Let’s Take the Fear Out of Food

I tell you what, it is not easy being a food consumer these days. It can be extremely confusing to know which products are okay to buy and which are not.  Food labels and the media are no help.  What is a hungry gal to do?!

Making matters worse, Chipotle is releasing a four-part comedy series called Farmed and Dangerous on Hulu.  Their goal is not to sell burritos, but to target “industrial agriculture” and push their views of modern-day farmers onto consumers.  You will hear words and phrases such as factory farms, antibiotics, hormones, industrial and many other big, scary words.  It is all a scare tactic to influence you to join their witch hunt and buy their food.  The series will paint a nasty picture of modern-day agriculture that is far from the truth.  I fear that Chipotle’s series will result in more consumer confusion. Let’s take the fear out of food.   I would like to debunk some agriculture myths and help clear the blurred lines a bit (Don’t worry, in doesn’t involve twerking).

The dairy farm my great-grandparents established

The dairy farm my great-grandparents established

It is true, farming is not what it was fifty years ago.  The little, red barn on a hill with a sunset behind it is more difficult to find these days. It is because the agriculture industry is evolving and we have new technology to help us farm and feed the world…. and it is a good thing! The FAO (The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States) has predicted that by the year 2050, we’re going to need to produce 70% more food than what we do today because of the growing middle class and population. By the year 2050, the world population will reach 9 billion and we will have many more mouths to feed with less available land and resources.  Technology will help us feed your future children and grandchildren.  In 1940 one farm was able to feed 18.5 people and today one, single farm can feed over 155 people!  We don’t use the same cameras or drive the same cars we did fifty years ago, why are we expected to farm the same way as we did in the past?

FACTORY FARMS

Let’s address what Chipotle and the media call “factory farms”.  It sounds scary doesn’t it?  Is this what you envision?

Chipotle's view of dairy farms

Chipotle’s view of dairy farms

Here is the reality:

The milking parlor at my home farm.  It can milk 20 cows at once

The milking parlor at my home farm.

In the past, cows were milked by hand into a bucket.  A very time consuming and labor intensive job. (hard on the knees!) Today, modern dairy farmers use milking parlors with machines to milk the cows.  Milking parlors come in many different shapes and sizes and improve efficiency.  Work smarter, not harder, right?! The parlor on our farm requires one person and has the capacity for 16 cows.  We are able to milk 500 cows in less than seven hours!  The cows enjoy coming to the parlor to be milked and they do so three times a day.  It takes approximately five minutes to milk each cow.  After she is milked, she is able to return to her pen to eat, lay down and hangout with her friends.  Dairy cows are meant to be milked. Not milking a cow results in an uncomfortable animal that is much more prone to develop mastitis.

Here is something else you might envision when you hear “factory farm”:

Here is the reality:

The dairy farm I grew up on. This dairy milk 1,500 cows .  It is where I was born and raised!

The dairy farm I grew up on. This dairy milks 1,500 cows . It is where I was born and raised!

Interesting, in this case the vision is the reality!  It is true, the barns we house our animals in and work in everyday look very different from what we see in storybooks. This type of barn is called a free-stall barn.  The picture above includes four free-stall barns and two milking parlors.  A free-stall barn is a large barn that contains a bedded stall for every cow to rest in and easy access to feed and water.  The cows are not tied up and free to move about the pen.  Get it…free-stall barn?  This type of barn also provides great ventilation when compared to the storybook barns of the past.  There are giant doors and tarp-like curtains on the sides of the barns that can be opened or closed depending on the weather conditions.  It is important that we keep our cows happy and comfortable!

freestall

The inside of the free-stall barn at my home farm

The other difference between family farms of today and family farms of the past, is that today the average dairy farm is much larger.  In the past there were more farms with fewer cows.  Today, there are fewer farms, with more cows.  Many farm families enjoy what they do and want to grow the business in order to make a good living.  By expanding the farm size we are able to become more efficient and more profitable.

