices for all budgets, we are beginning a new program in our organization, and there are only seven days until our very first Farm Camp!

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Inception of an Idea

In May of this year, we joined many concerned Dallas leaders at the “Tipping the Scales for Children” event, hosted by The Cooper Institute and SMU's Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility.  After learning more about the overwhelming problem of childhood obesity (which affects 50% of children in Dallas County), we knew we had to do our part to make an impact in the lives of these children! 

What Is It?

Farm Camp is a three night learning adventure for kids living in underserved neighborhoods in Dallas.  We will travel to my family’s original farm house in Arkansas where these kids will be launched into a healthy lifestyle.  While our time will be full of agriculture-related activities, such as riding tractors, running free in cotton fields and meeting local farmers, the curriculum we’ve prepared for our young guests will focus on a complete healthy lifestyle.  

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Curriculum of Complete Health

During mealtimes at Farm Camp, short lessons will be taught on the long-term benefits of good nutrition, physical activity, healthy relationships, moral character, unique purpose and sustaining faith.  The age-range will vary with each camp, with the youngest group being 8-10 year olds and the oldest group being high school kids.

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Small Changes Bring Big Results

Our hope is to create an opportunity for children to see where their food is grown, what farmers do to raise crops, and how small changes in their food choices can make a big difference for generations to come.  

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Pilot Program

We will host our very first (pilot) program July 18-21 with a small group of kids and leaders from the South Dallas community.  Several generous donations from families and small businesses will support gifts, meals and activities, such as souvenir water bottles, t-shirts, caps,  smoothie bowls for breakfast, tuna wraps for lunch, grilled chicken for dinner, water balloon fights, a glow night and tractor rides.

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Planting Seeds to Grow More Beauty

Look for upcoming posts and pictures about how this exciting opportunity is unfolding as we plant seeds in the lives of these precious children.  Collaboration is welcome, so comment below with your ideas.  We wait expectantly to see how our joint efforts can make significant differences in the lives of many growing youths.  

 

Willing Partners

Some teams are not always made up of willing partners, but today's agriculture professionals are inviting the input of urban families who have concerns and misunderstandings about where their food is grown.  

 

Watch as Matt Miles explains how the two voices can continue to develop the best methods for feeding all budgets while preserving the environment for the future.  

Stages of Growth

During the spring planting season as a child, I remember thinking harvest seemed so far away.  “I will be in the second grade by the time the rice will be ready to harvest!  How can Dad spend all that time thinking about one thing?!”  All the stages of growth seemed long and slow.  It felt like the crops would never be ready to harvest.  

There Must be a Better Way

In our microwave society, it’s easy to think that every process can be done quicker if we just put our minds to it.  It sometimes seems as though our knowledge of science should be able to provide short cuts so we can get to the finished product faster.  

 

 young soybeans

young soybeans

You Can't Be Where You're Not

But faster doesn't mean better.  Growth takes time.  There’s no way around it.  Whether it’s physical growth in a plant or intellectual growth in a person, you just can’t be where you’re not ready to be.  When learning a new skill or beginning a new project or entering a new stage of parenthood, it often requires every ounce of mental energy we have to think through decisions.  Nothing comes easily because we don’t have the experience and confidence under our belt to anticipate the results.  Patience is required for ourselves and others to live through situations or get to know new clients or fail at a few tries before we can move forward in confidence.  

 stages of cotton:  blooms white,  the bloom turns pink, the boll develops, cotton opens the boll

stages of cotton:  blooms white,  the bloom turns pink, the boll develops, cotton opens the boll

Every Stage Has Value

We, like plants, have to go through all the stages of development.  A cotton plant can’t skip the blooming stage because that’s what brings out the bolls of cotton.  Likewise, a young athlete can’t skip the strengthening stage because that’s when strong muscles and discipline are developed through the hard work.  

