How can I learn where food comes from?


If ever there were a black hole for my time and efforts, graduate school would be it. Getting into the depths of my research, literature review, and thesis writing takes a lot out of a person. Last week, I announced a hiatus for my blogging efforts, at least until I finish my Master’s program. I do not want my negativity to carry over into my world of agvocacy. It hasn’t been fair to not give everything my 100%.

When considering what final message to leave my readers, I landed on one question. Last week I challenged you to think on it and respond to this prompt:

As a Consumer, How can you learn more about American Agriculture?

I received a ton of responses and here are a few that cover most of the topics…

How can I learn where my food comes from?
I think this says a lot about how much we take for granted. We have a lot to be thankful for and should not be bickering about our food choices. Be thankful you have food. Image from Beyer Beware

By seeking out real farmers and ranchers! Social media has opened the door and allowed real people involved in agriculture to have a voice. Ask questions and learn about where your food and fiber come from! — Elizabeth

As a consumer, I tend to take the word of scientists, qualified experts, and producers over the word of hype. If I want to know about where my food comes from, there is someone in the food system who knows and is willing to share! The media is often driven by money, which means that the news that gets the most hype will get the most attention. I feel like this has led to some lower-quality reporting. Thank goodness for social media! — Kelly

By promoting and doing demonstrations of positive agricultural practices and homegrown food in schools, fairs, and other public gatherings to help at the grassroots level with kids and adults. — Shannon

Seek out real everyday working farmers and ask them how they raise the food we eat. Only by talking to those who actually carry out that task day in and day out will you every know the truth. — Suzie

You have to want to know where your food comes from before you will know. Then you have to learn and understand. This question implies two things to me: The difference between the person that is thankful to have food and recognizes it as a blessing; and the person who never stops to think or be thankful for the avenue by which food was put in their bellies. One person is a thankful person and the other is a slothful and wasteful situation. — Bryan

I would love to see more articles in the mainstream media about farms and farmers. I think that doing promos in conjunction with grocery stores would also be a great opportunity to get more info out to a wider public. If more farmers could offer their farms for tours to younger kids, that would help. What is needed, I think, is to put a face to the farmer/producer. Maybe you could do some promos offering a stay at a working ranch as the prize, offered only through co-operating groceries, and focus on chains/ stores that serve urban areas. Say all the beef farmers chipped in a dollar, it could cover the cost of a stay at a working ranch for a family of four. And maybe more than one winner, say regional or state winners. The publicity generated could spark discussions. — Peggy

Don’t believe everything seen on tv. Get the facts. — Doug

Look for information from farmers – the media wants to tell a good story and for some reason that has meant portraying farmers, and many do not know anyone who is a farmer, as the bad guy. Farmers have plenty of incentive to protect their land, take care of their animals and meet consumer wants and needs, yet we forget they have these incentives. Just like any business or industry, there are bad apples, but the market and our food system will not let them stay in business for long! — Amanda

Pay attention to all sides of the equation. Learn more on your own about where your food comes directly and what it took to get it to you every step of the way. Help teach children how to appreciate these things early in life and to be aware of these things as well. — Renae

By simply diving in! I am a learning my doing type of person. Even though I have grown up with a huge agriculture background, there is no way I have learned it all. I have learned so much from my social media friends about farming in their neck of the woods. I want to learn more by not waiting for someone to tell me, but by getting my feet wet and asking the questions. — Jamie

Visit a local farm that you may be interested in (i.e. cattle, grain,cotton, horse, swine, poultry …..) befriend the farmer and family and ask all your questions and listen. Ask to ‘ride along’ , truck, tractor or horse. This is quality time that one can learn so much and understand the food chain , the challenges and the rewards of agriculture. — John

I think that the easiest way for today’s consumer to experience the “where does my food come from” question is by going to their local farmer’s market. Even in our little town there is a farmer’s market that runs all summer…and it’s been very successful in providing good quality food and other goods to the folks that don’t have the land to grow their own. From beef to vegetables to honey, it’s all right there every week. The consumer can see the product and visit with the grower. Farmers and ranchers are proud of their products and are so willing to share their way of life. — Karen