ANTIBIOTICS

Now, let talk a bit antibiotics.  Antibiotics are used when an animal is sick, just like with people.  We utilize antibiotics ONLY when warranted.  Farmers aren’t giving animals antibiotics willy nilly or just because; it is not cost effective or necessary. If we give an animal an antibiotic to get better, there is a withdrawal period.  This means the meat or milk from a treated animal cannot be sold until it tests negative for antibiotics.   The antibiotic cannot and will not reach your food supply.  So when you see labels like “antibiotic free”, know that it is a marketing scheme to influence you to buy that label instead of one without an “antibiotic free” label.  All meat and dairy products are antibiotic free, so buy and eat whatever you want! Interested in how and why we use antibiotics on are farm? Click here: Cows, Antibiotics, and You.

HORMONES

“Hormone free” or “bST free” are other labels we see on our food packaging.  The secret is, nothing is hormone free.  All living creatures are full of hormones that are naturally produced. My body, your body, an animal’s body, that flower over there; all full of hormones.  Hormones that make you want to bow-chicka-bow-wow, some that direct nutrients, others that trigger a mother’s instinct and many more.  So, don’t be fooled by the “hormone free label”.

There is a popular hormone you may have heard about, bST or rbST.  bST is a naturally occurring hormone in dairy cattle and rbST is the synthetic version of it.  We use rbST on our dairy farm to increase milk production.  The hormone helps direct nutrients to the udder and enables the cow to produce more milk.  This piece of technology allows us to increase efficiency and profitability while decreasing the use of land and resources.  For more information on rbST use on our farm, check out O.M.G. You Use rbST?

My family’s farm, just like 96% of the other dairy farms in America, is still family owned and operated. We drink the same water as you, breath the same air, and eat the same food.   We still care for our animals and practice animal husbandry just as our great-great grandparents did.   Farmers are using today’s technology to produce a safe, quality product while using less land and fewer resources.  I recently went through some old family photos.  Check them out!

My dad at our home farm. He’s weird.

My grandparents in the early years of our family farm operation

My grandparents in the early years of our family farm operation

My sister and I pretending to be calves.

My sister and I pretending to be calves.

My sister showing her cow at the county fair

My sister showing her cow at the county fair

My sister and cousin, back in the day,  helping my grandparents feed calves

My sister and cousin, back in the day, helping my grandparents feed calves

My mom and sisters at the farm.  Not sure why I wasn't included in the photo.....

My mom and sisters at the farm. Not sure why I wasn’t included in the photo…..

Don’t let Chipotle or the media put a scary vision of modern-day farms in your head.  Don’t let them put fear into your food.  No matter what your choice is at the market, know it is safe. Conventional, organic, natural, big and small; we need all types of agriculture to feed the world.  The agriculture industry is doing its best to deliver a quality product to your table.

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25 thoughts on “Let’s Take the Fear Out of Food

  1. Love reading your blog, Annaliese. You do a great job! Love the pics of your family in this post. And your dad…he’s not THAT weird 😉

  2. I didn’t mean to hit “post comment”. I meant to say “…he’s not THAT weird 😉 (maybe just a little!” Lol

  3. Fantastic story Farm Chick. You tell it like it is. The first picture is of your grandparents, great grand parents, great great grand mother, grand uncle and aunts congregating to celebrate your Dad’s first birthday. Today I had a Chipotle wrap for lunch and it didn’t sit well with me. Now I know why.

  4. I just watched Chipotle’s video about free range hogs. If those hogs were on the outside of the fence, they would be feral hogs and shot for being so destructive to the environment. If they have “better taste”, is it because they are drinking slime water or because they are eating heaven knows what. I doubt that they are “happy hogs” in these sub zero temperatures.

  5. I love all the information you share, I have been fooled by the antibiotic, hormone free advertisement, basically I didn’t know any better. We listen to all these celebrities and companies that can give modern day farming a bad rap, we need to listen to people like you that actually know what the hell they are talking about. I love how you said we don’t drive the same cars, can you imagine driving around in a horse and buggy, it would be stupid and uncomfortable. Keep the information coming!

