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Do farmers hide their world from consumers? Do food companies bury their proverbial heads in the sand by not talking to their customers? Is fear over Ebola in the U.S. causing wide-spread and unncessary panic?

 

Just making sure you're paying attention.

 

While I know for certain I am not any type of Ebola expert, I can write a little about what I see in the food and agriculture industries every day.

 

I see apprehension. I see confusion. I see mistrust. I see misplaced trust. And I see opportunities.

 

Jay Baer - a marketing strategist, speaker, and author as well as President of the social media and content marketing consultancy Convince & Convert - spoke at a conference I attended last week (Ag Catalyst) and he had some thought-provoking words to say about consumers today.

 

"Perception is reality."

 

I see it all the time - a consumer's perception about turkey, for instance, may be that it's eaten only at Thanksgiving; that it makes a great sandwich; or that the bird is pumped full of added hormones and gains so much weight so fast that it can't stand up on its own two legs.

 

Do I know these to be true?  The first two perceptions, yes - turkey does have a bit of a reputation as a holiday-only bird that also makes a very comforting turkey sandwich.  But the whole hormones thing? Of course this is not true - in fact, it is illegal! - and of course I've written about this perpetuating myth many times.

 

The perception, however false, still persists. It is someone's reality, no matter how untrue.

 

Companies like Monsanto and McDonald's deal with perception all the time, yes?

 

Who among us hasn't heard that Monsanto is evil, hides information from the public on GMOs, and could care less about people's health and well-being.

 

Well, actually, no. It seems to me Monsanto is working pretty hard at reaching out to people to have conversations about the challenges in agriculture and food through social media, its website and events all over the country. You can visit Discover.Monsanto.com to learn more.

 

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McDonald's is a horrible fast food company that wouldn't dare tell us what they actually put in their food.

 

Or would they? Turns out, you can ask ANY question you want of McDonald's and they are working hard to provide honest, open answers. They've been doing this for a while in Canada and now they' ve recently announced the same plan for the U.S. It's true - check it out here.

 

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Perception is reality.

 

Jay Baer had another fantastic quote that I quickly wrote down and have shared with several people already: "Don't run away from questions. Run at them."

 

Yes.

 

This is exactly what so many good groups, organizations and individuals in agriculture are doing, right this very minute. They are answering questions about farming and food - and by any question, I mean any question. GMOs, antibiotic use in animals, organic production, factory farms, animal welfare ... nothing is off limits.

 

Here are just a few examples (I couldn't list them all!) of these groups:

 

Common Ground    

AgChat (especially its Twitter chats on Tuesday nights)  

Ask the Farmers  

I am Agriculture Proud (a Facebook group)

 

In my industry, turkeys most often enter their barns as young poults in the middle of night and they leave their barns, headed for the processing plant, the same way. This is not meant to be mysterious; it's quieter, calmer, safer and best for the birds. But who except turkey farmers actually know this?

 

Perception is reality.

 

In this day and age of instant research and commentary via smartphones and everyone having a soapbox on which to add to the chatter, it can make it challenging to decipher what's really going on. Jay Baer told us last week, "It's not what you know, it's when you know it." Isn't that just the truth.

 

The challenge for those of us in agriculture is to get involved (in ways that make sense for you). Listen to the chatter. Know what people are saying. Share your own stories. That's why I do what I do - I believe in our stories. I believe I can make a difference, and so can you.

 

Perception is your reality, too.  Please go out and share it.

Over the course of the past few weeks, I've heard the phrase "real food" more than I care to admit. As in - "eat real food",  presumably as opposed to fake food? Bad food? Junk food?

 

In a Q & A with a nutritionist in the Twin Cities Star Tribune newspaper this past Sunday, the nutritionist encouraged people to buy "only organic, grass-fed, high quality food" - but "if you can't afford it, buy real food, not factory food."

 

Then a few hours later, I came across promotional video for an online "Family Wellness Summit," which seems like it's doing a very good job of freaking out parents. The video makes generic claims about hundreds of chemicals - barely tested at all - in our food!  Your kids will get sick earlier and more often!  And this quote: "Just get rid of everything in your kitchen that isn't real food."

