Faith, Relationships, and Food

Faith Relationships Food

As I was trying to decide how to write what was on my heart regarding all the arguments around food choices, I came across this passage which pretty much summed up what I was feeling. I would encourage you to read the whole thing, even though it’s a bit long. This version put it in everyday language, but the basic meaning matches the 3 other translations I read.

Romans 14   (The Message)

Cultivating Good Relationships

14 Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

2-4 For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

6-9 What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

10-12 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:

“As I live and breathe,” God says,
    “every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
    that I and only I am God.”

So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

13-14 Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.

15-16 If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning!

17-18 God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you’ll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.

19-21 So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you, are you? I said it before and I’ll say it again: All food is good, but it can turn bad if you use it badly, if you use it to trip others up and send them sprawling. When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face but to share the life of Jesus. So be sensitive and courteous to the others who are eating. Don’t eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.

22-23 Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong.

I encourage all of you to really think about how we treat our family and friends when it comes to their food choices. If we ridicule them, or shame them, or make them look bad on social media or at the coffee shop, we are not pleasing God. He knows what’s in our hearts, and certainly knows what comes out of our mouths…or keyboards. As it says in the passage above, “Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit.” Let’s work on building each other up, and showing Jesus’ love through our words and our actions.

Do Your Words Build Up or Tear Down?

Say What Will Build Another Up

When you talk about controversial things, do your words build up or tear down those whose opinions don’t match your own? Do you feel justified in “ripping a new one” to someone you feel has wronged you? Do you share memes online that are digs at others you feel are stupid, or do you sarcastically comment on Facebook posts or tweets to show how you are right and the other person is wrong? I know I would have to answer yes to at least one of these things. We can justify it as being human nature, though, right?

A few weeks ago, I went to church with my mom when I was up visiting family, and the pastor was talking about stress.

His first point was The Stress of a Compromising Situation and how integrity is so important. The supporting scripture for that source of stress was Proverbs 10:9: “People with integrity have a firm footing, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.” and Proverbs 23: 17-18: “Don’t envy evil men but continue to reverence the Lord all the time, for surely you have a wonderful future ahead of you.” Integrity is one of the principles that Jonathan and I have as one of the pillars of our business. It is why we also try to never burn bridges, even when the other party has lit their half on fire. You never know when you – or they – will need help.

The second point was The Stress of Conflict. I know I am one of those who hates conflict to the point that it can trigger my anxiety issues. It is worse when it is a family situation, but really, I hate all conflict. The supporting passages for this source of stress were some that I hadn’t read in awhile, but they really spoke to my heart. Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called ‘Sons of God’.” and Proverbs 18:20: “You will have to live with the consequences of everything you say” both apply today, especially when you look at the conversations people are having on social media. The other two passages are the ones that I have thought about regularly over the last month. Phillipians 2:3-6: “Don’t be selfish. Be humble. Don’t think only about your own affairs. Be interested in others too and what they are doing. Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though He was God He did not demand and cling to His rights.”  Wow! Think about that in the context of your online relationships. Then there was the passage that I used in the photo above – but from a different translation. Ephesians 4:29-32: “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful so that your words will be an encouragement. Get rid of all the bitterness and rage and anger and harsh words and slander. Instead be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” What would happen if we all stopped to think about our words, and tried to build each other up or encourage one another instead of tearing each other down to make ourselves look good. I have been trying to put this into practice over the last few weeks, and I can tell you, it makes me feel good when I know I’ve made someone else feel good. It also makes me feel good when I don’t participate in the negative feeding frenzies on Facebook and Twitter. Let me be clear…we don’t have to “go there” when interacting on social media. We don’t have to participate in the ugly to advocate for agriculture. We don’t need to be the one to make the consumer who is asking the question feel stupid, and we certainly don’t need to be calling them uneducated or whatever the latest insult is. We don’t have to go there!