 

 a developing cotton boll

a developing cotton boll

Don't Rush the Process

If a farmer tried to harvest cotton before the bolls were fully developed, it would be a mess.  His time and money would be wasted driving the cotton picker over the field getting no results and destroying the maturing plants.  If a gardener tried to harvest cucumbers before they were fully developed, it would be a missed opportunity.  He would waste his time picking off the young produce to get a small, hard, tasteless vegetable that no one wanted to eat.   We can’t rush the process.  Even though these are obvious sceneries, I sometimes find myself rushing the journey through seasons of maturing in my life and the lives of others in an equally absurd way.  

 harvesting cotton

harvesting cotton

Multiplication for All

After the plant has sprouted, established a deep root system, grown a strong stalk, and developed fruit, it’s time to mature for harvest.  The multiplication process benefits many. 

 harvesting soybeans

harvesting soybeans

It’s the same for people.  After we step into a new project or season of life, learn new processes to establish a strong root system, and weather storms to gain confidence, we are ready to produce fruit.  We are ready to multiply our efforts to benefit others.  

 kids playing on a truck full of harvested rice

kids playing on a truck full of harvested rice

Stretch Your Brain

The hard work invested in the process pays off in the end.  Patience is rewarded.  Crops bear fruit and multiply and so do people.  We are never too young or too old to start new projects or tackle new skills.  It's good for our brains to be stretched and challenged-- to remember how to learn something new.  And all those around you benefit from the overflow!  What new things are you learning?  Is there something out there you have always wanted to master?  Take the first step, grow through the process and enjoy the benefits.  You can do it!

Learning the Farm Life

My kids love the farm.  No matter what time of year we go, there’s always something to learn and fun to enjoy. 

 friends exploring a rice field in the middle of harvest

friends exploring a rice field in the middle of harvest

Room to Breathe

At the farm, they are free to experience something they don’t have much in the city:  wide open space.  Space to explore and discover without adults lurking about.  Space to look up and see birds in the distance and squat down to see tiny insects on top of the water at their feet.  Space to get lost in their thoughts and dreams.  Space to unearth the joys of learning about themselves and creation around them. 

 lost in thought

lost in thought

Unintentional Learning

This freedom flows deep into their bones and gives them a taste of life outside their own everyday experiences in the city.  One of the best opportunities for learning is when you don’t realize you're in the middle of it. 

 inspecting cotton that's ready to harvest

inspecting cotton that's ready to harvest

Climb In

Loading up in my brother’s truck is where it all usually begins.  The kids climb in the back while Phil and I hop in the front seats.  We drive around the farm roads looking and chatting until we hear the kids calling from the back for us to stop. 

 checking out a flooded road

checking out a flooded road

Plenty of Time

They have seen something worth checking out.  We have no schedule.  No place to be.  Just plenty of space to stop and smell and listen and examine.  

 my kids and my parents

my kids and my parents

A Full Load

During one particular October visit, Phil mentioned that he had seen a few Bald Eagles flying around the farm recently.  My parents had joined us in the truck to see if we could spot one. 

 discovering nature 

discovering nature 

Catching a Glimpse

As we were driving around the farm letting the kids out to explore, we kept our eyes peeled for a sighting.  We had been out for a few hours and were giving up the search to head back to the farm house.  My mom looked over at some nearby trees and spotted the most beautifully poised Bald Eagle perched on a dead tree branch. 

 majestic

majestic

 I snapped a shot just before he flew off in search of more food.  Isn't he breath-taking?

 my daughter and me in a wheat field ready for harvest

my daughter and me in a wheat field ready for harvest

Not Just for the Kids

Did I mention that my kids love the farm?  Well, the truth is... I do, too.  I love the wide open space and the room to breath.  I love the smells and the sights of the fields.  The life-giving air restores me and brings much-needed perspective.  Stepping away from schedules and devices and buildings and meetings gives my mind rest.  Everything is close in the city, and my thoughts don't have time to complete themselves.  My husband often hears me say "I need to breath" and he knows that means a trip to the farm is coming soon.  