 

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So I began to wonder ... do I have fake food in my kitchen? I checked a few items and found myself thinking that this whole "real food" phrase might be confusing.

 

Bananas and grapes - okay, this was easy; certainly real food here.

  • Bananas and grapes (from the grocery store), along with squash (from my garden) - this is easy; certainly real food here.
  • The ground turkey in my freezer seems like it would count as "real food". I mean, I think it's a healthy, nutritious protein. But it was raised on a large, conventional turkey farm and processed at a large food company so does that negate the real food thing and turn it into factory food?
  • The can of Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies - sure, in the summer, I could grow my own tomatoes and chilies (and I do), but what happens for the other 8 months of the year in Minnesota? I think I need my can of Rotel. Is that real enough?
  • The family size box of regular Cheerios that my son eats nearly every day - I'm going with real food on this one; we can't live without Cheerios in my house.
  • Kraft macaroni and cheese: A convenience food, for sure - and not one that I particularly care for. I'd much rather make my own mac and cheese (and I do), but my 10-year-old happens to love Kraft mac and cheese, so sometimes I make him a box. Is this bad?
  • A taco seasoning packet ... conceivably, I could make my own taco seasoning, but the truth is, I don't really want to when I can buy it in the store in a handy little envelope. Does this count as real food?
  • Doritos ... okay, this is probably what "real food" is getting at for most people, right? I mean, Doritos = junk food. I'll give you that one. It would probably better if I didn't have them in my kitchen, but seriously, in moderation, what's the harm? Oh wait, according to the Food Babe, this bag is chock full of GMOs. My take, though? Doritos aren't lethal, despite what the food Babe might tell you. Sometimes I just want a few Doritos with my sandwich. Does this make me a bad person - or a horrible mom?

My point in all this is that the phrase "real food" gets tossed around like a marketing tactic, giving it different meanings to different people. I'm all for "real food" and cooking from scratch - and I do this often - but I'm not going to beat myself up with guilt if I open up a box of mac and cheese when I've just gotten home from a busy day at work and my 10-year-old is starving.

 

I do hope most people understand when a doctor or nutritionist says they should eat more "real food", it means they should nix the candy bars and work in some additional carrots every day. I think, too, the other part of "eating real food" (as I mentioned above) is to do some actual cooking at home - to show people cooking doesn't have to be complicated or difficult, and it doesn't have to take a lot of time to prepare a healthy, nutritious meal.

 

But what about people like the Food Babe, who is one of the "experts" speaking at the Family Wellness Summit? With absolutely no food, nutrition or even science background (unless you count computer science), the Food Babe still has a captive audience who believes the garbage she spews about our food system. (And if you dare to refute her, she'll  ban you from her Facebook page or blog.)

 

I am pretty sure the phrase "real food" has a hidden meaning to the Food Babe, who is all too happy to share her mistruths with her #FoodBabeArmy. (Side note: I understand the Kansas Farm Bureau has invited the Food Babe to visit some of their farms - and I hope she takes them up on it.)

 

The problem with the "real food" argument is that sometimes it can infer that the food farmers raise every day isn't real at all - and that the industrial food production model in the U.S. is big and therefore bad. Rather than embrace the different choices we do have in this country - including various production methods and large and small food companies, the phrase "real food" seems to be used by so-called "experts" who further alienate us from the farm. We're made to feel guilty if we can't afford a certain product or {insert trendy marketing term here}, instead of being grateful we have such high quality, extremely safe food options at a variety of different price points.

 

I do wonder if the nutritionist quoted in the Star Tribune has ever been on a farm, and I'd be curious to ask what her definition of "high quality food" is and why she thinks that way. Do I believe she's purposely misleading people? Probably not - she has her own opinions, which she is happy to share with Star Tribune readers, despite my disagreement. Heck, I'd do the same thing if the Star Tribune would give me some space.