The final point that the pastor had was The Stress of Competition. I don’t know about other agriculture advocates, but I tend to listen to sermons and pull out things as they pertain to advocating, and how to do it in a Christ-like manner. The final point here was another one that correlates so well to the advocating we do. I really appreciated this passage as how it relates to the stress of competition and conversations we have online. Galatians 6:4: “Let everyone be sure to do his very best for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work done well and he won’t need to compare himself with somebody else.” Isn’t it the goal of every farmer and rancher to do their very best? If you do the very best you can on the ground you farm or with the animals you raise, you won’t need to compare yourself with somebody else. We are all unique in how we manage our resources, but we are not unique in the fact that we all are doing our very best in the work we’ve chosen to do. How’s that for a little stress relief?

My challenge to you is, before you hit the share button on a meme, or comment on a thread, take a second to decide if that meme or your words are meant to build up those you are communicating with, or if they are meant to tear them down. My hope is that your words will be an encouragement.

 

 

**Thanks for the inspiration, Pastor Rick Krasky of Anoka Covenant Church.

90 Days 9 Lessons

It was 90 days ago that my doctor showed me the results of my blood panel taken at my yearly physical, and strongly suggested I take action. His advice was to spend more time on myself, exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, and lose weight. Here are a few things I’ve learned in the past 90 days:

1. The older I get, the harder it is to lose weight.

This is the third time in my adult life that I have gone on a weight loss journey. This is also the hardest I’ve had to work to lose weight. It used to take me about 10 minutes to feel all warmed up to the point where things that were tight felt loose enough to run. Now, it takes about 30 minutes before I feel like things are running smooth.

2. Whatever gadget keeps you motivated is worth it

I love electronic gadgets, and even though I am horrible at math, I love seeing the data after a workout. I currently wear a FitBit Charge, and when I’m working out, I wear a heart rate monitor. They both keep me accountable, but in different ways. The FitBit gives me a snapshot of how active or inactive my day is, and gives me a goal to shoot for. It also feeds my competitive side when I’m competing with friends to see who walks the most in a week. The heart rate monitor makes sure I am not being lazy about my workouts. There is a huge difference in how you attain your 10,000 steps in a day. Strolling around the mall at a leisurely pace won’t help you lose weight as quickly as walking briskly outside will.

3. Numbers can be good…and bad

The number on the scale gives part of the story on your health. For too many years, I let the number dictate my self worth. That is when the numbers are bad. However, when you are trying to avoid a health issue, like diabetes, that can be influenced by the number on the scale, keeping track is good. It is more of a love/hate relationship at times, but I have come to appreciate a deeper meaning of what those numbers symbolize.

4. Diet doesn’t mean deprivation

Watching the total number of calories I take in isn’t always the easiest thing, especially when attending receptions and celebrations. I will occasionally have a cupcake or a small amount of a dessert when at an event, and I enjoy it. If I were to skip it, I know I would obsess over it, which would lead to over indulgence. It’s a system that works for me.

5. Tracking calories is critical

If I were to get injured again, I know I could still lose weight just by watching my portions. How many calories you take in a day versus how many you burn is a good number to know. I use My Fitness Pal to track my food intake, and a food scale (when I’m at home) to accurately measure the food. For me, tracking my calorie and nutrient intake is one of the major keys to my success. I’m pretty thankful that I can now take photos of UPC symbols on food packages and the accurate data for that food comes up…and that MFP does all the number crunching for me. When I first went through a weight loss program in the mid-90’s, I had to figure all of that out by hand. Did I mention how much I love gadgets?

6. Find a support system

If you need to make a lifestyle change like mine, please find family, friends, or a personal trainer who will be there to encourage you when you feel like quitting. There have been days when I’ve wanted to throw in the towel…call it good…fall off the wagon…never step foot on a treadmill again. My family has been my encouragement. They celebrate with me for every pound lost, every milestone reached, and every triumph over the “I can’t” mind game. Without their support, I don’t think I’d be doing as well as I am.

7. Motivation can come from anywhere

I mentioned above that my FitBit feeds my competitive side. That’s probably why I feel motivated by friends who compete in races. There are farmers and ranchers running for Team Beef that prove to me that there are other people with agriculture jobs like mine who find the time to train for races. Most of them have no idea how much hope they give me that one day I’ll be back to running again.