We have to remember that Agriculture is around us every day. We don’t necessarily realize it but it affects everything from the food we eat, the clothes we wear to the roof over our head. Some of the best ways to learn more about American Agriculture is by searching out those farmers and ranchers with blogs that talk about their day-to-day operations on their farm. This will give you a bit of insight on the day-to-day happenings and struggles farmers deal with. Next, find a farmer in your area if possible. This can be done through farmers markets and extension programs. Many farmers are more than happy to talk to consumers and answer questions about their day-to-day practices. Lastly, always take advantage of attending local county and state fairs. The farmers and ranchers that are there promoting their livestock and industry are a great source of information. Also, there is a number of industry driven magazines and blogs that can be subscribed to, that will come daily, weekly or monthly. Many of these magazines and daily newsletters are great for consumers as well as farmers. — David

Talk to a farmer, visit a farm. I really don’t know, cause I am a farmer myself. Just see it first hand. — Artie

Social media, like Ryan’s blog, has been very helpful. Also, the polite conversations that Ryan started: I love that everyone seemed more interested in informing each other on this blog, rather than converting each other in some way. I’d like to see side by side facts or maybe (polite, LOL) debates between the animal welfare side and the ag industry side. The picture, depending on who, can be so different from either side. It would be cool to have a blog or site that both sides can contribute to, with certain ground rules, of course (!!). And physical visits to farms would be helpful or cameras on-site at farms where adults and kids can see how farms work might be helpful. Unfortunately, many of us are so removed from the farming industry. But, ultimately, I love social media — Facebook, tweets, blogs, sites — as ways to disperse information. Thank you for asking!! — Kay

Educate myself! Don’t assume that what I hear from tv or people or read online or in papers is fact. Ask questions. Talk to farmers, ranchers, and producers about what they raise/grow. Realize that they all work hard to produce the best product possible. Don’t think that because I saw something online, I can farm better than someone who has been doing it for years. Finally, respect agriculture! It’s what keeps this world going. — Nicole

The most obvious way is to reach out to those that are producing the food. There is no better way to learn how food is produced or where it comes from than speaking to someone who does it first hand. You can learn a lot by reading articles on the Internet but how is one to know if the information is credible or not. We in agriculture need to do a better job of starting the conversation, being transparent, and provide a welcoming presence so that people are more apt to actually come ask questions. I believe many consumers are just scared and timid to ask questions so we need a more approachable feel! One of the greatest examples I’ve seen lately is from one hundred meals. Take a woman who thought she knew everything about GMOs and how bad they are for you and she actually sits down with farmers and companies and has an opened mind and the outcome is incredible. There is a lot of work still to do but I feel we are making great strides in bridging the gap between producer and consumer. — Taysha

Social media is a great place to learn more about American Agriculture. It might be difficult at first finding your way to a place that states the facts and has backup resources but you can find ways around it. I started my way by Twitter, following past and present FFA officers, creeped on who they followed and found my way following others that had blogs. Then I found myself procrastinating on school work with Pinterest and have seen it take a different outlook to Agriculture a positive one. I have also found more blogs and Pinterest accounts to follow this way too! But if you really want to learn about American Agriculture the best thing to do is ask questions, find someone in the industry, and tour their farms and ranches, put yourself out there and see it for yourself! — Michael

Growing up, my family ate frozen processed food. I knew milk came from a cow, meat came from animals and vegetables came from the ground. The connection I didn’t learn was how those three were connected and how they got in my freezer. My first step to learning about agriculture came in college when I had a friend who was working on a sheep dairy. He invited me out to the farm to help for a week and I fell in love with agriculture and fresh food. This was the beginning to my adventure learning about agriculture with the goal of someday being able to raise some of my food.
Go local: Find out who your neighbors are
Over the last five years, I have transitioned into buying local foods from the source. Road side stands are abundant in my county and have been a great source for making connections with farmers. Most farmers love sharing their knowledge and it is fun to talk not only about what they are growing, but also how I am creating delicious meals with their produce. My county is also lucky to have many dairy operations and a few of them give farm tours. If you are not comfortable approaching the farmer, some operations will have websites and you can find out about the operation that way.
Local businesses educate: Talks and classes
Feed and farm supply stores are great resources for finding talks/classes on topics you are interested in. The folks that work at these places also tend to be a wealth of information and many of them have firsthand experience that they are willing to talk about. Another great resource is your county Conservation District. At some offices the staff specialize in specific areas of interest and can have knowledge of both local and national issues; i.e. resource concerns, feed prices, production numbers, etc.
Online resources: Knowledge at the tips of your fingers
…And of course, the internet. Using the internet you can find out about what’s new in agriculture by following research done by Universities. You can follow current issues with agriculture oriented newspapers like Capital Press The West AG Website. Universities, news articles, and blogs are only the start for how you can use the internet to find out more about American Agriculture. — Corina

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Thank you for following along with my blog and I’ll see ya’ll on the other side.