CCTF's Mission pursuit of Ethical Agriculture

This is the third and final post in a series developing our mission statement:  Promoting healthy food choices for all budgets by highlighting the nutritional value and sustainability of non-organic agriculture.  We pursue ethics in agriculture by making food available to everyone.

A Home for All

We know that with privilege comes responsibility.  It is an enormous privilege for us to enjoy this beautiful planet and all the living things that call it home.  Even with the confusion and controversy surrounding environmental issues, we know one thing for sure:  we have a responsibility to preserve the earth and it’s resources for the next generation. 

 new growth

new growth

Preparing for the Future

Connecting City to Farm sees agriculture professionals proactively preparing to receive the 9.5 billion people who will live here by 2050, and we want to spread the word to others who can follow in their courageous footsteps.  We all have a contribution, however small it may be, to enrich the opportunities for future generations.  As Sam Whitaker says, "It's the right thing to do."

Who Can Meet the Challenge?

If Certified Organic farmers were called upon to provide food for the world’s entire population, we would loose a huge percentage of current forests, wetlands, prairies, and other natural wildlife habitats and suffer under astronomical food costs.  A significantly larger portion of land is required to grow and harvest Certified Organic crops because more of the yield is lost due to insect damage and low levels of nutrients in the soil from weed competition.  

 flooding a rice field                                                                                                                                                                                  photo credit:  Morgan Baugh

flooding a rice field                                                                                                                                                                                  photo credit:  Morgan Baugh

More for Less

Non-organic crops are more sustainable for the environment than Certified Organic crops because it takes fewer natural resources like land and water to produce the same amount of yield.  Under strict regulations and accountability, non-organic farmers are allowed to use pesticides that protect their crops from weeds and insects.  

 

 a carefully measured application being loaded into an ag plane

a carefully measured application being loaded into an ag plane

Follow the Prescription

“Are these pesticides safe?” you may ask.  Absolutely.  They are safe.  In the same way that patients follow the carefully researched, tested and specifically prescribed dosages on their medications, farmers follow FDA regulations regarding pesticide applications.  If they don’t, they will face serious legal consequences that jeopardize their businesses.

 a bountiful rice harvest

a bountiful rice harvest

Increased Yield

By responsibly applying herbicide, non-organic farmers can control the weeds that compete with their crops for valuable nutrients found in the soil.  Reasonable amounts of insecticides can be used, only when necessary, to decrease costly damage from insects allowing the majority of yield to be preserved for consumption.

 family on the farm

family on the farm

Family Farms Take On the Challenge 

As the Agriculture Professionals from Whitaker Farms, Miles Farms and most other family farming operations will assure you, farmers are the ones who are most concerned about preserving and protecting our environment.  They are hopeful about strategically meeting the challenges ahead, and they are daily taking on the responsibility to leave the earth ready for the next generation to enjoy.  

The Nutritional Science behind CCTF Mission Statement

 

This is the second in a series of three posts developing our mission statement:  Promoting healthy food choices for all budgets by highlighting the nutritional value and sustainability of non-organic agriculture.  

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As a planet, we are growing.  The world’s population is steadily rising and will reach 9.5 billion people by the year 2050.  Life is good, right?  And more life is better!  

Medical and Lifestyle Advancements

Today, we have a deeper understanding of personal health and how to teach others about healthy lifestyles.  As a result, we’ve seen a decrease in infant mortality and an increase in overall life expectancy.  Again, more life is better! 

 my grandfather holding me

my grandfather holding me

If agriculture remains the same, we will not be able to feed the world's ever growing population.  That's a problem.  Thankfully, innovative scientists are constantly looking for answers. 

 happy Kenyans

happy Kenyans

A Solution

Guess what?  They have found a great one:  GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  However, the solution has many farmers wondering how much science is necessary to assure consumers of the safety of GMOs.  

 a maturing field of genetically modified corn          photo credit:  Morgan Baugh                                                                                                                                                                                             

a maturing field of genetically modified corn         photo credit:  Morgan Baugh                                                                                                                                                                                            

Knowledge is Power

The knowledge of how to isolate chromosomes and manage their placement has given us the ability to facilitate nature's process in a faster, more controlled and safer way than ever before.  Humans have been nature's stewards for thousands of years by using creative processes like grafting branches from one tree on to another and by cross pollinating plants.