8. Farmers and ranchers need to pay attention to their health

Farmers and ranchers have physically demanding jobs, yet many of us have health issues related to our weight. While we may have bursts of intense activity, we tend to overcompensate when we eat…especially when we’re eating on the go in the tractor or combine. We eat to stay awake, we eat because we’re bored, we eat because the clock says it’s time to eat. Taking time to find 30 minutes of meaningful activity (my doctor’s words), and taking a little “me” time isn’t being selfish. It means you may have a lot more time on this earth to spend with your family.

9. Small steps are better than no steps

My goal is to get back to running, and to lose a lot more weight. Neither of those goals are going to happen overnight, so I can’t beat myself up about the fact that I am still walking for fitness, and I am a third of the way to my weight loss goal. I have found that rejoicing in the increased fitness, and for every weigh-in where I lost at least a few tenths of a pound has made this journey a lot easier to handle. I think my family appreciates the more positive attitude as well.

 

There you have it. Nine things I’ve learned from the first 90 days of my road to wellness. I hope you may find a few helpful nuggets in there!

The first 90 Days

 

 

Escape to Northern Minnesota

Jonathan and I found time to escape from the farm for 2 1/2 days this summer. This was the first summer vacation without any of our kids along, so it was pretty spontaneous. It had been awhile since we visited the North Shore and Duluth, Minnesota, so we decided that would be our destination.

Since the timing of our trip was totally weather dependent, we didn’t have advanced reservations anywhere, and ended up choosing a hotel in Two Harbors. We had been through this town on another trip up the North Shore, but hadn’t stayed there. We really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of Two Harbors instead of the frenetic pace of the Duluth Harbor area.

We left home after 6:00 pm on Wednesday evening, and arrived at our hotel right around midnight. This is what happens when you need to complete a few things on the farm before you can head out the door. Thursday we went to my niece’s house in Duluth and took her out for lunch. She recommended the Duluth Grill so we tried it out. We weren’t disappointed…but if you go, go hungry!

After walking around the Leif Erickson rose garden, and wading in Lake Superior, we took Jenni back to her place so she could make it to work in time. Jonathan and I went back up to Two Harbors, and planned our next adventure. We decided on Gooseberry State Park. The parking and falls area was free…bonus! We walked first to the middle and lower falls, then headed up to the upper falls. We went in the evening, so the light was beautiful, and it wasn’t really crowded.

Upper Falls Gooseberry State Park

On our way back to the hotel that night, we decided to go down to the harbor in Two Harbors and see what was there. We noticed people walking down the break wall, so Jonathan encouraged me to do the same. The water was so calm and the temperatures were perfect. There were seagulls swimming near the break wall, even though people were walking close by. After taking this photo, we watched a ship depart Two Harbors, which was pretty cool.

Seagull in Lake Superior, Two Harbors

On Friday, we decided to do our sight-seeing in the morning before heading down to Duluth to see my sister and brother-in-law who had come to help my niece with a house project. We headed up the shore towards Split Rock Lighthouse. It had rained the during the night, and fog was rolling in off Lake Superior in places which made the views really cool. We pulled over to walk up a look-out along a trail, and marveled that this was just as much a part of the Minnesota landscape as the prairies are that we call home.

Looking North along Lake Superior

When we arrived at Split Rock, we paid the admittance fee, and decided to follow the guided tour before heading out on the self guided portion. We learned a lot of the background history, which helped the self guided portion make sense. This is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the United States, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to take a few. Just to warn you…there are 171 steps down to the lake, which means you need to walk 171 steps back up again. It really wasn’t that bad, especially when there were places along the way where you could pause and take more photos.

Split Rock Lighthouse

Even though this was a mini-vacation, and we packed a lot of sight seeing into it, we came home feeling refreshed. It’s worth taking a couple of days to escape the crazy pace of farming to take a breather!

A Bend in the Road

Bend in the Road

Sometimes, the road of life isn’t as straight and even as you’d like it to be. My road has a bend in it that I have been ignoring for a little while. It is time to make the turn, for my health’s sake.

When I was expecting daughters two and three, I had gestational diabetes. Both times it went away as soon as the girls were delivered. Since then, my doctors have gently reminded me that if I don’t take care of myself, the diabetes could return. Here it is, 23 years later, and the warning is a little more urgent.

