Being an advocate for agriculture, I regularly get into conversations about the current state we find ourselves in right now. The new wave of marketing our food and re-gaining trust in our food system is through encouraging farmers and ranchers to get involved in the conversation. Even people outside of agriculture are pushing for this new wave, as they realize there is a gap between how and where our food is produced and they believe farmer’s faces should fill that gap.
If you look back at our ads in the 40’s and 50’s in this country, it was all about brands. People believed in brands, they supported brands. Often times you didn’t even have to show the product in an ad, as long as it contained the brand name, people knew the brand delivered. People knew the brand meant quality, consistency, trust, and a delicious product.
Today, we keep seeing over and over headlines about our “broken” food system, about how the public’s distrust in our food system increases, and every week a new headline comes out which threatens that trust even more.
The public is buying into and believing celebrities over the people who grow and produce our food, those brands which we used to trust are now labeled as “Big Ag”, foods that don’t come locally are deemed as “unsustainable” and “unhealthy”, and people are believing all sorts of lies without any sort of scientific consensus behind them.
And who is expected to fill the gap and pick up the pieces? The farmers. Suddenly the farmers and ranchers are propelled into the spotlight and expected to change the face of our food. Certainly many have stepped up to the challenge and are making big differences in these conversations. Some are just now joining the table. And others are still trying to figure out what the heck social media does.
HOW did we get here? What happened? And will we ever get back to a place where we trust our food companies?
I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. But what I do know is that as this distrust grows, our food system gets safer and safer. Will we ever see a world where our food is 100 percent risk free? No.
But if you really look at the numbers, the food we eat is pretty darn safe. Let’s do some math. The U.S. census bureau reported that in 2010 the population of the U.S. stood at about 308 million. That’s a lot of people. Now you figure, 308 million people eat an average of two meals a day, some three a day but for simplicity’s sake, two meals a day. That is 616 million meals eaten every single day, which equals out to around 225 billion meals consumed in the United States each year. Now out of those 225 billion meals consumed, according to the CDC annual’s estimates, about 48 million illnesses result from food born pathogens, only 127,839 are hospitalized, and only 3,037 deaths each year. Now put that into perspective, I’d have to say that our food is pretty darn safe, wouldn’t you?
Do I want our food system to go back to the way it was in the 1940’s? No. I am proud of the scientific and technological steps we have made to make our food system the best it can be. I am proud of the fact we are taking steps towards transparency in how our food is raised and produced. But in order to fix this distrust and restore our “broken” food system, it’s going to take all of us. And it’s also going to take a little faith: faith in the people who work hard to produce your food from the farmers to the food companies and the distributors.
Let’s start by doing them a favor, rather than putting the blame on them, let’s start a conversation. Let’s stop the mud slinging and using buzzwords like “big ag”, “factory farm”, and “sustainable”. Let’s open our minds to a different perspective and celebrate the fact we have a choice in the food we purchase at the grocery store. Let’s start asking questions rather than making assumptions or believing the next news article you see on your screen. Let’s start digging deeper and I hope that once you start digging deeper, you will re-connect with the beauty that we once had in our food system. You will see that our food system here in the U.S. is pretty dang incredible compared to what it was in the 1940’s. And honestly, at the end of the day, we are plain lucky to be putting food on our table.
I've written before on my own personal blog, Prairie Californian.com, about this gluten free craze. Gluten has been under attack. Gluten free has now become one of those buzzwords. People hear gluten free and think it’s the newest healthy thing they can do for themselves. I fully acknowledge and understand that some people suffer from celiacs or intolerances to gluten, but I think as the marketing shows, we've taken gluten free a little too far.
I talk more about what gluten free really means over on my blog. Here I want to talk about four reasons why I choose gluten in my diet. For me, gluten equals wheat. Wheat is one of the four crops we grow on our farm. Wheat works well in our rotation because it is a short season cool grass that does extremely well in our area if met with favorable conditions. Wheat harvest is in full swing this week, so this week, it's all about wheat. Here is why:
I support choice.
I support a choice NOT to eat gluten, but I also support a choice TO eat gluten. Or wheat products. I don't believe in vilifying one particular product in our vast food supply. We are very fortunate to have an abundance of choices at our fingertips, whether it be gluten free products or choosing a whole grain product. So many across the globe and even in this country, aren't as fortunate.
I support crops we grow.
