The Nutrition of Backyard Farming

I recently found myself making small talk with the guy mixing my paint color at Lowe’s.  We talked about the weather, which led to talking about our farm, which led to him asking if we grow our own food.

Well, we feed the world, but no, we don’t grow everything our family eats.  He seemed surprised to learn that we had chickens and a garden but get our food from the grocery store.  Then he said he wanted to live on a farm and grow his own food someday.  He’d heard it was healthier.

Healthier?  Than what?

Happy, healthy chickens eating GMO feed {}

So I told him about my experience butchering chickens.  I cleaned my “all-natural” chickens on a not-so-steril table covering I purchased in a cardboard box from Sam’s Club after loosening their feathers in the largest canning pot I own.  (I’ll need that same pot to make applesauce again this fall, because I don’t have a designated chicken-harvesting pot.)  There were flies in my back yard and the plastic gloves I wore did all the work from plucking to freezing.

I’ve been in a meat processing plant and let me tell you, it was so much cleaner.  The process was organized by messier to cleaner so the meat wasn’t near the dirt.  There were no flies.  There were no plastic table clothes.

My chicken tastes great, and no one in my family has gotten food poisoning yet, but again I’ll ask; raising your own food is healthier than what?

What is the Big Deal with Sustainability? How do we leave our farms to the next generation? {}

My chickens ate local farm-store brand food and whatever scraps we fed them.  It’s very photogenic, buy why would the food my children refused be more nutritious than the food created by a veterinarian and a team of scientists like I saw at the animal nutrition company in St. Louis, Missouri?

Why would a grasshopper diet resulting in orange yolks be better than perfectly balanced pellets that make yellow yolks?  Orange is more nutritious than yellow?

Is the soil in my garden full of more vitamins than the carefully tended, even tested, soil in my husband’s field three feet away?

Planting begins on the farm (and everyone's excited! {}

Why would his background in construction help him grow healthier food than my family who have dedicated themselves to understanding plant science?

What I’m really saying is the “good old days” are a combination of romanticized feelings and a misunderstanding of health and nutrition.  We have grocery stores today because our grandparents understood there were better options than killing your own Sunday dinner.

Spring planting on the farm.

Sure, there are bad farmers with poor farming practices out there.

But that’s not really what you’re getting at the grocery store.  You’re usually getting the labors of a farm family because 97 percent of America’s farms are family owned.   And those families, just like mine, are buying their food from the grocery store.  You’re getting the crops grown by people who love their work enough to dedicate their lives to what they do.  You’re getting food grown with the highest level of technology so your food is nutritious and your grandchildren’s food is plentiful.

So smile and wave at me next time you see me at the grocery store.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving


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So Much To Be Thankful For

We celebrated Thanksgiving with my family this weekend when my sister could come from Iowa.  We had it all.

Thanks 1


Thankful 3


Thankful 5

And food.

Thanks 2

Which my Dad reminded us, isn’t always the case.

Thankful 4

(Toddlers get their own table!)

A few years ago my parents invited some church members from Africa to stay at their home while they did a circuit of the area congregations.  One day my Dad took a gentleman named Sam with him to feed the cows and while they worked and the two talked about the fact that Sam’s family might be getting electricity in their home.  With Sam remarking about the very special cows my Dad commented that the thing he would miss most about not having electricity would be the refrigerator.

“Brother Gene,” Sam said.  “We do not need a refrigerator.  When we are done with a meal, there is nothing left to store.”

He indicated the grain being fed to the cows and noted, “That would feed a family in Africa for a day.”

Special cows indeed.

Thankful 6

When our meal was over I could hardly fit the leftovers into my triple door refrigerator and I took some of them to the basement fridge.

Thankful 8

When I came back upstairs I remembered to be thankful.

Thankful 7

So very, very thankful.

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Are GMOs 100% Safe?

I’m so excited to bring you this post!  Guesting today is Mommy PhD, a mom and scientist who has thoroughly studied the food she feeds her family.  I met her via Facebook a few months ago and it seems only fitting that Mommy PhD and Daddy’s Tractor would teaming up to help your family make informed decisions! 😉

While the scientific consensus about the safety genetically engineered crops (GMOs) is very well established, many people remain unconvinced, largely based on misinformation spread by activists and organizations funded by the organic industry. Anti-GMO activists often ask scientists to prove that GMOs are 100% safe.

However, this is the wrong question.

It is impossible to prove anything is 100% safe and, in reality, nothing is 100% safe. Everything comes with a risk and safety is always relative. The real measure of risk regarding GMOs is the relative risk compared to non-GMO food. The question that should be asked is:

Are there increased risks associated with each GMO product compared to its non-GMO counterpart?

Science has told us the answer – GMOs are at least as safe as non-GMOs. There is essentially no difference between the two in terms of risk.