I try to get in for my yearly physicals in the fall, after harvest is complete. This past fall, we were fostering a little guy, which meant I put off going in. That may have turned out to be a blessing. A few weeks before my appointment, I was noticing some things were different, and not in a good way. Turns out, I have two out of three issues that accompany metabolic syndrome. Combine that with the history of gestational diabetes, and I am considered pre-diabetic. It is time to admit that I am not invincible –  as painful as that may be to my ego.

The treatment for this little bend in my road is easy and difficult at the same time. My prescription is to move myself up on my priority list, and exercise a minimum of 30 minutes every day. I now watch my food portions as well, and have cut certain extras out of my diet for the most part. The goal is to lose weight through portion control and exercise, and drop my glucose and triglyceride numbers back down to where they should be. Sounds easy enough, but the week I was diagnosed, we had 8 graduation receptions to attend. Nothing like having your resolve tested right away!

I have been on this journey for just over a month now, and I feel great. I am getting to where fitting in exercise has become a priority over watching TV or catching up on social media, and I’m not constantly worried about what I can and cannot eat when I go out to a restaurant. I’ve lost some weight, and am confident I will hit the goals I can control by my 3 month checkup. The only unknown is how my blood test will be.

So, you may see more postings about exercise, eating frustrations (looking at all the fried foods out there that are calorie bombs, but oh, so tasty!), and other things I encounter on this little bend in my road. And, hopefully, you will be seeing a smaller, healthier version of me this fall.

The Impact of a Unified Voice

Speaking with a Unified Voice - Farmers to Washington

 

Agriculture is under attack by the Environmental Protection Agency, individual states, and federal judges. It is time to get involved, and make your voice heard. What is the most effective way to get your message across? By joining a farm organization.

This past March, I had the opportunity to visit Washington DC with the Minnesota Farm Bureau. This was my 4th trip to DC with Farm Bureau, but my first trip as a member of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Board of Directors. I came away with three things I think everyone involved in agriculture should know.

Every farmer should belong to a farm organization

I know, I know. We’re all really busy, and it’s tough to take on one more thing. But what if that one more thing makes your job easier in the long run? For example, fourteen Minnesota Farm Bureau members traveled to Washington DC together in March. That is a small fraction of our membership. We were speaking on behalf of all Minnesota Farm Bureau members that week. When we met with our Congressmen and Senators, they knew we are speaking with a unified voice for all of our members.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been to the Minnesota State Capitol for our Day on the Hill visits. It’s another trip that I love, and it’s an easy one day event for us. The messages we bring to our elected officials, whether state or national, are those that came from our members in the policy development and voting delegate sessions that happen every year. Your voice in your county matters.

Politics may not be your thing, but it affects everything

When I first got involved in Farm Bureau, politics weren’t my thing. I had kids to worry about, I was taking on a few more farm responsibilities, and just didn’t think my opinions mattered anyway. The more I got involved with Farm Bureau, the more I realized how much of our livelihood depended on our elected officials. I started paying attention, embraced the opportunities to attend legislative 101 type sessions at our Leadership Conferences, and learned how the political process works. Then, Jonathan and I won a trip to Washington DC with the Young Farmers & Ranchers group, where we learned how powerful the Farm Bureau voice can be. I went in to that trip pretty wide-eyed, and came home fired up…in a good way. I gained a new respect for those who work hard at getting our message in front of the House and Senate every day. I know I couldn’t do it!

Every farmer should go to Washington DC at least twice

Why go twice? Isn’t once enough…a been there done that kind of thing? As I mentioned above, my first trip to Washington DC was pretty much a wide eyed experience where I was taking in so much information, and seeing for the first time how politics affects agriculture at the national level, that I really didn’t feel like I made much of an impact. When we went on our second trip, I was much more comfortable about speaking up in our meetings, and felt that I was making a difference. In March, one of our Congressmen expressed how he appreciated how Farm Bureau speaks with a unified voice, since they represent all sectors of agriculture. He mentioned how we are a lot like Congress in that we have to learn how to take all of the different voices and come together in agreement on our policies. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. The group on this spring’s trip was very diverse, which really brought home our Congressman’s point. We had beef, dairy, pig, conventional, and organic farmers in our group speaking as one.