Trying to Perfect the Science

In more recent years, before chromosomes were specifically identified, scientists blasted plants with radiation and chemicals to try to break down the chromosomes.  These mutations fall under the options that Certified Organic famers may choose.

 my daughter in a field of genetically modified cotton

my daughter in a field of genetically modified cotton

However, scientists have discovered a way to isolate individual chromosomes in DNA and remove them from one naturally occurring organism and insert them into the DNA of another naturally occurring organism.  It’s quite miraculous!

What is it?

So what is the science?  I watched a short clip by Piffle and discovered that the revolution of genetic modification is a much more specific and intentional process than any other form of plant husbandry ever used.

 a common food label

a common food label

Effective Marketing

Seeing non-GMO labels on so many products misleads consumers into believing that GMOs are somehow harmful, or should be avoided.  But what is the science behind GMOs?  A plethora of independent scientific studies have been published over the 20 years that genetically engineered crops have been grown and harvested in the US and not a single instance of harm has come to any human or animal.  These scientific studies have been rigorously scrutinized by peer reviews and affirmed in their findings.   

No Health Effects Shown

Critics would have us believe that GMOs have caused an increase in obesity, Type II diabetes, autism, and many food allergies.  However, a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine was recently conducted comparing the health of North Americans who consume many GMOs in their diet with Europeans who rarely consume GMOs.  The study concluded that there was no greater incidence of Type II diabetes or obesity.  Also, the incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Celiac Disease, which makes humans intolerant to gluten, increased in both populations equally.

A Converted Supporter

Mark Lynas was a strong Greenpeace activist supporting non-GMO agriculture until he began to take a serious look at the science behind GMOs instead of being led by his assumptions.  After significant research, he realized the safety, environmental sustainability and potential for global health solutions that genetic engineering offered.  He then presented an apologetic speech giving his full support to the science and future development of biotechnology as a way to feed the world.

 

 a field of genetically modified soy beans ready for harvest

a field of genetically modified soy beans ready for harvest

There are legitimate concerns about health in the world today.   Having a diet that consists largely of sugars and processed foods causes a significant decline in a person's health.  Living a life with little physical activity brings increased risks of heart disease and other problems.  Being distant and isolated from loving relationships can cause depression and unhealthy choices.  Of these legitimate concerns, there is enough science to prove that GMOs are not one of them.

Non-Profit: Making the Switch from Corporation to Organization

As we announced last week, Connecting City to Farm is becoming a non-profit organization.  Our mission is to promote healthy food choices for all budgets by highlighting the nutritional value and sustainability of non-organic agriculture.  

 friends in a non-organic rice field

friends in a non-organic rice field

What Jim has to say

There’s a lot to be said in the organic conversation and I invite you to join in the interactions we’ll be having here over the next few posts.  But first, I’d like for you to hear Jim Whitaker of Whitaker Farms speak about the limitations the organic regulations make on the organic farmer and the benefits non-organic famers provide to the world. 

 

 

A Project with a Purpose

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In the Beginning  

When this journey began, I wasn’t exactly sure where it was going.  I knew I wanted to bring awareness to what agriculture professionals are doing for our growing population and the earth, but I didn’t know where it would lead.   Now I'm convinced this project calls for a purpose.  There is so much good that can come to families from telling these stories.

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Bridging the Gap

There is an obvious connection between urban life and farm life.  I see how each side views the other with both intrigue and misunderstanding.  Having grown up in a culture that I’ve chosen to remain engaged in and having lived my adult life in the other one, I wanted to bridge the gap between the two worlds that I love.  

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The Two Percent

I have loads of respect for the way conventional farmers take risks and develop new ways of growing food for the world.  It is certainly not a calling for everyone, but we all receive the benefits of those two percent of Americans who take on the challenge and thrive in their giftedness so we can continue to have plates full of healthy food.  