Let’s take a step back from the details of the science and talk a bit about general concepts of risk and risk assessment to understand what this means in terms of GMOs.

The basics of risk assessment

Humans, on the whole, are intuitively terrible at assessing risk in our own lives (even those who are trained in statistics). Just look at the popularity of casinos!  We make bad assumptions and make the wrong comparisons when we consider risk in our own lives.

Emotions cloud our assessment of risk.

We are bad at assigning value to long-term risks and benefits; we have an innate tendency to focus on the short-term. We also think in very small sample sizes (after all, what happens to me and my family must be most important, right?) and not in terms of populations (which is how epidemiological statistics are calculated). We overestimate the risk of the unfamiliar and what we don’t understand. A familiar example of our innate misapplication of risk is that we tend to be less apprehensive about getting in the car every morning than we do about getting on a plane. In reality, the risk of injury or death from a car accident is much higher than the risk from flying on a plane, which is the safest mode of transportation in the US.

Let’s consider the example of heart disease and smoking (with some made up numbers) to understand the essentials of risk assessment in health and safety. Our natural tendency is to look at the risk of heart disease in smokers and attribute the entire risk in that population to smoking. However, the risk due to smoking is only the risk that occurs in excess of the rate of heart disease in the general population.

Looking at the graphic, let’s pretend the top group is non-smokers (or the general population) and the bottom group is smokers (or people in some other at risk group). The people in yellow do not have heart disease and the people in red have heart disease. The base rate is 2 in 100 or 2% in the general population. The absolute risk in smokers is 8 in 100 or 8%. The relative risk is 4 because we divide 8% by 2%. In this example, smoking increases the risk of heart disease by 4. This relative risk is the magic number that tells us how much additional risk of heart disease is attributable to smoking.

Risk assessments in health

This gets more complicated when you consider that most behaviors, medications, and other choices we make have both risks and benefits. Some treatments have side effects. Some behaviors that are good for you might also have risks (for example, you might have a greater risk of injury if you exercise). So now we have to consider many more variables. We also have to weigh how much risk is tolerable to gain a benefit and the risks and benefits of doing nothing.

What does this all have to do with GMOs?

What all that risk assessment stuff above means for consumers and is that safety is relative to whatever you would do otherwise.

So the relevant question is not: “Is this GMO crop safe?” It is: “Is this GMO crop at least as safe as its non-GMO counterpart?”

Or, in science-speak, “Are there increased risks associated with this GMO crop compared to those associated with its non-GMO counterpart?” We ask what the base level of risk is and assess whether any particular GMO poses any risks in excess of that base level.

This question has been answered for all currently available GMOs.

The risks are assessed compared to the alternative. GMOs are the most well studied and tested food in our food supply. Layla Katiraee at Biofortified wrote a great description of how these studies are designed and carried out earlier this year. GMOs undergo intense scrutiny by the EPA, USDA and EPA prior to deregulation (meaning before they can be sold to consumers). In contrast, non-GMO crops require no approval no matter what genetic modification techniques were used to create them, even if genetic engineering techniques change far fewer genes than other techniques (this actually represents a higher risk from non-GMOs compared to GMOs, although still very small). We also do not screen these non-GMOs for allergens, even when a large number of genes are changed. In contrast, allergen screening for GMOs is extensive.  For non-GMOs, we recognize that even if we change a large number of genes, an apple is still an apple and these do not require any testing. However, for GMOs, even if we change one base in one gene, we subject this crop to years (sometimes decades) and millions of dollars worth of testing.

This stringent scrutiny of GMOs is unscientific and arbitrary. However, it does provide us with an awful lot of data about GMOs. What all this data shows us is that there is no increased risk associated with any current GMOs – for allergies, for food safety, for nutritional content, for environmental impact – compared to their non-GMO counterparts. In fact, for some nutritionally enhanced crops (like Golden Rice), they can actually be healthier. This is why every major scientific and regulatory agency that has reviewed the data on GMOs has found that all currently available GMOs are at least as safe their non-GMO counterparts. This information isn’t hidden or secret. GENERA (Genetic Risk Engineering Atlas) is a public database of over 1,000 studies of GMOs assembled by Biofortified, an independent non-profit.

Let’s revisit our question: Are GMOs at least as safe as their non-GMO counterparts?
Yes. As I explained above, the evidence shows, over and over and over, that there is no increased risk associated with growing or eating GMOs.

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Why Do We Need GMOs?

Yesterday I listened to an interview of a farmer in Indiana who currently grows non-GMO soybeans on his farm because consumers are willing to pay more for this premium product.  Next year he doesn’t plan to grow them anymore.

Why?  What’s wrong with regular ol’ beans and why would a farmer choose GMOs, even if the others pay better?

