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!"  

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!  

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

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.

Let's Talk about the Good: Using Social Media to Spread Awareness

Difficult, sad and tragic stories come through our news outlets every day.  If that’s the only place you receive information, you may be tempted to believe there’s nothing good happening in the world.  But let me assure you, there is.  Let’s talk about the good that’s unfolding in the world of social media and CCTF.

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The "Good" of Social Media

Since we live in the age of information and globalization, problems in our neighborhoods and around the world no longer escape our awareness.  We can learn about the underserved among us who have gone unnoticed for years.  With the help of social media, people now have the ability to magnify the voices of the hurting like never before.  And the best part—action is being taken by a broader audience than any other time in history!

orphans in Kenya 

orphans in Kenya 

Near and Far

Groups form to give shoes to orphans in South America, provide jobs for ladies in India, and insure clean drinking water for communities throughout Africa.  Local organizations are forming to combat issues in their own backyard like human trafficking, homelessness and food insecurities.  We are doing it!  

fresh produce served at Farm Camp

fresh produce served at Farm Camp

Mobilizing 

While we will never solve all the world's problems, the generations living today are chipping away at the needs of their neighbors, whether nearby and across the globe.  Courageous people are speaking out for others and pooling resources to meet needs that have been unknown and unmet for years.  

learning from a farmer

learning from a farmer

The "Good" of Modern Farming

Connecting City To Farm began with a desire to promote healthy food choices for all budgets by highlighting the nutrition and environmental sustainability of non-organic agriculture.  Throughout the last 30 years, concerns have come about regarding the safety and sustainability of familiar practices.  As a result, scientists have partnered with agriculture professionals to implement improvements that are significantly safer for our consumption and the environment.  The system is working. 

Creative Ways to Do "Good"

In only a few short months of being on this journey, we have seen good happening all around.   Some friends are developing organizations that will protect the environment through the lens of youth sports.  Other friends are creating programs that will train underserved children to value healthy lifestyles.  Some colleagues are mentoring those plagued with homelessness, teaching them how to make the next good decision.  Other colleagues are creating a space for refugee women to learn sewing skills and how to sell their products to provide food for their children.  And one new friend is on a mission to spread the good news about all of it!  Emily Thomas founded The Honest Consumer to discover and highlight all the “good” she sees happening around her.  

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Join the Party!

Fear sells, so the headlines are always going to be full of terror and tragedy.  But take a minute to look beyond the breaking news reports.  Dig around on social media.  Find a cause to investigate and support.  Develop the passion that’s itching to come out by working hard for something outside your own bubble.  Volunteer.  Give.  Broadcast.  Participate in the good.  You may be surprised what you will *receive* in the process!

 

The Combine and Other Farm Equipment

When I was young I loved riding on the combine with my dad.  

friends in front of a combine ready to harvest rice

friends in front of a combine ready to harvest rice

Impressive Equipment

My mom would pack a small ice chest of goodies and we would take it to my dad who was harvesting in the field.  I brought our lunch and got to stay with him for the afternoon.  Sitting on the arm of his seat or in his lap, I helped him drive that enormous piece of equipment!

from the cab of a combine harvesting corn

from the cab of a combine harvesting corn

Times Have Changed

Today, combines are equipped with state-of-the-art GPS technology that guides the operator down each row and ensures the combine remains on the correct path so none of the grain is missed.  Before GPS, however, it was imperative that the operator of the combine stay completely focused on the edge of the header so he wouldn’t leave any grain in the field and yet still have the most efficient use of the equipment.  

rice harvest

rice harvest

Focused

So, as I would chat with my dad and show him my treasures, he would say “I can listen, but I can’t look.  I have to watch the rice.”  Even though he would spend those long days in the cab not being physically active, he was mentally exhausted from the focus required to efficiently harvest the crop he had been patiently growing all season.  

a combine harvesting corn

a combine harvesting corn

Dozing Off

The warmth of the sun coming in the window, the steady rumbling of the engine and the mundane staring at the rice would put me to sleep every time.  As I began to get drowsy, I crawled on a little shelf right behind my dad and curled up for an afternoon nap.  It was kind of like a truck driver who sleeps in the cab of his truck.  My dad and I still enjoy those memories and wonder how I ever slept in such a small space.  I still doze off in the strangest places.  

a combine harveting rice

a combine harveting rice

Factors Out of Our Control

Many professionals today are able to get work done at all hours of the day and night.  Some people say their most productive times are during odd working hours.   With farming, however, the natural conditions most often control a farmer’s productivity.  When his crops are mature and ready to harvest, the farmer would love to work around the clock to get them out of the field to avoid any storm damage that may come.  Unfortunately, there’s a window of time each day when the crops are too moist to harvest because of the dew that develops.  The farmer must wait until the sun rises and dries the crops before he can begin harvesting each day.  

a combine harvesting soybeans

a combine harvesting soybeans

Into the Night

The dew doesn’t develop until late into the night, so I remember my dad and brothers turning on the headlights of the tractors and combines and harvesting until after midnight during the rush of harvest season.  Those were the days when the school year didn’t begin until after Labor Day and everyone was still on Summer Break when a majority of the harvesting was done.  