    • I’m glad you liked the post! I want consumers to know that no matter what they purchase at the grocery store, it is safe. I wish the media would focus on the good and not so much on the bad. I know there are bad farmers out there who over-crowd animals, mistreat them, etc., but they are the exception and not the rule! Most farmers, no matter the size of their herd, care for their animals and treat them with respect. It is too bad that those bad farmers and the media are creating a bad name for all conventional farm operations.

  6. Thanks for sharing! I am (like you and all the other readers/commenters here) tired of the unfounded claims in regards to modern ag practices. I love all of the facts and numbers you included too! Just a thought, but some (like me, for instance) appreciate sourcing/links to facts and figures [helps SEO too 🙂 ] Good post!

  7. I Haven’t watched the chipotle video yet but I would assume Chipotle would support a family farm like yours. A farm that’s is supporting the local economy, using resources in a responsible way, creating a humane environment for the animals and using new technologies appropriately. I’m a huge supporter of farms like yours!

    I hope chipotle will target what I think of as “factory farm”- the farms that are assembly lines of meat-producing animals- they are crammed into pens, living (if you can call it that) on top of each other in filt/feices, being force fed unnatural products and pumped with hormones that forces unnatural development rates. As all these little factors add up the chain of negative impacts just gets longer. “These factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests.” (Nypost)

    I hope chipotles video will help promotes the responsible, hard working “small but now larger because of moder day advancements” farm. I grew up in a small town with friends and family farmers. The reality is we need these “factory farms” to support the growin population. But the more support we give to the smaller, local, sustainable farmer the less we will need to rely on these discussing commercial farms.

    • posted at http://moderndayfarmchick.com/2014/01/28/lets-take-the-fear-out-of-food/ 2-21-2014 1:33 a.m.:
      Lyn_local&loyal, I’m glad you recognize that we need the “factory farms” to support the increasing population. But when people are badmouthing “factory farms,” they *are* badmouthing family farms like Modern Day Farm Chick’s. They’re badmouthing the farms your grandparents may have farmed, and your childhood friends’ farms–which are probably still farmed by some of the same families.

      Like everything else–schools, malls, churches, hospitals and so on–farms have gotten bigger. Big does not necessarily equal bad. In fact, research shows that the larger farms tend to do a better job of nutrient (manure) management. The worst conditions I have personally seen for livestock have been on hobby farms, not modern productive farms. But we can’t stereotype all farms based on a few examples we have seen.

      I’ve seen a lot of farms, inside and out. None of them had animals stacked on top of each other in filth or feces. Farm animals are not force-fed anything and are not pumped full of hormones. Chipotle ads show chickens being injected with something that blows them up like balloons–ostensibly hormones. But, in the United States, no poultry are fed or injected with any amount of hormones; it is illegal here.

      The Chipotle ads picture farms that do not exist. That’s the problem. People fear terrible conditions, but that doesn’t mean they exist. Kids may fear dragons, but dragons don’t exist. Most things that adults worry about are things that never happen. Some groups and companies, including Chipotle, feed on our fears in order to sell their products. That’s pretty unethical in my book.

      I Googled the quote you attributed to the New York Post. The chef Mark Bittman apparently first published it in the New York Times on Jan. 27, 2008. It has been widely quoted and widely plagiarized ever since.

      What Bittman doesn’t acknowledge is that technology allows farmers to produce more food using less energy and lower rates of pesticides than our grandparents used. As far as “require [requiring] ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains,” that couldn’t be further from the truth. Per pound of milk produced, pound of eggs produced or pound of meat produced, less feed is used than in the past, thanks to modern technology. The more productive we allow farmers to be, the less rainforest land will be destroyed. The same principle is true for crop farms.