I've talked a lot about our the four crops we grow. Wheat, corn, soybeans, and sunflowers and when I step into the grocery store, I vote with my dollar. I purchase products that we grow here on our farm. I enjoy things like sunflower butter (Sun Butter), sunflower seeds, Dakota Maid flour, breads, corn and soy products. I believe as farmers of the actual product, it is important we actually put our money where our mouth is and support those products we put so much time and hard work into producing.
I appreciate the hard work.
Everyone on our farm works hard. Harvest started this week and my husband and my in-law family have been working long hours to get the wheat cut before we receive more rain. Wheat harvest has been delayed this year due to an abundance of rain in August. Every year is different. Some years we don't get enough rain, some years we get too much. We are thankful to have a beautiful wheat crop this year. But it doesn't just happen like magic. It takes time to plant it all, it takes effort to keep our fields free of weeds and disease, and finally, it takes a whole lot of time and effort to harvest all that wheat and eventually haul it to the elevator. I appreciate the hard work that my own family does, so in turn, I buy wheat products.
Wheat is an important crop for our state.
According to the North Dakota Wheat Council, Agriculture is the leading revenue-producing industry in North Dakota with wheat being North Dakota's chief agricultural commodity. North Dakota typically ranks second to Kansas in total wheat production.. North Dakota was the top wheat producing state in 2009 and 2010.
North Dakota is number one in the production of hard red spring and durum. On average, the farmers here grow nearly half of the nation's hard red spring wheat and two-thirds of the durum. Plain and simple, a strong wheat industry is very important to the viability of North Dakota. If corn and soybeans ever fail us, we always have wheat to fall back onto.
Image Courtesy Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Library
Wheat has an important legacy and history here.
Wheat is a crop we have grown since grandpa was farming. It is a traditional crop for North Dakota here. In fact, for many years, Eureka, South Dakota (which is 30 miles to the south of us) was known as the "wheat capital of the world". It became the funnel into which the wheat fields of the Dakotas emptied. In 1892, when it was the largest primary wheat-shipping point in the world, Eureka was crowded day and night with horses an wagons loaded with sacks of grain. Farmers hauled their wheat, often by ox team, from 75 miles around. Eureka boasted 42 grain elevators handling 4,000,000 bushels a year. Eureka became the Milwaukee's most profitable station, with earnings of $100,000 a month. Today when you drive into Eureka, the sign still states "wheat capital of the world". Wheat has been and will continue to be a Dakota staple.
What Crops are Important in Your Area?
As a consumer, it is important to be aware of what agricultural crops are staples for your area or state. And to ensure that the food choices you are making are indeed supporting those around you. I hope you spend some time Googling what crops are staples in your area and learning more about what makes those crops in your back yard important.
So I shared a while back about how we are growing a new crop on the farm... a crop of the past! Flax! And I am sure you all remember when I shared about standing in the ocean... The ocean of flax blooms. In case you missed it, let me remind you of the beauty...
Last time we left off on the flax journey... we talked about why we grow flax, what flax is used for, and the history of flax grown across the globe. This update, I would like to talk about how flax grows.
So how does flax grow?
Flax is an annual plant that has one main stem. Flax usually grows to a height of about 24 to 36 inches with a tap root that can penetrate to 40 inches if growing conditions are favorable. Flax requires a 50 day vegetative period, 25 day flowering period, and about 35 days to mature.
Flax is a self-pollinated crop. Individual flowers open the first few hours after sunrise on clear, warm days, and by noon usually the petals will close up. Most varieties will have blue petals but petals may also be different shades of white, purple, or even pink. Once the plants are done blooming, the blooms will fall off and bolls will form.
Seed is produced in what is called a boll or small round capsule. A full boll can have up to 10 seeds but typically averages around six to eight. Every bloom that is produced will become a boll with seeds. As the flax matures, it will turn from a green color to a yellow color. The seeds inside the bolls start white and as they mature turn brownish yellow. Flax is ususally deemed fully mature when 90 percent of the bolls turn brown and the stems turn yellow.
Where Can Flax Be Grown?
Flax does best grown on the same type of land that grows wheat or barley. Poorly drained soils, drought soils, and soils with lots of erosion should be avoided for growing flax. Flax fits well into a small grains rotation and should not be planted more than a one in three year rotation.
The North Central area also has moderate summer temperatures and rainfall which is sufficient flax. Flax yields tend to decrease as precipitation diminishes. Adequate moisture and relatively cool temperatures, particularly during the period from flowering to maturity, seem to increase oil content and quality in flaxseed.
Our flax is just starting to turn or ripen. The seeds are starting to turn color from white and the stems are starting to turn yellow. Here's what it looks like now! Our next update will be all about harvest! Stay tuned!
