United We Stand…Resisting the Attempts to Divide Agriculture

To be upfront with any new readers, my husband and I are organic crop farmers. We walk the line of organic and conventional agriculture every day – we raise 2400 hogs in climate controlled curtain sided barns, meaning our animals are raised conventionally. We do this for a few reasons, but the main one is so that we are able to capture the manure to use as our fertilizer on our fields. In our opinion, it is the ultimate recycling program.

Much has been said about a newly published report by two doctors at Stanford University about nutritional differences in organic and conventional foods.  I am a little sad that friends who choose to farm differently than I do are touting this report as a “see I told you so” kind of deal.  I have avoided my Facebook account for most of the day because of some comments. So, here is my take on this.

Ever since advertising and marketing started – and all I know about that timeline is it started before I was ever thought about – people have been touting their products in such a way as to sway people into buying what they are selling. Who can forget the slogans “Tastes Great, Less Filling”, “Finger Lickin’ Good”, Good To The Last Drop”, or “Breakfast of Champions”?

Land O’ Lakes will tell you that their milk will stay fresher, longer because of their opaque packaging. Chevy Trucks will tell you that their trucks have a better payload than their competitors. Are they being deceptive, or are they trying to appeal to their target audience? How are the advertising practices of milk brands or truck brands any different than how conventional or organic produce are advertised?

The Stanford study looked at nutrition – mostly vitamins A, C, and E. It also looked at detectable pesticide residue. My first response to the study of the vitamins was “duh”.  I don’t buy organic produce because I think it has better nutrients.  I buy according to taste, and what my family will eat. Many times we can find different varieties of vegetables in the organic section that have a taste we prefer. Look at the surge in heirloom tomatoes being grown in back yard gardens, the the varieties of small tomatoes available at your local supermarket. People are enjoying the food experience, and are demanding foods that fit in with their developing tastes.

I have talked with people at different events that appreciate the way we grow our crops. They believe that a minimal three crop rotation is the best for the soil and the environment. They will buy organic as a way of supporting those who farm in ways they believe in. Nothing was said about nutritional value. There is more to the organic equation than just nutrients, I think.

We should all be celebrating that fact that there was only 38% of conventional produce that had detectable pesticide residue. That means our pesticide residue monitoring systems are working. I understand that there are those who have very little tolerance for pesticide residues due to allergies and illness, which is why you buy organic. I am happy you have that choice, and that it is becoming more readily available for you.

I will never make anyone feel bad for the food choices they make. We all have different taste in clothes, shoes, cars, TV’s, computers, orange juice, cereal, etc. We don’t tear each other apart for those differences, why do so many feel it is okay to condemn food choices? I see no need to have an us vs them attitude in agriculture. What benefit is that to anyone? I would encourage everyone to have a mixed, balanced diet filled with color…and the occasional deep fried Milky Way on a stick.

I am just thankful I live in a time where I do have the choice to buy what I like.  I am thankful for those who gave their lives so that we are able to express our opinions in a public forum, and not be jailed for it. I am thankful for those who are still serving who are sacrificing time with their families, and for those who are eating mess hall meals so we are able to walk into a grocery store and buy whatever I feel like buying that day. I am thankful for all of the families that are farming, doing the best they can to raise crops and livestock for those who are unable to.  As you can tell, I think there are many other issues that are a little more important than this study.

My younger brother, saluting the American Flag at a Twins game in July…a few weeks before being deployed for 12 months. I thank him for defending my freedom, and pray for his safe return.

Author: Carolyn Olson

I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, MN. In 1988, I married my best friend, and moved to the farm. Jonathan and I have three daughters, and will soon have a son-in-law! I love life on the farm, and wouldn't trade it for anything!

46 thoughts on “United We Stand…Resisting the Attempts to Divide Agriculture”

  1. Great post. Thanks for taking the time to write it out. We also are on the fence farmers–organic crops and conventional livestock. Nice to know there are others.

  2. So very, very right! Well put. But please do know that many of us have allergies more to organic. I have to avoid organic fruits due to the reactions I have to many organic pesticides.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      I have a cross reaction to fresh fruits and vegetables (my body thinks they are the pollens of the weeds and trees I am allergic to), which makes it difficult to enjoy some of the fresh produce that is abundant right now. Being able to choose what works for you is a wonderful thing!

      We don’t use any pesticide on our crops – but we grow barley and field peas, wheat, corn, and soybeans. The wheat is the only thing that we sell for human consumption. The rest is sold for seed or animal feed.

  3. Great job on outlining the right to choose how plants and animals are raised on your farm – just as the food buyer deserves choice in the grocery store. Advertising somehow seems to pit those choices against each other, which seems to fly in the face of the freedoms that your brother is protecting. How do you think ag can get around this challenge?