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At Our Fingertips

Urban life is full of opportunities for creativity and collaboration.  Many resources that work together to develop technical, medical and financial advancements are at the fingertips of those living in metropolitan areas.  The world moves forward at lightning speed because of the efforts urbanites make to improve our everyday lives.  

The Mission

As I've been sharing stories and experiences with you, this mission has become clear:

 

Announcement!

Our mission will focus on three main areas:  family health issues, world hunger and environmental sustainability.  I will develop these areas in the next few posts.  To do the most good, Connecting City to Farm has decided to pursue 501c3 (non-profit) status. This will create opportunities to expand our message and our audience. 

We wait expectantly to see what's ahead!

Courage Continues

How comfortable are you with risk?  Do you need all your financial bases covered before you begin a project, or does the pressure of the unknown motive you? 

 A view from the air of rice harvest

A view from the air of rice harvest

Risks Abound

Farmers are intimately familiar with risk because there are so many variables beyond their control.  Fluctuating input costs, market prices and weather conditions are among the biggest.  In the midst of this very risky business endeavor, their courage continues and we are thankful everyday we have an abundance to eat!

 Looking out the window of my dad's truck when I was young

Looking out the window of my dad's truck when I was young

Truck Rides

I remember riding with my dad in his farm truck.  We drove around so many green fields that all looked exactly the same to me.  What could his eyes see?  How could the next rice field look any different than the other nine we had slowly circled? 

 Me on Daddy's shoulder 

Me on Daddy's shoulder 

Looking Out Windows

But I didn’t mind.  I enjoyed having the windows rolled down, looking for snakes and turtles in the ditches and being with my daddy.  On many warm afternoons I dozed off for a while, especially if one of his farming buddies joined us and they talked shop. 

 The grain dryer in our area

The grain dryer in our area

The Dryer

We usually ended up stopping by “the dryer”, as everyone called the grain dryer that was sure to have a hot cup of coffee.  There was always a small group of farmers crowded around the TV watching a station full of numbers. 

  Jim Whitaker  and my dad discussing farming

Jim Whitaker and my dad discussing farming

When to Sell

As a kid, I didn’t realize that these farmers were strategically watching the market prices and trying to know when to lock in the best price for their crop.  “Three dollars is really high for rice right now” I would hear one say.  Another would reply “I don’t think it will ever reach four”.  Some years it didn’t, some years it did, but no one could have known before a seed was even planted earlier that Spring.

 

Unknowns on All Sides

A farmer confidently runs his operation with many unknowns on both the cost AND return sides. Some business models are based on signing contracts spelling out exactly what is expected of each party involved.  Other models give bids after careful calculations of material or labor costs that change little before the project’s completion.  Not so with farming. 

 Ag airplane hanger prepared to provide spray services for local farmers

Ag airplane hanger prepared to provide spray services for local farmers

What If's

While a farmer always tries to use as little expensive chemical as possible, he can never know for sure what pests will begin eating away at his crop mid-season or which disease or fungus will bring mold that will deteriorate the sturdy stalks. 

 Family enjoying a tractor ride

Family enjoying a tractor ride

Fuel and Other Unforeseen Costs

Who ever knows how the fluctuating oil and gas markets will drive fuel prices in the next month, much less six months, which is a typical growing season?  So a farmer can’t predict the cost of fuel for a tractor to make a pass over the field.  This could be a dry year.  If so, he will have a high electric bill to pay for pumping water to irrigate.  Although farmers spend much of the slower winter months refurbishing their equipment, many parts and maintenance costs are required throughout the season but he can’t know how much.  After all the unpredictable inputs, he now must try to get the best price for his yield.