It's August. We should be combining wheat, but we aren't yet. We started the year out praying it stopped raining and now we've been praying for rain the last couple weeks. We finally got some, we got lucky. Sunflowers are just starting to bloom. It should be another week or so before they are full yellow. Corn is just set to pollinate, you can smell it. Soybeans have still got a long way to go...
It's just another year, farming. And this is just a crop update... At least the pictures are pretty, right?
Growing crops is a lot like life. We get so caught up in the NOW. We need rain, we don't need rain, we need sunshine, the crops look good, the crops look bad.
We go look at them multiple times a week. Always checking, always tracking where they are right now. But once they get out of the ground and have started on a path towards maturity, we often forget how far they've come. We forget the little miracles that were once seeds, seedlings, and how much growth we've experienced in between.
So today, in the spirit of celebrating where you are right now and where you are going... Don't forget to take a look back on how far you've come. The sometimes seemingly slow progress you've made towards a goal in your life is important. The sometimes endless struggle towards the finish of something in your life is important.
I hope you look back feeling empowered and full of pride of the things you've accomplished. Much like these crops have grown and still have a long way to go, so do our lives. We are forever growing, changing, and maturing... But we've already come so far.
Progress is important so enjoy the journey.
And once in a while, take a look back.
Several weeks ago I wrote about how we are growing flax again on the farm. Flax is a crop that Grandpa used to grow. And he's been eagerly awaiting it to bloom. He keeps telling me when the flax blooms, I will have to go stand in the ocean.
And this week, I stood in the ocean. As we came over the hill to the field of flax, there was no denying it was blooming. You could see it from a mile away. And it literally did look like an ocean of blueish, purple. It was gorgeous. I stood in the field, my camera in my hand, soaking it all in.
The blooms are starting to cycle through and once they fall off, they form what is called bolls. They are little pods that contain the flax seeds. These bolls are what we will harvest when it comes time.
Up close, the blooms are gorgeous shade of purple-blue with such intricate detail. Morning is the best time to catch these beauties blooming as they close up in the evening or whenver there may be bad weather. We drove by the other evening and sure enough, no blooms. Field was green, not the ocean we had seen the previous morning.
Crops never cease to amaze me. Farming never ceases to inspire me. It's a constant learning experience. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Have any of you ever seen flax bloom?
Last week I wrote about how I love living in rural America... The nostaglia of a small town, the peacefulness, the quietness, no traffic.
But sometimes living in rural America, we get numb to the beauty that is around us. We quickly grow accustomed to where we live. And we forget to see what's around us.
I was reminded this last weekend the beauty that is created in the most simple of places. Living in rural America, often times I fly past all the corn fields, the pastures with calves that grow every day.. I don't spend enough time soaking in the beauty that is around me.
Hopping in the car, the windows rolled down, wind in your hair, sun shining on your face... Pulling over on the side of a dirt road, taking a few steps into a field just to soak in the sound of the crops blowing in the wind. (p.s. Check out our flax now!!)
There's honestly nothing better.
I hope you take some time this week to appreciate beauty in the most simple places... Instead of blowing by that field of cattle or that field of corn you drive by 10x a week, take some time to stop.
Stop. Soak it all in. And find beauty in the most simple of places.
1. Lack of Three Lane Highways.
In fact most of our roads look like the photo above. I don't know about you but since I have moved to rural America, three lane freeways terrify me. I used to be this awesome city driver.. I drove in SAN FRANCISCO! Any of you who have been there know what I am talking about.. Anyway, there is a stretch of three lane highway in Fargo and every time I drive it, I find myself clutching the steering wheel a little tighter than normal and breathing heavier than I usually do. Oh and the only traffic jam you will find yourself in rurally is usually a tractor or combine on the road!
2. Getting Across Town Takes... Maybe 5 Minutes.
Unless I am heading to the farm, I can leave my house about 5 minutes before I need to go anywhere. Getting across "town" takes not even that long because town is all but 5-6 blocks. In fact, I can WALK to the grocery store, hardware store, bar, and post office if I needed to. No more of that getting ready and leaving the house 20 minutes or sometimes an hour before you need to.
3. Rememnants of the Previous Generations
No matter where you go in small town America, you are bound to find remnants of the older generation. Old homes, old barns, old grain elevators, old businesses. You will find this in big cities as well, but often times those things are torn down to make room for the new. Honestly, is there anything better than that iconic photo of an old red barn on a grassy hill?