    1. Thank you, Michele! My hope would be that as a whole, agriculture would stand up for each other. There are always going to be those that try to pit one against the other, no matter what the subject matter is. Agriculture is such a personal thing. Brothers, who are friends of ours, have different opinions on the best way to raise crops and livestock, and they were taught by the same father. What one sees as opportunity, the other sees as more work. In order to maintain their farm, they have come to a compromise. That is what I hope we will be able to do here.

      Advertising strategies have always been on the edge – bigger, better tasting, healthier, lower in sodium. It doesn’t matter the method in which it was raised, every product is touted to be the best in a way that appeals to their target audience. If ag can rise above the advertising claims, and stand together, then we become the trusted source that people are searching for. Not a small task, but one I hope we can rise to!

      1. If they knowingly support Monsanto by knowingly buying from aggro-conglomerates that use Monsanto’s products and abet Monsanto in destroying small independent farming operations and/or who buy products in mega chain grocery stores knowing the chances are 90% or better they are GMO by Monsanto, then IMO there is an EXTREMELY compelling reason to “condemn” their choices. Have you tried growing a watermelon or peas or tomatoes from the seeds of what you bought at Whole Foods?? Even they sell GMO and those seeds will not get past germination with out a chemical only Monsanto knows about, and only they make. Eventually, if we don’t condemn food choices we won’t have any choice but Monsanto GMO. We will not even have the ability to grow your own because all seed will be Monsanto GMO as well.
        I’d like to do substantially more to Monsanto than condemn them.

  4. So glad someone shared this on facebook so I could see it. Thank you for writing it.
    My gut reaction yesterday when I saw the churn of people sharing that article was to do exactly what you said and gloat a little. The marketing of organic labeled products has often been to the detriment of the foods I produce. I want to hear that what I produce is a superior product or at least equal because I have pride in the my cows and farm. However if that means that I have to put down another farm to do so, I am not going to. It’s not as important to me to be better than it is for us to work together to produce the food that feeds the world. While we farm conventionally, I have nothing against having organic options available for people who choose to support that method of farming. I don’t want to see our farmers and farmers even more divided over production choices.

  5. Very well-written. I abhor any sort of elitism or propaganda in food choice — just as I dislike organic folks saying, “We’re healthier!” I dislike conventional growers screaming, “I told you so.” It’s a horrible back-and-forth and does NOT help us move toward a better tomorrow and a more stable food supply.

    Thanks so much for writing this post, and sharing. I imagine it was probably intimidating to write, and I admire your willingness to speak on it. Best wishes!

  6. Thanks for a great post. I am a farmgirl from Iowa, born and raised on our family farm, {which is now a Century Farm} where my dad and brother {and me on occasion} still farm today. Even though we are a conventional farm, the farming practices that we have now are vastly different from what use to be. There are fewer passes through the field and fewer chemicals applied, which in the end cuts input costs on our end…in addition to having less soil impaction and possible erosion, but has a result of higher yields.
    Of course I support traditional/conventional agriculture as much as possible, because it’s the livelihood for my family. However, I do support the organic farmer as well, because it’s the livelihood for someone else’s family. Shoot, I have even purchased organic products if it’s something I enjoy eating.
    BUT….what gets me is when farmers in the agriculture industry, whether traditional/convention or organic, bash each other. Yes, we have our different farming practices, that’s a given. But if we can’t support each other as farmers/ranchers and an industry as a whole, how does that reflect to the rest of the population?
    To me, it is about education. Sharing/educating the public on how and why you farm the way you do, without disrespecting the choices others make. I try to think of our world without one or the other…and I can’t imagine it!
    So agriculture…let’s stand united as we feed ourselves and the rest of the world!

  7. Excellent! I see that many of us have the same views – the question is what to do about the divisive nature that’s more pervasive than ever before.

    Kelly Rivard expressed the problem well – what do we do about the small-scale producers who denigrate larger operations? I don’t hear much criticism of small operations by larger producers, but if that’s happening, it too should stop.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (and again) …. we (in ag) absolutely cannot afford to be divided.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! It is a tough question – what to do about the divisive nature. I, for one, refuse to give in to that pressure. If we can all see the value in each other, and respect another farmer’s choice on what to raise and how to raise it, I think it will help.

  8. Farming has become more of a target lately. In North Carolina, developers are working shady dealings with local governments to force farmers out of business. Having more confusing regulations and other hoops to jump through like you’ve detailed just add to the tough life of any farmer – big or small. Let’s team up and help the farmers – they provide us with our foods!