 

The Family Wellness Summit, on the other hand, promises "The science you want. The motivation you need."

 

If their idea of science is the Food Babe, I think I'll pass. I want real truth with my real food - not fear and garbage science.

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I don't live on a farm anymore. I work a day job in an office and I live in town.

 

None of this is a bad thing, by the way. I love my job (working with poultry farmers) and I'm happy being able to look out my back porch window and see fields and cows and horses, even though I'm technically within city limits. My own farming is limited to several vegetable gardens and a variety of flowers. It's not much but it keeps me close to the dirt.

 

There are times of the year, however, that I miss the sights and smells and sounds of my family's crop farm in southwestern Minnesota.  Harvest is one of those times.

 

I miss the sound of the combine in the field as well as the trucks driving back and forth with loads of soybeans.

 

I miss the sight of the field against the horizon, as the corn is being taken.

 

I miss walking back by the dryer to check in with my dad to see how things are going.

 

Harvest time is special, although I'm sure I don't have to tell you that. The hard work of the previous months all comes together, and as long as the weather holds, farmers are anxious to get into the field and finish what they started.  Uncertainty, adrenaline, and sheer love of working the land all surge ahead as work continues at a feverish pace until it's done.

 

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I remember riding with my mom to take lunch out to the field.

 

I remember waving to my dad as he drove by the house, heading back to the field.

 

Was it - or is it - all roses and happy times? Of course not. It never is.

 

Equipment breaks down. Corn can be too wet. Frost comes too early. Meals have to wait. Sleep can be hard to come by.

 

Challenges come with the territory.

 

But there is something about harvest time that always makes me long to get home, see the flat expanse of farmland stretch out before me as the combines dot the landscape.

 

And it always makes me grateful that I am a forever farm girl - no matter where I live - and can appreciate what harvest means.

 

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I hope you've had a great first week of autumn. I still can't quite believe summer is over and it won't be long before those of us who live in Minnesota will be wearing warm coats, mittens and winter boots. Yikes! (Although full disclosure - as I write this, it's 80 degrees in Minnesota so we're all quite enjoying ourselves, knowing this won't last too long.)

 

Last weekend was busy but so much fun, and I feel like I packed a lot of activity in just two days.

 

On Saturday, I participated in the 2nd annual Celebrate Ag & Food Day at the University of Minnesota Gopher football game. The organization I work for (Minnesota Turkey Growers Association) was a sponsor, so we set up a tent outside the stadium and spent a couple of hours giving out freebies and, more importantly, talking to fans about farming and agriculture. Other commodity organizations - like Minnesota Pork, Corn and Soybean - also participated along with several agribusinesses like Cenex Harvest States, Land O'Lakes and AgStar Financial Services.

 

The weather was breezy but sunny so a large crowd started milling around the stadium and it became a great opportunity to briefly showcase Minnesota's farmers. We never had a lot of time as people were intent on finding their gate or checking out all there was to see at the stadium, so it was a little like perfecting a 30-second elevator speech - what do we want people to know about turkey in 30 seconds or less. Ready, set, go!

 

As we did last year, we brought out our "Tom Turkey" costume and had one of our volunteers wear it. Most folks love this type of photo opportunity, although I heard this comment more than a few times: "Look at the chicken!"

 

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Ugh - I guess sometimes a "farm animals 101" session is still very much needed.

 

I also ran into Maizey, the Minnesota Corn Growers mascot, so we took advantage of this photo opportunity to tweet out how important corn is to turkey farmers. (Did you know: 75% of the cost of raising a turkey is feed - and much of that feed is corn!)

 

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After the event, I scooted back home, picked up my husband, the kiddo and our dog, and drove out to my family's farm, where a birthday celebration ensued. (Full disclosure - it was my birthday we celebrated!)