Well, I can answer that will a little more from my tour of Monsanto.  If you missed it, be sure to catch the first two posts, What is A GMO? and Can You Eat Like Your Ancestors!  If you’re up to date, please continue. 🙂

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

This particular farmer (as do all farmers) was having trouble with weeds in his fields.  Weeds are a problem because they use resources, like nutrients from the soil, water, and sunlight you wanted for your crop.  The competition can cause crops to produce less food.

Famers of the past, and those that grow non-GMO products, used a combination of products to kill the weeds, often applying them two or three times to kill those weeds.  That costs in time, money, and harm to the environment.

GMOs were created so farmers could spray a product one time and kill weeds more efficiently.  Scientists had the idea to make a spray that interferes with a protein in photosynthesis.  Then they created a seed that was protected from the spray.  Dead weeds, less chemical.  All around win.

Another problem solved by GMOs is the damage from pests.

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

This works a little like a vaccination.  Scientists take DNA that protects from certain insects and put it into the seed, “turning it on” like we discussed in Monday’s post in the roots or leaves, and keeping safe from bugs.  In the above photo three healthy soybean plants were infected with disgusting caterpillar things (scientific term) on June 11th.  (And moved into that case on the 16th, if you’re wondering about the bottom date.)  I took this picture on June 18th.  You can see the damage done in just seven days.

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

I wish I’d gotten clearer pictures of the labels under each plant so I could show you better, but I’m sure you can guess the nice looking plant on the bottom right is the GMO designed to taste nasty to the pests.  Our guide said the caterpillars figure it out and after a quick bite, never go near the GMO plant again.

It works with corn as well:

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

Hopefully you can read those signs a little better.

In addition to killing pests and weeds so the plants can grow and produce well, GMOs also keep those two little problems out of the combine and away from the food that is trucked into town.  Since a combine can’t tell the difference between Johnson grass and corn, anything growing in the field gets pulled into the equipment– even nasty caterpillars.

So the farmer I heard interviewed was going back to GMOs.  It means less spraying for weeds, less damage to plants, less loss of income, and better for the everyone.

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14 Things You Need to Know This Weekend About Hot Dogs

As a farmer I feel it is my duty to bring you information regarding your food choices.  When you have all of the information you can make the decisions that are best for your family this Fourth of July weekend.

Which is why I’m sharing this highly educational hot dog etiquette video.

Dedicated to livestock farmers everywhere. 😉

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What Will You Pay for Your July 4th Cookout?

I’m in the grocery store at least once a week.  And believe me, if I didn’t live 20 minutes away I’d be there a lot more often.  I’m pretty good at guestimating the total cost of my cart using nothing more than simple life experience.  Believe me, I notice when the cost of food goes up.

What does your 4th of July cookout cost?

When it comes to meat, I can’t get as much for my dollar as I used to.  I’ve notice the price of eggs is climbing steadily (although I get my eggs from the backyard) and we’ll drink $12-$15 worth of milk in a week, never mind cheese, yogurt, etc..

What’s funny is that I never really notice when prices go down.

The American Farm Bureau Federation does a pretty cool project several times a year where they send out 88 volunteers in 30 states to record food prices at the stores where they shop.  They just finished their 4th of July estimates and guess what?  If you’re buying hot dog, buns, cheeseburgers, potato salad, baked beans, corn chips, pork spare ribs, lemonade, watermelon, and chocolate milk (and who is not?!) you are likely paying 3 percent LESS than you did in July of last year!

They gather prices based on the amount of food needed to feed ten people.  The grand total for this year is $55.84, or $5.58 per person.

What does it cost to feed 10 people this 4th of July?  Less than it did last year!  Surprised?!

Last year’s total was $57.57.  What went down in cost?  Well, two big ones were the pork and dairy products. Buns and baked beans also went down; lemonade and ketchup are up.

Why are some prices declining?  Well, we’re producing more pigs, so supply and demand says pork costs are down.  Beef production is stable, so at least prices aren’t still jumping.  Another factor is fuel and energy costs, which are lower now than they were a year ago.  Keep in mind that, according to the USDA, the farmer only receives about 17 cents of each dollar you spend on food.

What does your 4th of July cookout cost you and how much of that $ does a farmer recieve?

In fact, the farmer is only a small part of the cost of food.  This graphic, also from the USDA, shows who contributes to the cost of food.

Where does your food dollar go?

So stand a little taller America.  Our country produces the cheapest, safest, most abundant food on the planet.

Now go enjoy your $6.00 cookout!

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June Jump

It’s the time of year when corn seems to just jump out of the ground.  Although “watching the grass grow” brings to mind thoughts of shear borden, check out these pictures of Anna standing in the corn field.

These pics were taken 8 days apart!  Corn seems to jump out of the ground in June!

No kidding, these images were taken 8 days apart.  The top one, where the corn reaches her waist, was snapped on June 15th.  I took the second, showing leaves several inches above her head, on June 23rd.