Whether it is the American Farm Bureau addressing the issues surrounding the EPA’s Waters of the United States rule, or the Minnesota Farm Bureau addressing Governor Dayton’s buffer strip campaign, our elected officials take note of our message, whether or not they vote the way we would like, at least they know exactly where we stand. That is the impact of a unified voice.

Is Water Quality a Red Herring in the Quest for Land Control?

Water Quality. We hear the term in the news, in press conferences, and in editorials surrounding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s proposals to regulate land use primarily in agricultural areas. What is water quality, and what does it have to do with land control?

 
The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Rule, which would redefine what the term “waters of the U.S.” means, has a host of issues. However, the way they are selling their proposed change is in the name of water quality. Thing is, their rule change has nothing to do with water quality, since all the waters in question are already covered by the Clean Water Act. What it does talk about at length, is jurisdiction. The EPA thinks it can do a better job at implementing the provisions of the Clean Water Act than the states can. I don’t know about your state, but Minnesota is doing a great job at identifying impaired waters, establishing a game plan, and achieving it. Personally, I think states, who involve people who live and work in the watershed, are much more effective at protecting water quality than Washington bureaucrats who have probably never set foot in the watershed they are trying to regulate.

 
So, what is the point of redefining what constitutes a water of the United States if it isn’t going to change the national water quality standards outlined in the Clean Water Act? Could it be power? Control over agricultural lands? The Rule would broaden the scope of the EPA, and basically puts them in the business of regulating a farmer’s activities, which is not what Congress intended. If your land happens to be within the boundaries of the newly defined significant nexus, you may need a permit from the EPA to do ordinary farming practices. Farmers are already working towards the water quality goals of the watersheds their land is in. On our farm, we have taken advantage of voluntary programs, and federal farm programs that encourage soil and water conservation. We have planted marginal lands into Conservation Reserve Program grasslands, planted living snow fences, and use cover crops. Soil samples, plant tissue samples, and manure samples are tested to determine the correct rate of manure application each fall. We are doing what we can to meet or exceed the standards set for the watershed our land is in.

 
Redefining the Waters of the United States in the name of water quality is deceiving…a red herring. The EPA is simply looking for more ways to control what happens on the land. Land owned by farmers and landowners who are already complying with CWA standards.

farmers care about soil, water, and wildlife

Water quality has also been a hot topic on the state level in a few states lately. In Minnesota, Governor Mark Dayton has asked for a 50 foot riparian buffer strip along all rivers, streams, and ditch banks and everywhere water flows “most of the time”. Sounds good on the surface, but like the EPA’s WOTUS rule, the Governor’s plan has some major flaws.

 
Farmers are not opposed to buffers. In the right locations, at the appropriate width designed for that particular location, they can be very effective. One-size-fits-all makes no sense if the goal is improving water quality. However, the news media has been blasting agriculture for not doing their part to improve water quality, and is telling the public that we need these buffer strips to achieve water quality. When I read the proposed Senate and House bills, I was puzzled. What exactly is this water quality they are talking about? Under the Purpose of the bill, it lists “protecting water from runoff and erosion; stabilizing soils, shores, and banks; and provide aquatic and wildlife habitat.” (HF1534, MN House of Representatives) Is that what water quality is? If that is the state’s definition of water quality, we can achieve that in without a mandatory, one-size-fits-all 50 foot buffer strip.

 

 

One of the Governor’s reasons for the need for the 50 foot buffer strip is the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s latest report on the Missouri River Basin in Southwest Minnesota. As I was reading the full report, a few things stood out. Governor Dayton kept referring to how bad the water quality is, but the same report that had the media blasting agriculture for all the water woes also contained some positive news. Two of the major watersheds had improved water quality over the past 10 years. Pipestone Creek and the Rock River both showed decreases in Total Suspended Solids and Total Phosphorus, two areas of assessment that is mentioned many times in the MPCA’s report.

pipestone creek water quality improvement

rock river water quality improvement

The other thing that I noticed is that there is no water quality standard for Total Phosphorus in streams, and there are no Nitrite/Nitrate standards in streams or lakes. When reading the chemistry results from the tested waters – where there were water chemistry reports – there were numbers present, but no parameters for TP or Nitrite/Nitrogen. If there are no water quality standards, or water quality goals, how can we know if we have achieved the desired result?