 

My parents are big fans of turkey, so we had turkey brats and turkey chili for our Saturday evening meal, and my mom even threw in some turkey sausage crumbles into our scrambled eggs on Sunday morning. (And no, I didn't request any of this - I let my mom pick the menu!) I wish more people knew how easy it is to cook with turkey - I think my mom needs her own Food Network show to show them how it's done! Nothing she made was super complicated, but all had flavorful, fresh ingredients that were easy to prepare. (I am seriously going to blog the recipe for her turkey chili soon - it was so good!)

 

Sunday afternoon, after a big birthday meal with my family (this time it was chicken kiev - more poultry!), we headed to my mom's pumpkin patch with the grandkids and proceeded to pick a lot of pumpkins. I'm pretty sure my mom was worried in the spring that there wouldn't be any pumpkins at all, but clearly she was wrong.

 

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Those of us who grew up and either continue to live on farms - or like me, get to visit often - are so lucky. There is nothing like letting the kids run around in the huge backyard, taking the dog for a walk on the field road, inspecting the corn (and even Grandma's super tall broom corn!) to see how it's progressing, or seeing the shiny combine parked by the shed, ready for harvest to begin.

 

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I know I didn't fully appreciate this setting enough as a teenager, but I'm sure glad I do now.  And I'm equally glad my son will grow up riding the Gator with his cousin, picking pumpkins right from the vine, knowing what farming is all about - along with being able to discern a chicken from a turkey!

 

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Let's Talk ... Chicken!

by MNGobbleGal on ‎09-14-2014 09:51 PM

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I'm going to switch things up a little this week - instead of talking about turkey, I'm going to give chickens some blog love.

 

While I'm most known, perhaps, for being a turkey girl - my Twitter handle is @mngobblegal after all - I also work on a weekly basis with the fine folks who raise chickens and egg laying hens.

 

September is National Chicken Month, so what better time to share with you a few fun facts about chickens than right now? And just to clarify, I'm talking about meat chickens here, not egg laying hens. (I'll be sure to cover hens during National Egg Month in May!)

 

1) Chickens (the kind we eat for meat) are also called "broilers" but no one seems to know this anymore. That's exactly why one of the organizations I work for changed its name a couple of years ago from the "Broiler and Egg Association of Minnesota" to the "Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota". We got tired of getting blank stares at meetings when we would introduce ourselves.

 

2) Americans eat just over 82 pounds of chicken every year - more than beef, pork or turkey.

 

3) There are no added growth hormones or steroids given to chickens to "pump up" their size/weight. This is a myth that persists today, even though these types of hormones and steroids have been illegal for over 50 years. (Ditto for turkeys.)

 

4) All chicken meat is "antibiotic free".  According to the National Chicken Council, if an antibiotic is used on the farm, federal rules require the antibiotics to have cleared the animals' systems before they can be processed. All of this is monitored and tested by FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make sure food at the grocery store doesn't contain antibiotic residues. (This is true for turkey, too.)

 

5) Georgia is the top chicken-producing state in the U.S., followed closely behind by Arkansas and Alabama. My state - Minnesota - is 18th and is home to GNP Company, which is the company behind the "Gold'n Plump" brand some of you may see in the supermarket. GNP was started in 1926 by the Helgeson family and three generations of Helgesons have run the company. 

 

6) Almost 20 percent of U.S. broiler chicken production is exported to other parts of the world.

 

7) I just learned last week that there used to be a Minnesota Baby Chick Association - this was way back in the day when there were hundreds of hatcheries in Minnesota selling chicks - or baby chickens.

 

8) One of my new favorite chicken recipes is this Better Than Takeout Chicken Fried Rice - I stumbled upon it a few weeks ago whiel blog hopping and it quickly lived up to its name!

 

There you have it - just a few chicken facts to start off your week. Do you have any chicken questions? If so, feel free to post in the comments and I'll be sure to find answers for you.

Over the weekend I was walking around my yard, taking some photos of my gardens, when I ran into my next door neighbor. He loves to chat about my work with the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and, really, farming in general - perhaps because he knows this is a big interest of mine, but also because I think he is truly curious, loves to learn and ask questions.  We have great conversations about agriculture!