 A rainbow over the farm

A rainbow over the farm

Weather forecasts

Weather is impossible to predict, and it effects almost every aspect of farming.  Rain and wet fields can create delays during optimal planting time, as tractors can’t drive through the fields in wet conditions.  High winds gusting when it’s time to apply fertilizer and chemicals make it impossible for the ag airplanes to fly.  Extreme heat during the summer growing season scorches tender plants and sometimes rushes plant development which brings low nutrient levels. 

 Rice that was blown over in the field just before harvest  

Rice that was blown over in the field just before harvest  

Down Rice

And just when the farmer has fully invested in his crop and put his hopes in bringing a bountiful harvest to provide for his family, rain and wind can blow the entire crop down overnight.  This makes it more expensive, if not impossible, to harvest.  Because the combine, which is the equipment used to harvest grain, must drive so slowly to pick up the “down rice” in the picture above, fuel and labor costs are greatly increased.   

 My dad's weather radio

My dad's weather radio

Listening to the Weather

In our house growing up, the weather radio was strategically placed in the most receptive window with the antenna extended as far as possible.  This special radio only received one station that repeated the weather every 15 minutes.  I think my dad got it for his birthday.  He was thrilled!  I used to sit by him in the sun room and wait quietly until they announced the forecast for the next 24-48 hours.  There was no immediate accessibility to the hourly predictions or the 15 day forecasts we have in our pockets now.  Even when he heard the report, there was little he could do about it.  He would look at me with resolution and say “We’ll see”.  Then the two of us could visit.

  Matt Miles  in front of his soybean crop

Matt Miles in front of his soybean crop

Courage Continues

Agriculture Professionals are well aware of these risks and continue to courageously develop their operations for the good of their families and ours.  And just like many other business owners, they don't want to be doing anything else!

Carbon Credits: Agricultural Currency

I’ve got great news for the world!  Have you heard of carbon credits?  A carbon credit is a cash incentive that an organization can receive for reducing its annual Green House Gas emissions.  Did you know that the State of California will issue carbon credits to any organization in the US that gives evidence of lowering its Green House Gas emissions? 

 

 Tractors planting rice                                                                                                                                                                  Photo Credit:  Morgan Baugh

Tractors planting rice                                                                                                                                                                 Photo Credit:  Morgan Baugh

A New Category 

Maybe that’s not news to you, but did you know that, originally, California did not include agriculture as a category that could receive carbon credits?  This hurdle didn’t stop one group of forward-thinking Arkansas farm families from proving that the efforts they are making on their land should be recognized by California and many other groups around the country.  

 

 The Whitaker family

The Whitaker family

Promoting Current Processes

Mark Isbell wrote in a recent article about ways that rice farmers in the mid-south region of the United States are developing practices to decrease their carbon footprint.  Nature’s Stewards is a group of families that are quantifying their carbon-reducing methods in the areas of water reduction, decreased fuel usage and intermittent flooding in rice fields for the purpose of receiving carbon credits from California.  The Whitakers, Isbells and Sullivans are all successful farming families throughout the state of Arkansas.  They have formed a group to validate the extra effort that many farmers around the country are making in order to preserve the environment while feeding the world’s growing population.  

 

 My dad and nephew in front of a well that supplies the water to surrounding rice fields

My dad and nephew in front of a well that supplies the water to surrounding rice fields

The Way We've Always Done It

For hundreds of years, rice farmers around the world have understood the only way to grow rice is in a “continuous flood” environment.  Whether using contour levees or leveling their land to a precise grade, farmers have maintained 3 - 5 inches of water through the plant’s growing season and then drained the water just before harvesting.

 

 Planting rice in a  zero grade rice field                                                                                                                                         Photo Credit:  Morgan Baugh

Planting rice in a zero grade rice field                                                                                                                                       Photo Credit:  Morgan Baugh

Unavoidable Sources

Motivated scientists have discovered many specific sources of Green House Gases.  Some originate from unavoidable, nature cycles based on the earth’s design, while others are derived from humans.  Because methane is released when soil that is full of organic material is flooded, rice fields have, historically, released a large portion of the carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

 

 Kids playing in a rice field that is being flooded

Kids playing in a rice field that is being flooded

Do We Have to Do It the Way We've Always Done It?