It Is Finished

Harvest is a time of accomplishment.  After all the planning and nurturing, the time has come to cross the finish line and complete the season.  What kind of yields will they make?  What about all the small decisions the farmer made throughout the growing season:  when to water, what fertilizer to use, what to do if it doesn't rain for weeks?  So many paths that could have been taken and now to see how it all turns out.  For the farmer, this is the most critical and exciting time of the year!

 

 

 

Harvesting in July: Whitaker Farms

Most people who think about harvest time associate it with Fall.  However, Whitaker Farms has never been limited by what most people think.  In 2016, they are harvesting in JULY!  

first hopper full of rice in 2016

first hopper full of rice in 2016

Watch today's video to learn about all the reasons Jim Whitaker accepted the invitation to participate in a trial crop of this new rice seed with a shorter growing season and how his plans will benefit their soil and the waterfowl that will visit their farm this winter.  

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.  

 

Teamwork in Agriculture: Miles Farms

If you spend any time visiting with Matt Miles about farming, you quickly learn that he sees modern farming as a team effort.  

Layne, Sherrie and Matt Miles from Miles Farms

Layne, Sherrie and Matt Miles from Miles Farms

Matt's agronomist, crop consultant and office manager are just a few of the people he depends on to to make decisions about the safety and success of his yield.  In this short clip, you'll hear Matt explain how his team is developing a plan to draw out the nutrients in the soil for the enrichment of their crops.  

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.

Farming from the Air

Because the morning hours are usually less windy, I would often hear airplanes buzzing over our house while getting ready for school as a little girl. 

friends learning about ag airplanes at the rural airport

friends learning about ag airplanes at the rural airport

Early to Rise

I remember thinking, “Oh… that pilot must have gotten up really early to be in his plane and flying before I even leave the house.”  It’s true.  Like many other dedicated business owners, agriculture professionals usually rise long before the sun.  

observing our rice harvest from a plane

observing our rice harvest from a plane

Farming from the Air

Driving tractors over fields during the growing season is sometimes impractical or impossible, so farmers often hire an ag airplane service to spread fertilizer, insecticide, herbicide or even seed.  Wind makes flying difficult, and it also causes the product to be spread unevenly across the field.  Current technology has improved the pilot’s ability to precisely control where the product lands on the crop. 

me in 6th grade

me in 6th grade

Flagging

When I was in elementary school, my oldest brother, who was farming with my dad at the time, would occasionally ask me to flag for him.  I LOVED flagging.  Even though I was young, this was a real job on the farm that I could do-- or at least try to do.  Two people stood on opposite ends of a field holding a big orange flag.  As the airplane passed overhead, each person would wave his flag for the pilot to see.  Once the pilot had flown over, each flagger would walk the same distance across the field and get ready to wave his flag again.  While the flaggers were taking their steps, the airplane would turn around and come back for another pass. 

cousins taking off in a small plane used for observation

cousins taking off in a small plane used for observation

Not So Precise

This was the only way the pilot would be able to keep track of where he had sprayed in the field.  Needless to say, there was plenty of room for human error, especially by a distracted little girl.  I did the best I could, and helping in a practical way made me feel very grown up.  

friends posing with the airplane as it loudly takes off

friends posing with the airplane as it loudly takes off

Technology Strikes Again

Modern ag planes are equipped with GPS systems that allow the farmer to plot each field’s longitude and latitude coordinates in his home office.  The system can then direct the pilot accurately as he makes passes over the field.  This allows less overlap and therefore uses less product. 

standing in front of an ag plane

standing in front of an ag plane

Site Specific Farming

Another advantage the GPS system provides is the ability to monitor and record specific areas in a field that may need fertilizer or other attention.  This is one example of Site Specific Farming which allows the farmer to manage each area of the field as needed instead of applying unnecessary products to plants that are perfectly healthy.  The GPS technology is so precise that once the pilot is in the air, the system will follow a perscribed plan to open and close the drop hatch on the plane at just the right time to release the product only on the areas needed. 

yellow ag plane and white passenger plane

yellow ag plane and white passenger plane

Environmentally Friendly 

This beneficial technology drastically reduces the amount of product used.  It also eliminates the accidental drifting of the product onto unwanted areas such as adjoining crops, animal habitats, and natural waterways.

a Farm Camper exploring the cockpit of an ag plane equipped with state-of-the-art technology

a Farm Camper exploring the cockpit of an ag plane equipped with state-of-the-art technology

Technology brings enormous productivity gains to today’s farms.  Ag flying is just one area where the dynamic combination of modern technology and the farmer’s intelligence is creating terrific opportunities to balance the growing world population’s need to eat with our earth’s need to thrive.

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.