 
The idea of no water quality standard or goal in the proposed bill was brought up at the Governor’s Buffer Strip Session in Worthington, Minnesota. I was happy the gentleman asked the question, since I had noticed the lack of goals in the bill, but just thought I was missing a point. That question raises another one. If there are no Total Phosphorus standards for streams, how are we to know when we have reached an achievable goal? Is it the historic levels dating back before the European settlements? What if those numbers were historically high, even before the prairies were turned in to farmland? Are we just going to be chasing an unachievable number?

 
Spring Lake, near Prior Lake recently made a request to the EPA to change the standard for Total Phosphorus from 40 ppb to 60 ppb after a lake sediment core was studied, and it found that Spring Lake historically was high in Total Phosphorus. So, if TP was high before the land surrounding Spring Lake was turned into farmland, is it agriculture solely to blame? I don’t think so.

 
It remains that there are no true water quality standards set out in Governor Dayton’s Buffer Strip bill. Even when farmers are accused of not doing their part to improve water quality, the MPCA’s own documents show otherwise. So, if there is no true water quality standard in the bill, using water quality as the selling point is deceiving…a red herring. What is it that the Governor truly wants? More land.

 
In December, the Governor held a Pheasant Summit to address the decline in the pheasant population in Minnesota. It was there that the first mentions of a 50 foot buffer strip plan were heard. When the Governor announced his plan a few weeks later, it was not met with much enthusiasm. In January, the buffer strip idea was introduced as a way to increase water quality. Water quality is an emotional subject, and has been used as a rallying cry for the Governor’s plan to put the Department of Natural Resources in charge of those 50 foot buffers on privately owned land. In the name of water quality, farmers have been raked through the mud and have been characterized as being uncaring polluters. As mentioned above, we do many things to improve water and soil conservation on our farm. We care about water quality just as much as our friends in town do. We drink the water from our wells, we bathe in it, we use the water for recreation, and we depend on the rain for our crops. Jonathan and I are not unique in that aspect.

 
If the EPA or the Governor were truly more interested in water quality than control of property rights, they would support incentives for farmers, businesses and non-farmer land owners that allow for an individualized approach that takes into account the unique features of that property. Both entities need to quit deceiving the public, and call their proposals what they really are: A quest for the control of the landowner’s private property.

Water Quality – Don’t Put all Your Eggs in the Buffer Basket

Buffer strip

In January, Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton announced a plan to require a 50 foot buffer strip along all rivers, streams, and drainage ditches in the state. Mandating a set buffer strip width for all of those waterways means topography, soil types, and surrounding land use will no longer be determining factors in buffer strip width. This one-size-fits-all approach won’t improve water quality like we’ve been told it will.
The NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Services) published a report in 2000 that talked about the different types of water control features that would help trap soil, nutrient, and pesticides, which would help to improve water quality. In the report, they stated how using multiple methods was more effective than a single method for controlling water flow, water filtration, and pesticide trapping. Many improvements have been made in the 15 years since this report was published. Let me highlight a few for you.

Cover crops

The use of cover crops is a relatively new trend in our area. Cover crops are a blend of plants grown for their ability to prevent soil erosion, manage water and water quality, suppress weeds, and hold soil nutrients in place. We plant our cover crops right after our wheat is harvested which will give the plants enough time to grow well and be more effective. Other farmers will use airplanes to spread the seed before their row crop is harvested. In the 14 years that we have been growing cover crops, we have experimented with different seed mixes until we found what works best on our soil. The combination of tillage radishes and oats that we use provides two very different types of plants which is also beneficial for wildlife. The deer graze on the tillage radish leaves, and pheasants use the taller oats for cover. This is a win-win for water quality, soil health, and wildlife.

