Thursday, August 20, 2015

4-H’s Lessons of Life

This year’s 4-H projects came to a close this week when the kids’ steers were sold at the local sale barn in Tama.  This is not the first time through the production cycle for them, so there were no long good-byes.  As Abby and Nick helped load the steers, we took time to save the ear tag that read “Spike” from one steer.   Abby herded them out of the barn quietly, and as each one passed the gate Nick patted them one by one for the last time, and then he announced “That will be some good hamburger.”  I guess I wouldn’t expect anything different from a farm kid who affectionately named his pigs Sausage, Ham, and Bacon the day they arrived back in March.

There’s many lessons learned each year with their livestock.  Each year the knowledge gets a little deeper.  Animal care and health, feed rations and nutrition, and of course learning more about exhibiting and showing.  The character and responsibility they gain are tough to quantify but are more apparent each year.   They can’t do it all by themselves, and they shouldn’t.  Some people say 4-H showing is more for parents than kids, but just like school or sports kids need guidance, encouragement, and assistance to learn and become better.  The family time and new friendships gained are invaluable as well.   The idea of creating a network and resources to get help or exchange ideas will benefit them long after 4-H.  There are very few activities that teach the life skills and about life itself like these projects.

Growing up on a livestock farm, the kids knew the reason for a market hog or steer was to provide food for people.    As Abby puts it, “People have to eat and these will taste good”.  So the kids learned to do the best possible way to raise their animals and market them to provide a safe wholesome food supply.  There is also a special respect for life that cannot be learned any other way.  On our way home from the sale barn, their attention turned back to plans and goals for next year.  The kids are anxious for this year’s calves to be weaned and up for sale so they can start the cycle over for another year. 

Nick’s gilt named “Bacon” found an unexpected home this year.  She turned out well enough as Reserve Grand Champion to earn a spot in a local show pig producer's herd after the county fair.  This has led to a lot of questions of the hows? and whats? about the entire livestock production cycle.  Learning about the wonders of nature and people is a never ending cycle.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fair, Food, and Politics

When it comes to the pulse of politics, the nation comes to Iowa for the Iowa State Fair.  The first in the nation status makes Iowa a central power in telling the nation who should be each party’s nominee.  The honest, hardworking, common sense Iowans are interviewed on the nightly news and morning network programs. 

When it comes to food the nation passes over Iowa and the heartland to focus on the coasts.  Hollywood and Washington DC are the focus.  Actors and superstars are the "experts" on food production practices and technology while lobbyists and activists fill the streets and hallways of the nation’s capital.  All of them quote food production facts commonly found searching random websites or memes on Facebook.  The national media loves to tell the Iowa story when it comes to politics, especially when a candidate is holding a deep fried food on a stick, but when it comes the politics of food, food production, and food safety Iowa is the last place they want to come.  Iowa’s status as first in the nation doesn’t end at the caucus.    Iowa leads the nation in corn, egg, and pork production.  It’s essentially the capital of our food production.

Politics in food is nothing new.  Remember the original Tea Party?  Two of the latest topics are biofuels and biotechnology, which have hit the political circus because of the effects of food prices, availability, safety, and production.  Facts fly freely in debates on the topics and most claims go unchecked.  It’s the passion and emotion behind the facts that really garners the attention from Americans.  The sensationalized facts are repeated over and over again by foodies, celebrity moms, and anyone with a keyboard or smartphone.  The Iowa farm families who are sought out for photo ops with politicians are not included, or worse, their testimonies are marginalized because the facts come with point blank honesty and a solemn voice.

Farmers and our families are not going to get the prime time spots to tell our stories of the safe and wholesome food we produce to feed America and the world.  Each and every one of us must tell our story of how we produce the meat, grains, vegetables and dairy consumed each day.  We have to use the facts, but weave them into a compelling story of what we are doing each day and give examples of our first- hand knowledge.  We need to tell our story any and every way we can in coffee shops, carpools, ball games, elevators, churches, on Facebook and Instagram.  We may not often get the major media sources, but when we do we need to share the facts so American families see the passion we have what we do, because every story matters. 

Your story may be like the Pork Chop On A Stick that Hillary Clinton carried around the fair on Saturday because it may not be completely eaten, but one bite may get the message across.  Those fifteen minutes of fame will make a difference to someone.  This is my contribution to telling the true story of agriculture, because farmers matter. Welcome to the Bacon Burger Blog.