Seeing the need to do their part to sustain the environment while feeding the world, Nature’s Stewards are perfecting a new method called alternate wetting and drying (AWD).  Instead of maintaining the same water level throughout the growing season, these farmers are halting their irrigation mid-season which allows the soil to dry for a brief period of time.  Water is soon re-applied in order to preserve the crop.  

 

 Water seeping across a rice field

Water seeping across a rice field

Surprise Benefit

The Sullivan family, one of the families involved in Nature’s Stewards, has been implementing AWD for several years for the purpose of water conservation.  They have seen a 30% decrease in overall water consumption.  While this is great news for the environment, that’s not even the best part of it.  By interrupting the continuous flood in mid growing season, the Green House Gas emissions are reduced by up to 1 ton per acre!

 Jim Whitaker reading a water gage that documents how many gallons are used

Jim Whitaker reading a water gage that documents how many gallons are used

Documentation

Proving this enormous emissions reduction has given Nature’s Stewards credibility in the carbon market.  During the 2016 growing season, they are keeping copious records of the water levels, tractor hours operated, and the amount of pesticides used on their lands.  The pioneering families in Nature’s Stewards have been able to significantly reduce the carbon emissions in each of these areas.  

 

 The next generation                                                                                                                                                                        

The next generation                                                                                                                                                                        

More to Come

While rice is the first crop to officially enter the carbon market, these innovative farmers hope that other agriculture professionals will be encouraged to develop and document creative processes which they are implementing so we can pass-on a thriving environment to our children and grandchildren.  We would all love to look back in a few years and see that this was just the first of many steps the field of agriculture took into the carbon market.  Nature's Stewards are inviting all farmers to ask the question, "How can I do my part?" even if it has never been done before.  If more families follow their lead, we will soon have more great news for the world!

Springtime Planting: The Beginning of a New Growing Season

We all remember times when we were full of hope as we executed a strategically planned project, event, or proposal.  That’s how farmers feel every time they begin a new growing season.  Hope abounds during Springtime planting!  

 cousins planting the family garden

cousins planting the family garden

What Will This Year Hold? 

Excitement fills the air.  The sky is crystal blue and the leaves are that light green color that tells you they have just begun their life.  Courageous farmers have tried new methods and are anxious to see if their risks will pay off.  Will they see more sustainability from their resources this year?  Will they have a higher yield in the Fall?

 a plow that is pulled behind a tractor 

a plow that is pulled behind a tractor 

Busy Hours Through the Winter

Farmers have spent the winter analyzing the market to determine which crops will bring the highest price, planning how many acres of which crops to plant and preparing equipment for long hours of operation. I remember listening to my dad discussing new ideas for the next growing season and wondering why he was already planning for next year when it seemed so far away to me as a child.  

 a water furrow:  part of the drainage system in a rice field

a water furrow:  part of the drainage system in a rice field

Getting the Land Ready

Now it’s time to get the land ready by draining the water off the rice fields and spraying herbicides to kill the weeds in row crop fields like cotton, soybeans and corn before they plant. 

No-till Farming

For years farmers began the pre-planting season by tilling the soil, which is done by driving a tractor over each field several times to prepare the soil.  The tractor pulled a plow to loosen the ground and kill the weeds that had grown through the winter.  Farmers have realized that these multiple passes over the fields cause soil erosion and is an unnecessary fuel expense. 

Many, in fact, have moved away from this annual practice in order to keep the nutrients in the soil for the crops to consume.  Also, the breaking up of the ground releases the greenhouse gases that are stored under the surface.  So, by moving to "no till" farming, valuable nutrients are preserved and greenhouse gases are contained.  

 a tractor pulling a planter with cotton seed

a tractor pulling a planter with cotton seed

Let's Plant

Once the seed has been purchased, it’s time to get started.  Most seeds are placed in the soil with a planter, which is an implement or attachment that is pulled behind a tractor.  This one fascinating piece of equipment opens up a furrow, sprays a liquid starter fertilizer, drops the seed, and then covers the seed all in one fluid motion. 