Field Mapping

Global Positioning Systems (GPS), broadband internet, and computers in combines and tractors have made it possible to create accurate maps of every field. These maps are uploaded onto a computer, where we can then work with our local agronomist to determine what recipe each field needs to grow the crop that will be planted in it. Each recipe will be different for each field, depending on what we will be growing, the results of our soil and plant tissue tests, and the yield data from the year before. Our corn and wheat both need manure applied to supply the nutrients that the plants need to grow well. However, they do not require the same amount of manure, so we follow the recipes to make sure we are not using too much manure on the fields. We like to use cover crops as part of our recipe for our corn fields, since the tillage radish helps to keep the nutrients from the manure where the corn roots will be. This combination of conservation methods works great over an entire field to keep soil and nutrients from eroding, and doesn’t just rely on the last 50 feet before a water way.

Precision Equipment

Fifteen years ago, I never imagined all of the things computers and information technology could do for agriculture. Of course, at that time, I was still using a Nokia cell phone with an external antenna, and the iPhone was still 7 years away from being released. Now, besides most farmers having smart phones, there are computers in tractors, fertilizer spreaders, and sprayers. These computers allow farmers to use their field recipes as they are driving up and down the fields, many times driving with the aid of GPS auto guidance systems. The Precision Planting computer we have in our tractor helps our planter keep the seed planting depth at the perfect level through the variations in the firmness of the soil, varies the amount of seeds per acre according to soil type, and will shut off boxes at the end of the rows or where the rows overlap on curves so we don’t waste seed. We work with our Precision Planting Specialist to make sure our recipes are entered into to the computer correctly, and that the equipment is communicating with the computer. Fertilizer spreaders with variable rate technology are used by our friends. Their field maps and recipes are loaded into the computer, and the fertilizer is spread where it is needed. A similar system is used with sprayers when applying pesticides. The field map can be set up to avoid spraying in certain sensitive areas, and to avoid overlapping the spray with auto shut off valves. We don’t use fertilizer spreaders or sprayers on our farm, so I would encourage you to go to your favorite farmer or The Farmer’s Life if you have questions.

Flexibility is needed

On our farm, we have planted some buffer strips with the help of our NRCS Conservationist and local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). On one ditch where the ditch bank rises to the edge we have a very narrow grass buffer, which is all that is needed. We are also using cover crops, field mapping, and precision equipment. This multi-pronged approach to water quality, soil health, and wildlife habitat is a better approach than a mandate of every river, stream, and drainage ditch needing a 50 foot buffer. Some ditches or streams do not need a grass buffer, while some could benefit from one that is greater than 50 feet. Every farmer should be able to figure out what conservation practices will work best on their farm, and should be able to change those practices when needed. Farmers want to be able to hand down their land to the next generation. To do that, we need to care for the soil and water in the best ways we can. Putting all of our water quality eggs into one basket isn’t the best way to achieve that.
To read more on how this buffer strip proposal would affect Minnesotans, I highly recommend that you read this post by Sara Hewitt.

cover crop of tillage radish and oats
A field planted with a tillage radish and oat cover crop

 

3 Phrases Agvocates Should Lose

Agvocates do nothing from rivalry or conceit

As agvocates, we share our perspectives of agriculture from the lens of our own truth. My lens, or filters will be different from all other agvocates, because I have different experiences and my farm is different from all others. Having that diversity is awesome when it comes to agvocating, especially if the main message is a unified one: Agriculture is important in the United States, and we are blessed to have the safest, most abundant food supply, with the best choices available to fit everyone’s desires. So, if we see things through our own lens, which gives us our own truth, how do we stand united?

Over the past 18 months, I have been to many conferences where speakers and consumer researchers have told the attendees to meet their consumers on an emotional level. We need to make them feel good, and help them understand that no matter what they purchase in the grocery store they are supporting a farming or ranching family. Looking at agvocating from that perspective, I see three phrases or ideas that we should lose in order to reach our consumers on that emotional level.