4. Peace and Quiet
There's a certain peace and quiet in the evenings when people are inside and no nightlife is going on that happens in small town America. In fact, even when I run to the grocery store at 7 p.m., there are usually no cars on Main Street. I love taking runs through town when the sun is just about to go down. There's no traffic, it's nice and cool, and rarely anyone is outside. It's so quiet and peaceful.
5. Everyone Waves to You or Says Hi.
Whether you know the person or not, you wave. It's the unofficial rules of rural living. Same goes for seeing someone in the grocery store or on the street. This was new to me when I first moved to rural America as I had always been weary of saying HI to people I didn't know. But now I can flash a smile and wave hi as I drive by with the best of them. And honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. Now I find myself when I travel driving past someone and waving my hand like a crazy person...
These are just five of the many reasons I love where I live. I wouldn't trade rural or small town life for anything now. Sure I miss my Starbucks, boutique clothing stores, and fancy food... But that just makes it even more special when I do get to enjoy those luxuries in life.
What are your favorite things about rural life?
I have written quite a bit about the future in Agriculture. I’ve written about thinking outside the box and being willing to adapt and accept new things in your farming operation. But sometimes thinking outside the box may be trying something we used to do, bringing back something of the past. This year on our farm, we are doing just that. We needed a crop to go into some production land that has had wheat on it for a couple of years. Two weeks ago I wrote about our crop rotation and while we maintain that rotation throughout our fields, sometimes it just isn’t possible.
So we needed a new crop. Our answer? Going back to something we used to grow. Flax.
Where did flax come from?
Flax is actually one of the oldest fiber crops in the world. It is said to have originated in the Mediterranean region of Europe, but it was extensively cultivated in ancient China and Egypt. In fact, the linen cloth that wrapped mummies in Egypt has been found to contain flax fibers. Flax production made it to the United States for commercial production somewhere around 1753 and became a popular crop as the upper Midwest and parts of Canada were settled during the 1800s. Today, worldwide, the top producers of flax are the Soviet Union, Poland, and France.
Where is flax grown?
Flax is a crop that is traditional to North Dakota. Back when people first settled here and broke the native prairies, flax was one of the crops produced. Because flax thrives in moderate summer temperatures and rainfall along with fertile clay soils, the North Central part of the country is where flax has traditionally been grown.
Flax has a history in other North Central states such as South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. In Alternative Field Crops Manual put out by the University of Wisconsin Extension in 1989, they reported that “Wisconsin had 2,000 acres for seed in the state in 1966… Minnesota had 378,000 acres in 1920 and over 1,600,000 in 1943. Since 1943, acreage has steadily declined with only 15,000 acres grown in 1988. “
If we take a look at the 2013 Flaxseed Planted Acres by County, we can see the current numbers of production for selected states such as North Dakota. Even though we and many other farmers in the area have moved onto growing other crops, North Dakota continues to rank first in flaxseed production with more than 90 percent of the nation’s flax crop grown here. Flax grown in North Dakota is often used in a crop rotation along with other small grains such as barley and wheat. Flax is also traditionally and continues to be grown in Canada as well.
So what is flax used for?
Producers typically grow two types of flax: seed flax for the oil in its seeds and fiber flax for the fiber in its stem. Today most grow flax for the oil and food use in the United States. Flax seed is crushed and used to produce linseed oil and leftover linseed meal. The oil has many uses while the meal is used for livestock feed. The fiber seeds are used to a variety of paper products and linens. Apparently cigarette paper is a major flax paper product. Who knew!?
With the trend towards eating healthier, flaxseed has gained in popularity. Flaxseed contains high levels of dietary fiber, lignans (antioxidants), and omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have suggested the benefits of flaxseed on lowering cholesterol levels or in those with breast and prostate cancers. Although no conclusive evidence has been produced. I certainly know that I have seen it pop up more and more in recipes for healthy baked goods as well as in things like smoothies and energy bites.
Being that I am originally from California, I have never seen flax in production. I was very excited when my husband announced that we would be planting it this year. I look forward to watching it grow and getting the opportunity to firsthand learn about an entirely new crop. I have heard it is beautiful when it blooms! Stay tuned and I hope you look forward to following along and learning with me!
Here is what our flax looks like right now.
It seems lately there has been an outpouring of events in my life and people who are connected to me's lives that keep reminding me of how tangible our lives are. As people on this Earth, but more importantly, as farmers we are not invincible. No matter how much we think we are, our lives can be taken from us in an INSTANT. I have even heard some people verbalize "oh that won't happen to me". It only takes one error and your life could be flashing before your eyes. I am sure that every single one of us can count at least one person we've known who has been injured or had their life taken in a farm-related accident. It shakes close to home when it happens, and safety isn't something we talk much about.