  9. net they will be tellng it is better to eat at McDonalds than eating a good nutritious meal that you have just picked from your own vegetable garden. I hate that they decide to investigate something like this when there are so many truly need to investigate, like how much pesticides a person can tolerate before he/she gets sick in some way(cancer, asthma, etc). I much prefer knowiing thatI don’t have to eat foods that I know is toxic in large amounts. I would prefer to err on the correct side ofthe issue.!!!!!!

    1. Nita,
      Food choice is important and there isn’t a “correct side of the issue” to be on, the issue is solved by doing what works for you personally and understanding that others will do what works for them.

  10. amen folks , keep doing what you are doing here on this page and one day the bashing will stop, A farm is a farm no matter what you may raise or grow and they are as diverse as the produce we see in the supermarkets. Every one has thier own ideas about how it should be done, but that is the very thing that has made america the greatest agriculture center of the world

  11. This soldier is controlled by congress/big business/Monsanto……he will have no problem using his force to take your farm, if ordered to!……don’t buy all this BS!

  12. Carolyn, your blog post is thoughtful and very well written. I echo your thoughts. I support food choice. I support all types of farming. There is demand for all types of conventional and organic farming! In North Dakota we need more organic farmers and have a hard time finding them. But the truth is we just need more farmers as a whole. All types. For a next generation of agriculture. Thank you for inspiring me tonight.
    Katie Pinke
    Wishek, ND

  13. It’s all about balance. Giving back what we take out whther that’s agriculture, money or even our human relationships. Providing we remember that , whatever system we choose to farm by or live by seems ok to me. Extremism in ANY sphere throws systems out of balance and threatens the stability of us all.

  14. Maybe a lot of you were not born yet but this is deja vu all over again. Monsanto told us when they created DDT it was harmless. FAIL. So then they come up with Agent Orange (also “totally safe”) which ruined and/or shorted the lives of half our Viet Nam Vets. Now they create GMO seeds (from a very similar chemical as Agent Orange which attacks the nervous and immune system). Sorry, THEY divided it. I was find eating organic with traditional farms next to mine, until came Monsanto. Those old traditional farms no longer exist. Seeds migrate with the wind. Even those not using them (or think they are not) often are. Monsanto is simply evil (in a nutshell)

  15. Thank you for your blog, I support all farmers I know its a thankless job that provides limited financial rewards for all the hard work you put into it. I have a little veggie garden so that we can enjoy good tasting veggies during our short season. I know my daughter only buys organic foods for her family because she wants them to have healthy foods without the use of chemicals and growth hormones. Cancer rates have increased in our country so fast anything she can do to protect her children she will do. I enjoy drinking organic milk it reminds me of my childhood when milk tasted good not like it does today..with all the chemicals in it. Maybe in another 20 years this subject will be revisited. My prayers to your brother hope he comes home soon.

  16. Organic farmers need to quit acting like they are MORALLY SUPERIOR to other farmers! We grow close to 1,000 acres of GMO Monsanto CORN! It is the greatest corn ever. We use our OWN dairy manure as fertilizer and feed our corn silage to our dairy milk cows. We have one of the healthiest closed herds in America and our cows average 90 lbs+ per day….fact! As a business & marketing University graduate, ORGANIC is the most genius MARKETING GIMMICK campaign! NATURAL products or buying local is the BEST not organic!

    1. Most of the farmers I know – no matter the production methods – are very humble people. There will always be the ones on the fringes who have a narrowed perspective, and think they are better than others. They do not speak for the whole.

  17. People NEED TO WORRY MORE ABOUT ASPARTAME in their yogurt, diet drinks, chewing gum, etc…MORE THAN GMO corn! I guess the MEDIA isn’t out to destroy TRIDENT gum, Diet Coke, Yoplait yogurt, etc…IT is the cause of over 99 health issues in human beings! As for DDT, I COULD HAVE CURED THE MALARIA problem in Africa but then again it was outlawed probably for population control measures in that crap hole of a country!

  18. I can’t agree with you more. My family & I are conventional, commercial farmers in FL. We do everything in our power, to be low impact farmers. Meaning we spray the least amount of pesticides as possible. We would also like to keep farming going for the next generation of our little farmers. One thing you brought up was us vs. them in the line of organic vs. conventional and the way people attack you for not doing it they way they eat. My husband and I had opened a produce stand on our farm to be able to offer our crops to the public. I worked there everyday, and spoke to the public almost everyday about how we grow our produce. To me, education and facts are very important when selling products with so much controversy. We recently had to close out little place because I could not stand the hatred and mean attacks made on us. I had people almost screaming at me because we are not strictly organic, or because we didn’t grow what they wanted us to grow. I had never known people to be so hateful about produce. In our area we have a lot of people that call Florida home & have moved from other areas, so there always questions about our timing and why we don’t grow in the summer & why our season is in the winter. Those are understandable questions! I understand we do things different than the way the rest of the Northeast and Northwest do things, but to attack us for it, is uncalled for. I to have avoided my Facebook Page because of things I have posted about farming. I truly believe the mainstream media plays a big part in how we perceive the world. There are much bigger things going on to worry about if your veggies are organic or if your neighbor is a vegan. Thank you to your brother for fighting for our continued freedom. Maybe one day the crybabies out there will wake and smell their organic or conventional coffee…because at the end of the day, it’s produce, you can wash it….