 

Somehow we got on the topic of turkeys and disease issues, my neighbor wondering if turkeys were susceptible to any diseases. This led the conversation down the path of why most commercial or larger-scale farms raise turkeys in barns. When I explained that turkeys can catch germs and disease from critters, bugs, waterfowl, even humans, my neighbor was pretty surprised. He had no idea - and his perception that turkeys raised in confinement might be LESS healthy (although he readily admitted he didn't really know why he thought that) became a "light bulb" moment for him and certainly a low-key, positive teaching moment for me.

 

My neighbor didn't know that visitors to turkey farms should - at a minimum - cover their shoes with plastic booties (or wear special boots the farmer provides) and, even better, wear Tyvec coveralls over their regular clothes. This helps prevent the spread of germs that humans might have picked up along the way from coming into the barn.

 

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Here I am (center) at Meschke Poultry Farm in Minnesota, wearing coveralls and plastic booties over my shoes. Often I am required to wear a hairnet as well as part of farm biosecurity measures.

 

My neighbor didn't know that that visitors shouldn't visit more than one poultry farm in one day, again to keep potential spread of disease at a minimum via vehicles driving up to the farm and humans walking around.

 

My neighbor didn't know that farm workers who hunt waterfowl need to think about their work and hunting schedules so that turkeys don't inadvertently come into contact with someone who has also handled a duck or goose, which can be big disease carriers. In this case, it's doing common sense things like showering after hunting and putting on clean clothes before checking the turkeys in the barn that make all the difference.

 

My neighbor didn't know that if you own a few chickens in your backyard and you step foot into someone's turkey barn, you may be putting those birds at risk. Your backyard flock may be perfectly healthy, but they still can be carriers of germs and may be in contact with bugs, other animals, birds and waterfowl that carry disease.

 

My neighbor didn't know that turkey barns allow farmers to have better control of the turkeys' environment - from air circulation and temperature to food and water. Barns are the best way to keep turkeys warm in the winter, cool in the summer and provide round-the-clock access to clean water and nutritious food. Plus, barns keep coyotes and other animals from preying - most often with morbid results - on the birds.

 

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Have you ever seen a sign at a farm entrance that indicated that 'no visitors are allowed' or perhaps 'biosecurity measures in place; please keep out'? My neighbor didn't know that most often visitors are limited (or even, in some cases, not allowed) on turkey farms - not because farmers have anything to hide but because they want to make sure their birds have the optimal environment to grow and be healthy.

 

These are all precautions put in place because that's what turkeys need. This is no different, really, than people washing our hands often, covering up a sneeze in order to prevent colds and flu, or taking off our shoes to prevent tracking in of dirt and germs into our homes.

 

In the livestock industry, these precautions are called "biosecurity", a word that can sound sort of mysterious and dare I say a bit scary if you don't know what it means. But in reality, biosecurity practices refer to the everyday things farmers do to care for the birds.

 

It's simply common sense - not scary.

 

You can read more about biosecurity on poultry farms at these links:

 

On The Banks of Squaw Creek

McMurray Hatchery

University of Georgia - Biosecurity Basics

USDA - Biosecurity for the Birds

Happy Labor Day! As I write this, another Minnesota State Fair is winding down and we're staring at the first day of September. Since it's been my 20th year attending the fair on behalf of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, I decided I'd write about a few things I've learned along the way. Those of you who are fairgoers yourself will probably relate!

 

1) Even the simplest agriculture concepts can be new to many people. Case in point - every year we bring out our turkey costumes, coerce a couple of enthusastic FFA students to wear them and engage fairgoers, and every year more than one person mistakes the turkeys for chickens. Every year. And not just kids but adults too! It's a good reminder that sometimes we need to focus on simple facts.

 

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Does this look like a turkey or a chicken to you?

 

2) The State Fair is truly a family affair. I love watching all the 4-H kids and their families show their animals and talk to fairgoers about what they do. The barns are a busy place at our State Fair and it's a wonderful opportunity for non-farm families to learn more about livestock and how farmers care for their animals. They can also see the connection these kids have with the animals they show - and at the same time, learn that livestock farming is a business. Yes, farmers can and do care for their animals and run a business at the same time.