I probably should have measured it, but that’s what? Two-ish feet in about a week?

Sweet corn grows quickly too, but most varieties you’d plant in your garden won’t get much taller than 4-5 feet total.  Field corn can be about 7-8 feet tall, depending, so the jump is more impressive.


This is me by some field corn last year on July 4th.  You can see the tassels on top, so it won’t be growing any taller.


(Tassels are the wheat-looking stems coming out of the top, btw.)

Maybe seeing corn grow still isn’t what you want to do on a Saturday night.  But it could be a whole lot more interesting than watching paint dry. 😉

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Detox Diets and Monsanto; Why You Should Think for Yourself

I’m pretty big into helping people make choices by giving them correct information.  I spend a lot of time researching topics for people who just want to know their food is healthy and safe.  I’ve invested a lot of personal energy in debunking myths and misconceptions.  Even with all that, sometimes I fall for it too.

Detox Diets and Monsanto: Why We Should Think for Ourselves  {}

This is my juicer, bought for more money than I’d like to admit.  Another thing that’s a little hard to admit?  I purchased it as part of a fad-diet detox plan.  An unscientific, un-researched, unproven detox plan.

Because I’ve done it too.  I wanted something to be true.  I was counting on the idea that eating a special diet of veggies and whole grains could clear my body of all the pizza and pop and mini Twix bars.  I was a tired new mom and I needed this to work.

I bought the book of some guy; not a professor or scientist or nutritionist but the maker of a health food product he wanted you to buy.  I ate tofu, for which my only excuse is that it is made of soybeans.  I spent SO much money on vegetables that I ground up into juice and drank by the gallon.

Then I sugar-crashed.

And the diet I needed didn’t work.

Because I didn’t do the research.

I’m not going to present the research here because this blog isn’t about detox diets, but if you want to know, Fitness Reloaded does a great job laying out the facts.

The point I’m trying to make is that we have all believed the hype–listened to the thousands of voices selling something.  We have all forgotten to think for ourselves.

Yesterday I was on a Facebook thread with a person who stated “Monsanto is evil no matter what you think about GMOs.”  I responded with one word.


She didn’t know.  She had heard a lot of hype, so there must be something.  She just didn’t know what it was.

If you believe organic must be better for you because it just must, well, I get that.  If you want non-GMOs because “genetically modified” is scary, well, I can see that too.  But don’t let it get in the way of thinking for yourself, of finding out the facts, of knowing what you believe and why.  (But for the love of all that is good and decent, check your sources!)

And if you should still decide you want organic, hormone-free, paleo food, then go for it.

I have a juicer I can sell you.

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Adventures in Rhubarb

I couldn’t believe it, but it’s true.  April is almost over!  Most of the time I’m anxiously awaiting the beginning of May so I can plant the seedlings I bought, um, in March, from the greenhouse when I just want green and growing things.  This year, besides being crazy-busy, I bought daffodils, shamrocks, hyacinths, and violas instead.  And although I did throw a few seeds in a raised bed back in March, I haven’t paid that much attention to the garden site.  So imagine my surprise to notice the rhubarb positivly overgrowing it’s bed!

Growing crazy-big rhubarb!

I should have stood a child next to the plant so you can see how tall these stalks are, but here’s Brett posing with a few he picked.

Growing crazy-big rhubarb!

Growing rhubarb is something of a new experience for me.  I decided to plant some four years ago when strawberries were on sale for a dollar a pint but rhubarb cost an arm and a leg for three stalks.  I was warned by several people that the little plant in its gallon pot would quickly be three foot square, but that was fine.  I planted it in a four by four foot garden bed and looked forward to strawberry-rhubarb everything.

Adventures in growing rhubarb.  {}

The first year I wasn’t supposed to pick any and the next two years you pick frugally.  No biggie; three or four stalks twice a year was enough to satisfy my spring-time craving for pie.  Last year the goats ate quite a bit, but by then the plant was well-established and we still made several recipes.

But this year I’m gonna need more recipes!

Growing crazy-big rhubarb!

Thankfully, there’s Pinterest.  I found a brilliant suggestion for Strawberry Rhubarb Sugar Cookie Crisp from Heather Christo.  I may never cook rhubarb any other way again.

Growing crazy-big rhubarb!

And it was easy!  Chop up some strawberries and rhubarb, coat them in flour and sugar, dump into pan.  Then mix up a sugar cookie recipe, roll it out about half an inch thick and lay it on top!  Much easier than a pie crust and soooooo delicious!

Now my favorite recipe!  Strawberry-rhubarb sugar cookie crisp.  {}

Her recipe makes a 9×13 pan, but I didn’t have that many strawberries so I put mine in a pie plate.

We might be eating the extra dough straight out of the fridge…

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