  19. Every time the “experts” are called out it is to create division by injecting some deliberate confusing, misconstrued information-look,to me this is so simple,in a world where there is so much information we are on overload I don’t require a “expert” to explain to me that pesticides are okay. How easy is it to understand that I don’t want to give my family toxic food? How about toxic water? Toxic air? Next the experts will be telling us that these things are really not so bad either-in fact they are, as fluoride is “good for our teeth” Yeah right. What do we have to lose by returning to a more sustainable way of Agriculture? Less ground water pollution? less millions pounds of toxic chemicals in the soil and water, hundreds of TON’s less antibiotics sold to the animal growers,less cases of cancer? Oh what a terrible way of life that would surely be! What IS at stake is the support for Dow chemical,Syrgenta,Monsanto and all the rest,less to the Dr. that treat all the disease caused by all these cocktails of chemicals as the fish,frogs and bees are pointing out to us-and still the madness persists,even sanctioned by our federal agencies-the ones that are supposedly there for our protection. I don’t require an expert for common sense advice. This is such an obvious one-it should only make a clear point of what’s up with the media. Anyone who falls for this one would fall for anything. Common sense is no longer common-we need a team of “experts” to define what’s going on for us-sheep always require a leader.

  20. Thank you for this blog!
    We need to make sure we keep the family farm alive! It does not matter if we farm organic or conventional. Family Farmers are the backbone of this country and must be in the future!

  21. I believe that many folks who are paranoid about what is in their food are folks that have never raised a vegetable, don’t know how, aren’t willing to learn, and hope that they can force other people (who have to do the work) to do what they want just by continually pushing and pushing, hoping that others will get sick of listening to them and change. I don’t believe they understand that this kind of intimidation will cause a backlash that will do exactly the opposite of what they want.

    Much of the legislation to “fix” the perceived food problems, once it goes through Congress, ends up with perks for the big guys, extra reporting and disincentives for the small farmers, and warm fuzzy feelings for those running for office. Those of us who are old enough know what our parents ate (and many were not on farms, in the days when most everyone ate canned, and folks in the cities especially during the depression, ate what they could find and it certainly wasn’t fresh), and what was used to kill bugs then was far more toxic than anything we have now. There are plenty of folks still with us in their 80s and 90s who ate all of that.

    Research shows genetics (your’s not the food’s) makes the biggest difference in how your system copes with what you eat, or what you’re allergic to. Those who try for perfection and have very small comfort zones as to what they will eat, who have trained their systems to insist on only filtered water, organic foods, pure air, etc. often have children with less than adequate immune systems who’s food must be ideal or they can’t eat it. It’s a bad cycle, because once you get into it, the intolerances are created, passed on to the younger generation, and are very difficult to get rid of.

  22. I am not an expert on this, but it is my understanding that there were groups in California and Oregon who wanted to protect the environment and had a strong beleif that using pesticides and petrochemicals in raising our food was dangerous. They set their own standards for how to grow food based on a preindustial model. Many of us do not want our children risking the ingestion of an amount of pesticides into theri bodies. This is where the term ‘Organic’ began to be used by a subset of the consumers who buy food. (everybody buys food). I have noticed that as the large scale farms and massive companies that have dominated the markets for years noticed a threat to the monopoly of their methods, they began to coopt the ‘Organic’ labelling. Organic standards set by these groups began to be watered down and marketed as ‘Organic’ or Natural even. It has become even more ‘all about marketing’. While I appreciate your brother’s service to our country, I feel that it does nothing for the diccussion of this topic to include it. Of course it is your blog and you can include anything that you want in it. I just don’t think that it helps. Having said that, I would shake your brother’s hand for his putting his life on the line in service to our country.

  23. i like this… we use minimal chemicals, because we have to… we aren’t getting rich… you aren’t getting rich… we are basically just keeping ag land producing… it’s what we do…we raise mostly natural beef… we do vaccinate tho… we have to… cant take the loss… but i certainly have no problem with organics… i think it’s great in fact… i just worry about the world population vs the ag producer population… it’s a rock and a hard spot, kinda problem…

  24. Hey there, I was wondering if you could get in touch with me. I’d like to talk to you about an idea that would further the “united we stand” in ag theme you have here. My email address is JPlovesCOTTON (at) janiceperson (dot) com

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