 

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This is my son, Joe. Now that he's old enough, I bring him with me to the State Fair every year while I'm working - and he helps out! Here he is doing some videotaping of an event - called Gobble Gobble Cluck Cluck Day! - that my organization holds annually.

 

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This year, my 8-month-old niece, Morgan, visited her very first fair and had a blast!

 

3) Food brings us all together. I'm sure this isn't surprising to any of you who read this. Our State Fair - and no doubt all the other fairs in the country - is inextricably tied to all kinds of food. Food on stick. Deep fried food. Sinfully good food. Even healthy food. I mean, who doesn't love food? My organization's members (Minnesota Turkey) took a look at the State Fair 56 years ago and realized it was a prime event to showcase turkey as more than just a whole bird at Thanksgiving. And 56 years later, we're still doing that - along with hundreds of other food vendors. And while everyone is eating and enjoying all this food, we hope to sneak in a few pieces of information about turkey farming they may not know.

 

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My favorite food at the Minnesota State Fair - a giant turkey sandwich that is so juicy and fantastic. (Of course, I fully admit I'm a little biased toward poultry!)

 

4) People still love recipes.  Say what you want about cooking these days - or perhaps, the perceived lack of cooking. I can tell you, in my very unscientific opinion, there must be people who do still enjoy cooking and trying new recipes. (Certainly the popularity of food bloggers  and The Food Network shows us that.) At our State Fair booth, where we have a variety of turkey-related brochures, cooking tips and recipes, we meet with people every day who snatch up our information and even remember from year-to-year what recipes are new and what recipes we've been passing out for a while. I would say, though, that it's accurate our recipes have changed - we've shifted away from a focus on whole birds and, instead, gear most our information toward ground turkey, turkey sausage and other products that can be utilized easily every day. This isn't to say our turkey roasting brochure isn't still popular - it is! - but it seems cooks these days - especially those with young families - are looking for easy, everyday options that can be whipped up after getting home from work or school activities.

 

5) The State Fair is a lot of hard work! If your kids show animals at a fair or you volunteer your time to man a booth for an organization like Farm Bureau or any of the commodity organizations, then you probably know what I'm talking about!  Days and days of work go into making all of this run smoothly - not to mention the actual long hours spent onsite at the fair. It's definitely exhausting work, but also completely worth it. The value of having conversations about food and farms with so many consumers in once place can't be underestimated.  Not only do fairgoers learn about what our farmers do, but we learn from consumers what kind of questions are actually percolating in their heads. It's a win-win - especially if we're willing to listen.

 

Happy Labor to you!

 

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This tom turkey took the crowds at the Minnesota State Fair in stride and helped fairgoers learn more about turkeys in the popular Miracle of Birth Center.

 

It's State Fair Time!

by MNGobbleGal on ‎08-22-2014 04:14 PM

The Minnesota State Fair started Thursday and that means two things: summer is waning and our office is busy, busy, busy!

 

Like so many agricultural organizations in Minnesota (and likewise in other states with their own state fairs), we feel it's integral to be a part of this event. After all, the Minnesota State Fair brings in nearly 1.7 million visitors each year - and many of these folks live right in the Twin Cities area. This is our chance to meet with fairgoers who may not know much, if anything, about agriculture - and certainly know very little about turkey farming.

 

We have a consumer booth that is staffed all 12 days of the fair for 12 hours a day. Here, we give out free recipes, cooking information, turkey farming facts and the usual array of fun stuff too - like temporary tattoos and turkey tailfeather headbands.

 

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Here's my son, Joe, sporting one of our turkey tailfeather headbands!

 

We also operate a food concession stand called Turkey To Go with a long history. The concession stand has been around for a whopping 56 years, when a group of forward-thinking turkey farmers decided they needed a venue that would allow them to showcase turkey as a year-round protein option.