      Yes, animals exhale C02, just as humans do. “How much of the earth’s atmosphere is represented by its [cows’] CO2 content? Somewhere in the vicinity of 0.038 percent.” (http://rationalargumentator.com/issue143/NYTmeat.html) People often quote a UN report citing a much higher percentage; that part of the report was proved wrong after it was published. Writers of the report admitted they had made errors; they retracted the wrong information, but the damage had been done. People continue to quote information that is six times worse than the truth.

      I don’t know why a chef is presenting himself as an expert in agriculture. I don’t present myself as an expert in making a roux or managing a commercial kitchen.

      Virtually all farms are “commercial,” and they have to make money if they are to stay in business. They’re not sustainable if they can’t stay in business. I usually ask people who think farmers are horrible because they work for the “almighty dollar,” what do you work for? Unless we’re independently wealthy, we all have to work for the “almighty dollar.”

  8. Thank you for an accurate and concise blog! All of us farmers need to keep sharing these facts as that is the only way our consumers will hear what agriculture is really about. Keep up the wonderful way that you share the agriculture story!

  9. Do you have an explanation of the problem of more and more people becoming lactose intolerant? I never remember hearing of that at all when I was in school years ago. Now days it seems to be so common. What is going on, that more and more people can’t tolerate drinking milk? The same thing is happening with gluten. Something has changed somewhere.
    I also heard that the cows on dairy farms usually are only good for 3-4 lactations. By then they are worn out. We had a family milk cow on our farm who had 17-18 lactations before she retired. She was very healthy even then except for mastitis that developed during her last lactation. A dairy farmer friend of mine said if there was any way they could have the bag without the cow they would. Sadly it seems it’s all about numbers and how much the cows can produce etc.
    Dean Doornink, with all due respect, to be fair you should try some of that free range hog meat. You might be surprised to find out what they’re talking about by better taste. We raise pastured broilers for our own use, and the taste is far and above what you can ever get in the store, even buying organic. Everybody that tries is says the same thing.

    • Farm girl, No I have no explanation in regards to lactose intolerance. It is true, that a cow is most profitable between 1-4 lactations. As the cow ages, her milk production decreases and we have to make a business decision to sell her. We have many cows that are in later lactations, as we breed for longevity. My family had a cow milk for 16 lactations, pretty neat! Dairy farming is a business and much of it is about numbers, however that doesn’t mean we don’t care for our animals 🙂

  10. As I watched the Chipotle ad for free range hogs, I was offended by the hogs drinking from a slime pool. While this may be natural for a hog, why show it on a advertising video? Hogs in confinement usually drink fresh water from a spigot. On many dairies ground water is used to cool the milk before being used to water the cows or clean the parlor. We clean the water troughs daily. It just seems better than drinking from a slime pool.

  11. Hi Modern day farm chick. In your opinion should I buy organic or not? What is your opinion on gmo crops? I dont know what to believe or do. You seem honest and and seem to have the consumers best interest….. thanks for your help. Todd

    • Hi Todd!

      When it comes to what to purchase at the market, buy whatever you like! There is no right or wrong answer. Whether it is conventional or organic, know that it is a safe, quality product. To be honest, when I am at the grocery store or farmer’s market, I just buy whatever has the best price and ignore labels. Its all good 🙂

      When it comes to GMOs, have no fear! Genetically Modified Organisms or genetic engineering is basically taking good genes from a particular organism and inserting it into another. With this technology, farmers are able to grow crops that are more drought resistant, require fewer pesticide applications and ultimately increase crop yields. With a growing population, increased yields and technology are vital to feeding the world.

      I hope I have helped you! Just remember, no matter what you purchase at the market, know it is safe. Organic, conventional, natural, big or small….we need all types of agriculture to feed the world. Let me know if you have any more questions! 🙂

  12. Pingback: Why I’m PRO GMO | Modern-day Farm Chick

  13. Pingback: Quit Putting Fear in My Food. | Modern-day Farm Chick

  14. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good.

    I do not know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if
    you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

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