Did you know that agriculture has been deemed the 8th most dangerous job? In 2011, the injury rate for agricultural workers was over 40 percent higher than the rate for all workers.The Department of Labor states that " farm related accidents claim as many as 1300 lives and cause 120,000 injuries a year, most of which are preventable." But even then, farm accidents don't just cost lives, limbs, or health, they also cost equipment breakdowns and delays. Accidents are usually caused by avoidable physical hazards, carelessness, sleeplessness, and stress-related actions such as rushing to get things done. The majority of those factors can be prevented. So if they are preventable, what steps can we take to ensure farm safety?
Get Some Sleep
Farmers talk a lot about hard work and it is something to be very proud of! In a society where the value of hard work is long gone, farmers are a shining example of those seemingly "old fashioned" values. If only more people could learn to value work like farmers do. Farmers are usually up before the sun and come home after dark. Sometimes they work all night because it's simply what you've got to do to get done. But is it possible that the sacrifice of our sleep could potentially be dangerous?
Stop for a minute and think about a time where you've experienced someone (or maybe even yourself) fall asleep at the wheel. Of a tractor, truck, or other piece of equipment. You are not alone. Nearly 60% of people have admitting to driving drowsy and nearly 37% of people have admitted to actually falling asleep at the wheel! That is a pretty sobering statistic... And as the wife to a man who farms 20 miles away, him falling asleep at the wheel of his pickup to come home is something that crosses my mind almost weekly.
Watch Out For Potential Hazards
What about throwing caution to the wind when doing on the farm activities? Entering into grain bins or leaving a tractor running to check a malfunction "just this once". Or maybe because it's how you've always done it and nobody has ever gotten hurt. Not respecting machinery of any sort leads to accidents and injuries.
Be aware of these potential situations. And if that thought crosses your mind "this may be dangerous" then it may be best not to do it. Sometimes it takes planning and preparing to minimize hazards, but it is better than losing your life over it. Here are some general hazards to watch out for from the National Ag Safety Database:
Take Time to Train & Teach
My dad jokes about when he learned to butcher, his dad basically handed him a truck, knives, and a steel and said no go out and butcher. I have a feeling many farm kids will tell you that is how they learned to drive a tractor. Dad simply gave them a crash course in how it works and off they went.
Of course, we value our children working alongside us and as kids we are elated when we get to help Dad or Mom out on the farm. The thought of danger doesn't even cross our minds. As this Southwest Farm Press article so eloquently says, "Farm families, like most of us, want to protect their children without sheltering them too much. My dad would never have knowingly put me in danger. It was a simpler time and we didn't consider the danger." Here's a startling statistic for you. Farm machinery, including tractors, accounts for 36 percent of (farm-related) deaths in youth. Thirty percent of farm machinery-related deaths occur in children less than 5 years old. It just breaks my heart.
So what can we do? Take some time to teach your children (and your employees for that matter) about those hazards and dangers. Guide them in the correct steps to safety and teach them to respect the machinery. Before allowing them to use a piece of equipment, the person should have complete training in the item to be used, and be made aware of hazards that may occur with its misuse. Besides actual training programs, manuals are a good thing to let them read.
Attitude & Being Aware
I would argue that one of the most important aspects of farm safety is the attitude of the operator. If the operator is constantly on the lookout for accident situations, if he doesn't take chances, and if he doesn't accept accidents as being a part of farming, he will probably not be involved in an accident. On the other hand, if he believes that he can cut corners, always doing things half assed, or that he won't ever get hurt... accidents will happen. Accidents happen to all of us, even those of us who are careful!
I would say that the majority of farmers are pretty safety cautious because they know that if they are hurt, there is no one else there to get the work done. But it is easy in a movement of stress to rush to get things done and safety goes out the window. Always being aware of the dangers and keeping your mind on the job you are doing at that moment versus what else you need to get done can prevent many accidents.
It is my hope that through simple prevention, we can eliminate stories like I heard this week from a friend of their neighbor getting caught in a baler trying to fix a netting malfunction. It took his life and consequently his wife and 11 year old daughter found him. Accidents happen, but let's try and prevent more from happening with prevention. Attitude and being aware is a key component, as the quote above states, 90% of all agricultural accidents can be prevented. It's simply up to you!