Food Shaming

It’s pretty safe to say that there isn’t a person alive in North America who hasn’t felt the sting of judgement from their friends or neighbors. Heck, some of us have felt the sting of judgement from our fellow agvocates. The most popular form of judgement is food shaming. Typically, it is seen as a totally granola mom telling all her friends they have to eat only organic to “properly” raise their children. There is a lot of outrage in those instances. When a mom who feeds her kids organic gets shamed, and told that she’s just wasting her money on a marketing scheme, is that any better? There isn’t as much outrage when that happens, but to me, shaming is shaming, and it needs to stop. We will never be the trusted source of information for consumers if we are making them feel bad about their choices. Bottom line: nobody wants to feel stupid for the choices they make. We lose their trust, and they go elsewhere for their information (Peta, HSUS, etc). We need to stop shaming our consumers…and each other.

#Stand4Science

I’ll admit that this hashtag and the accompanying tweets associated with it annoy me for a couple of reasons. First, most of the tweets have a “I can’t believe you don’t know this” attitude when telling people about some study or another that proves that biotech or whatever is safe. The problem with that attitude is, we make consumers feel dumb. How many people have a science degree, or can understand what the studies are saying? We’re told when giving speeches or agvocating in public to speak at a 4th grade level…I’ve read many study abstracts, and I can tell you, they are not written at a 4th grade level! The Center for Food Integrity’s 2014 research talks a lot about this very thing. We cannot forget about the impact that emotion plays when people are deciding whether or not to trust your truth. Secondly, many of the tweets associated with this hashtag make it sound like the only science in agriculture is biotechnology. When you think about it, biotechnology is a pretty small part of the science that goes into raising a crop, even if the majority of corn, soybeans, and cotton raised in North America are genetically engineered. We all need to pay attention to soil science, plant science (including weeds), pathology, animal science, and hydrology…not to mention computer science, and engineering. I know I’m missing some major ones, but you get the idea. Agriculture involves a lot of science, no matter what you grow. We just can’t assume that our consumers will “get” the science that we work with every day. Heck, I don’t understand the science that goes along with range management or animal nutrition, because I don’t ever work with that. Fortunately, I have trusted friends I can go to when I have questions. That’s what we need to be to our consumers.

Biotech is the only way to feed the world

I’ve had many great conversations about this phrase. Looking at it from an agvocating point of view, though, I think we need to lose it. As consumers, we are all a bit self centered. We want what we want when we want it. When we are making our way through the grocery store, we are not thinking about how many people in the world the average farmer is feeding. We are thinking about checking off our grocery lists, or we’re trying to remember what it is we needed as we’re being distracted by kids, neighbors who want to say hello, or the little old ladies who need help getting a bag of cat food into their cart. This message is being lost on the consumer. I don’t know about you, but I eat a pretty diverse diet. I like my cereal or eggs in the morning, but the rest of the day I’m eating a variety of meats, potatoes or rice, and vegetables. For snacks, I like fruits, or coffee. I don’t like eating the same thing all the time, because I get bored with it. There are what, nine genetically engineered crops on the market? Foods made with those crops do not make up the entirety of the average diet. We need the diversity in agriculture to make the whole system work. We celebrate diversity in every other aspect of our lives, why not in agriculture? When the whole choir only sings one note, there is no harmony. When my BLT has no L or T, it is just a bacon sandwich…but that actually doesn’t sound all that bad….

So, what should we be saying when we agvocate?

In our lenten series at church this year, our Pastor has been talking about not separating our faith from our every day life, but to treat it as we do everything else. The funny thing is, I have taken a ton of notes during his Sunday sermons lately, because they fit agvocating so well. The verse on the photo above summed up my feelings about how to agvocate effectively without running the risk of alienating other farmers or our consumers.

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2: 3-4”

How cool would it be if we all agvocated that way…doing nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

We can do this when we tell our story, since we know it better than anyone else. This also goes back to each of us having our own truth. Nobody can argue with you if you say, “On my farm, we do this…” or “On my ranch, we do that…” That is your story, and your truth. You can find things in common with your consumers if you write about things they may be able to relate to. They won’t relate to farming, but if you develop a relationship with them over a common topic, you will be their trusted source when you do write about agriculture.

I absolutely believe we can speak as a unified voice for agriculture, but it’s going to take a little change in attitude from all of us. Will you join me in supporting all of our farming and ranching families?