 

 a rice planter

a rice planter

Rice is planted using a slightly different type of planter.  One large hopper holds the rice seed for a tractor and small tubes are attached to many drop points that are strategically spaced across the implement.  Tracks, instead of tires, are used on the tractors because the soil is moist for rice and tires would make deep ruts.

 asparagus "crowns" (young plants) for the garden-- some being planting and some being enjoyed 

asparagus "crowns" (young plants) for the garden-- some being planting and some being enjoyed 

Time to Watch and Wait

Everything is in full swing now.  In a few short days, green sprigs will break through the surface reaching to the sun for life and growth.  Hope for a bountiful harvest abounds.

Standing on Science: Debunking Organics

Have you recently heard “organic may not be what you think it is?”  I’ve been hearing that a lot over the last few months and this recently published article in Forbes magazine answered many questions I've had about the value of organic foods.  I'm going to follow this author's lead as he is standing on science to debunk the mysterious world of organics.  

 standing in a rice field

standing in a rice field

The Author

Steven Savage was an enthusiastic supporter of the organic movement and its founding principals 30 years ago.  Simultaneously, he celebrates the changes this movement has brought and expresses his concern for unethical marketing about organic foods that has promoted a "super brand."  

 standing on a pipe that's part of our water recycling system

standing on a pipe that's part of our water recycling system

Taking Action

Over the last 20 years, conventional farmers have heard the concerns the organic movement has highlighted, and they have taken action.  Fewer pesticides are used today.  No-till farming, which isn’t used on organic farms, allows for significantly less soil erosion on conventional farms.  Water-recycling has become common place on many conventional farms as a result of innovative engineering.  Higher yields seen by conventional farmers have resulted in using fewer acres for producing, which frees more land for natural habitats to be reclaimed.  Sustainability and soil health continue to improve because agriculture professionals have been actively listening.

 standing on the top bar of a grain truck full of harvested rice

standing on the top bar of a grain truck full of harvested rice

No Difference

I appreciate that, even though Steven was an early backer of the organic movement, he hasn’t been blind to the negative transformation it has taken.  He has remained clear-headed by looking objectively at scientific studies about pesticides and nutritional values and taking those findings seriously regardless of any preconceived ideas he may have had.  He states that “many consumers believe that the Organic label means the food has superior nutrition and is safer, especially in regard to pesticide residues.  This is not true. Studies have shown no appreciable difference in nutrition between crops grown either organically or conventionally.”

 standing by a pond

standing by a pond

Creating Confusion and Fear

Steven acknowledges that food labels and organic-funded marketing are creating confusion and preying on the fears of uninformed consumers.  They have attempted to create a “super brand.”  He mentions that parents, specifically, have been pressured into breaking their budget in order to “protect” their children. 

 standing beside the goat pen

standing beside the goat pen

Relief on Parents' Faces

I have seen first-hand the relief on the faces of friends who are mothers when I tell them, using scientific evidence, that conventional farming methods are completely safe and are actually far more environmentally friendly than organic methods.  One friend even said “Oh I’m so relieved!  When you started talking about food safety, I thought you were going to give me one more thing I should feel guilty about or avoid.” 

 standing in a horse barn

standing in a horse barn

Scientists Around the World Agree

Referring to several scientific studies, Steven recognizes that the safety and sustainability of conventionally grown foods have been proven time and again.  Scientists around the globe have agreed, international food and health organizations have endorsed these findings, and environmentalists from numerous countries have observed these advancements. 

 standing in a truck full of harvested rice

standing in a truck full of harvested rice

Following His Lead

Yet, the money funding the false marketing is allowing the fear and confusion to continue.  This courageous author confidently stands firm in the midst of a national conversation swirling with mis-information.  I respect his fortitude and have come to the same conclusion.  I encourage you to read Steven's article for yourself and let me know what comes to mind.