Farewell and Thank You – Big Sky Boots [Giveaway]


I have to go out on a high note right? I really can’t wrap up my blogging without saying THANK YOU to all of my friends and followers! And I have the PERFECT gift for one lucky person!

Thanks to the generosity and creativity of my friend Lauren Chase at the Montana StockGrowers Association (MSGA), I have a great work of art to share. Big Sky Boots: Working Seasons of a Montana Cowboy is the first in a series of Photo books that highlights the work, passion, and lives of the Montana Cattlemen, women, and their ranching families. This book is seriously a piece to treasure.

Chase (@LaurenMSea) has traveled numerous miles and spent hours working alongside Montana ranchers to take us “on a journey through a year in the life of Montana’s cowboys—through calving, branding, and shipping, and everything in between.” She is a perfect example of how someone can grow up and not have a background in agriculture, but develop a strong love and passion for this way of life. A great example for many.

The book contains very high-quality photos of the Montana scenery, the story of the rancher’s work through the seasons, and links to online content for more behind the story. She really does a great job of sharing the Agriculture story with those who want to learn more about where their food comes from.

I have a copy that will go to one lucky winner. Anyone can enter, but if the winner is on a farm or ranch, I ask that you eventually pass it along to someone who wants to learn more about American Agriculture (as that is one purpose of the MSGA project).

How do you enter to win?

You can win a copy of Big Sky Boots ($75.00 value)! Fill out the form below and respond to the question from a consumer’s perspective – “How can you learn more about American Agriculture?”

Put some thought into it. In what ways can you reach out to farmers, ranchers, and those involved in our food production system to learn more about where our food comes from? How can you reach out, ask questions, and work with others to make improvements in a productive manner?

I’ll pick a winner using a random number generator from the responses to the contact form below. The winner will be contacted on Thursday, November 15th and responses will be shared on this blog.

If you just can’t wait, visit the MSGA web site to order your copy. It will make a great Christmas gift for someone!

THANK YOU to everyone who has followed my blogging efforts over the past 3+ years. As I take a difficult break to pursue studies in graduate school, I hope you’ll continue seeking first-hand sources to learn more about modern agriculture. Farewell for now and enter to win!

Rules for contest:

  • One entry per email address.
  • Entries must be made by 12:00AM Eastern Thursday, November 15th, 2012
  • All required information in Entry Form must be completed
  • Winner will be chosen via random number generator
  • Blog administrator reserves the right to disqualify entries based on site moderation policies listed on the About page.

Darn you grad school…


There comes a point where time cannot be managed and tasks must be laid to the side. As much as it pains me, graduate school isn’t one of those things that can be laid aside.

I absolutely love sharing my story online and being a part of the agriculture blogging community. So many great conversations have been spurred with people from across the globe whom I never would have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. Real friendships develop from these conversations. I’m talking about the kind of friends who drive miles out of their way just to grab lunch with me or have let me sleep on their floor when I am passing through their neck of the woods and we end up swapping stories all night long. These are folks that I talk to every day.

Everything I do, I want it to be done well. And right now I am not able to give my best.

At this point I have to sign off on the blog and set it on the back shelf. I will pick it up again when the time comes.

Until next time…

Agriculture, It’s more than part of life. It’s a passion, a lifestyle, a resilient community that works hard to feed the world! — Ryan Goodman

Food, Politics, Lies, and the Truth


“A lie can travel halfway across the planet in the time the truth is still putting on its trousers.” — Winston Churchill

Anyone can say anything negative about modern agriculture and have it be believed. Correcting erroneous beliefs is a much greater challenge. You will be surprised at some of these issues that we believe to be factual, but may not be.

What would an individual or organization have to gain by creating a misconception? They may be well-intentioned and believe what they are saying or not so well-intentioned.  Their purpose may be far from obvious.

Manipulation of fear may drive their success. If they can use public fear or outrage to gain attention, they are viewed as credible, more people join their efforts, and more money is raised. They gain in many ways. Interest groups use fear to generate funding and membership support.

The mass media feed into this cycle. They want headlines to gain readers and viewers. How many people would wait anxiously to the teaser, “Tune in later, the world is safe, the environment healthy, everyone is well fed.”

Lastly, most of us accept what we read or hear without further questions because that is the easiest, most passive thing to do. Then we get on with all of the more important stuff in our busy lives.

– passage from Addressing Misconception About Agriculture from American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture

Whether it be the elections or agriculture issues, I think those words above are something to take into consideration.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” — Winston Churchill