 

Bingo - the Minnesota State Fair!

 

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This is a photo from the very first year Minnesota Turkey had its concession stand at the State Fair - 1958!

 

This week, I've spent some time creating a few infographics that highlight Minnesota Turkey on our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest) and direct people to visit us at the State Fair. I'm also in charge of fielding media calls that come in for interviews (lucky for us, reporters love to "talk turkey" during the State Fair!) and I sometimes hold down the fort back in the office when nearly everyone else is at the fairgrounds.

 

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Next week, I'll be headed out to the State Fair a couple of different days to work - always a fun time with great people-watching and even better farm and food conversations. You never know what we'll be asked about turkey, but we're glad people are coming to us to ask their questions!

 

5 Things I've Learned from Working for an Agricultural Organization

by MNGobbleGal ‎08-17-2014 08:41 PM - edited ‎08-17-2014 10:20 PM

If you've read some of my previous posts, then you've probably figured out that I write from a slightly different angle than some of the other bloggers featured. While I grew up on a farm, I am not actively involved in production agriculture - I leave that to my brother, nephew and father. Instead, I work full-time as the communications director for the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.

 

Because of that, I write about some of the issues I work on in the office on a daily basis and hope that I also give you a better sense of what raising poultry means for the farmers I work for.

 

Which brings me to this post. This week I am about to take note of my 20th year at Minnesota Turkey, which 1) seems crazy to me (how did two decades zip by so fast?), and 2) makes me realize I have learned a thing or two about working for an agricultural organization.

 

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1)    Be prepared to wear many hats - some that fit naturally, some that may surprise and then ultimately delight you, and a few you just have to wear to get the job done.

 

My responsibilities cover a lot of ground - from a whole range of communications tasks (like overseeing our social media platforms, websites and being the main point of contact with the media) to graphic design, meeting and convention planning and even human resources along with whatever else comes my way.

 

One minute I might be writing a press release or updating a website, and the next minute I am organizing the hotel blocks for our regional poultry convention or designing a recipe card for the State Fair. Most of it I love. But taking notes and writing minutes for meetings? Not so much!

 

This kind of variety - well, minus the note-taking - is one of the reasons I love my job and am still here at the 20-year mark. Do I get bored? Never. We don't have much, if any, downtime (mostly a blessing, sometimes a curse) and it's fun to work in so many different areas of interest.

 

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2)    There is no such thing as a dumb question - but there will be a few that make you laugh out loud.

 

As an agricultural organization, we often receive an email or a phone call from someone outside the poultry industry that has a question for us. It might be as simple as how long can a frozen turkey in the freezer last without losing flavor (answer - up to one year), or where a processor can be found for a backyard flock (answer - usually we are able to find small processors via our Department of Agriculture).

 

However, sometimes the questions just get goofy. Last week, I was asked where someone could source 200 eggs/month for seven Great Dane dogs that eat two eggs/day as part of their diet. (Answer: not sure yet, but the guy might be the perfect candidate for having his own backyard flock of laying hens!) A few years, ago, someone wanted to find the absolute largest turkey possible to roast at Thanksgiving because he had a bet with his sister in Virginia on whose turkey would be bigger. (Winner? Minnesota - and bonus, that phone call ultimately  landed a story on CNN that aired all day on Thanksgiving!) And I once took a call from someone looking to "borrow" a turkey for a family holiday photo. Seriously! (We couldn't help with this one, by the way - but it led to a conversation about how turkeys can't simply be borrowed and then returned to the farm as it would be a biosecurity issue for the rest of the flock.)

 

We're always happy to answer any question we can, but some questions merit more laughter in the office than others.

 

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3)    Just when you think you've got the job mastered, along comes something new to learn.

 

Although my job title hasn't changed over the past 20 years, the work that I do has evolved and changed. When I first started, my computer ran on the DOS operating system (anyone remember that??) and we had one dial-up Internet connection for the entire office that only one person could be on at a time. It took me two weeks to put together our monthly member publication, Gobbles - including laying out the pages by hand on large boards. Today, I can get it done in two days, thanks to computer design programs.

 

Turkey farming has evolved, as well, along with the rest of the agricultural industry. What we're focusing on today isn't necessarily what was important - or even in the realm of possibility - 20 years ago. Just when we think we've got one issue mastered, another comes along to take its place.

 

Have I mentioned I'm never bored?

 

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4)    "Family Farmer" is NOT an oxymoron.

 

The individuals who serve on the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association Board of Directors are all mostly family farmers. (Beyond the farmers, a few directors work for turkey processing companies and other companies that service the turkey industry.) This would probably surprise people who like to claim that conventional turkey production is all about "Big Ag" and throw out phrases such as "Factory Farming". But over 20 years, I've been blessed to have met and worked with many, many multi-generational farm families who raise turkeys. I can tell that even "Big Ag" has family farmers - the stats back me up on this along with my own personal experiences.

 

This is one of the real joys of working for an agricultural organization: getting to know the farmers - and the families - we work for on a daily basis.

 

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5)    It's really one of the most rewarding careers you can have.

 

I, like so many others who make a career out of working in agricultural associations, really appreciate the variety, the people and the work we do on behalf of farmers.  My career also keeps me connected to my family farm in ways I didn't even know I would appreciate 20 years ago. And it's provided me opportunities to travel around Minnesota, across the U.S. and even overseas to meet and learn from others in agriculture.

 

Rewarding? Absolutely! And I wouldn't trade the past 20 years for anything.

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Raising Turkeys | Then and Now

by MNGobbleGal on ‎08-10-2014 06:52 PM

I'd love to know how we possibly got to mid-August already? Seriously, when did that happen? I'm knee-deep into back-to-school shopping lists, starting to think about a little fall color for my gardens (eek - fall!), and prepping for the Minnesota State Fair at the office.

 

This latter task always consumes most of our staff in some form or fashion during August - some more than others. We operate two booths - one for turkey and one for chickens/eggs - where we distribute recipes and informational brochures and answer all sorts of poultry-related questions. We also have a food stand (called Turkey To Go) that serves up the most amazing turkey sandwiches (think pulled turkey that is seasoned to perfection and super juicy). 

 

Needless to say, all of this keeps us pretty busy this month.

 

The past few days I've been working feverishly to create a large display for our turkey booth that will highlight the history of Minnesota's turkey industry and show how raising turkeys in the 1930s and 40s compares to our modern production of today. It's a fun comparison for me, but I also hope it does the job of explaining to fairgoers with little to no agriculture background how the industry has improved over the past 75 years.

 

Here are some of the comparisons we're showing:

 

Bronze turkeys - the breed of choice in the 1930s.

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Broad-breasted white turkeys were introduced in the 1940s and are still raised today. This breed became popular mostly due to consumer preference. (Those lovely bronze feathers in the turkey above would leave darker pin marks in the turkey meat when processed, which consumers felt were unsightly.)

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In the 1930s-40s, raising turkeys in Minnesota was strictly seasonal (um, hello Minnesota winters!). Turkeys were raised outdoors and farmers had much smaller flocks. In the mid-1930s, Minnesota raised around 2,500 turkeys annually per year.

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Today raising turkeys is a major year-round agricultural industry. Birds are raised in barns (easy climate control and birds are safe from predators and disease threats), and flock sizes in Minnesota are much larger; total annual production is 46 million birds.

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Turkeys today are very efficient eaters, converting feed to weight gain at a rapid pace - without any added growth hormones or steroids, which are not approved for use in poultry in the U.S. (and haven't been since the 1950s). 

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Despite all the differences between the decades in production methods, breeds, flock size and the technology, tools and knowledge available to farmers, one thing has remained the same - Minnesota's turkey farms have always been a family business. 

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Here's a family from the Roseau, Minnesota area in the 1950s. Can you spot the FFA jacket?

 

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There are four generations represented in this picture of a turkey farm family in the Melrose, Minnesota area.