A Day in the Life of…Crooked Lake Farm

My name is Jill Burkhardt and I am a mixed farmer (small grains, such as wheat, and beef cattle) from Wetaskiwin, Alberta. Today on the farm, we are moving yearling heifers out to summer pasture. What’s a heifer? A heifer refers to female cattle that have never had a calf.

IMG_4954 (1)
Our farm is a 5th generation family farm. My husband’s family homesteaded just a half-mile up the road from our house in 1901 and have lived in the area ever since. Our land was purchased by his great-grandfather in 1915, and the original homestead is still in the yard. Although the house is uninhabitable, the artifacts remain.

We had our third baby in April. I do most of the calving work on the farm, while my husband, Kelly, is busy preparing for and seeding the crop. Well, this year, I had added challenge of taking care of a newborn human, in addition to newborn calves. It seems like everything is delayed on the farm because I’m busy with our new little guy and not able to help as much as I’m used to.

This year we are a little late moving cattle out to summer pasture. This is due to a few factors…

Last year, 2015, was a drought year for us in north central Alberta, and we had a drier than usual winter and early spring. Rain for us didn’t come until the May Long weekend and fortunately it hasn’t stopped since! We have delayed turn-out to allow the grass to grow up with some good moisture. This allows the grass to “de-stress,” put down good roots for the year, and grow. If we were to turn the cows out on the grass earlier, the grass may have still been in survival mode and stressed and would have decreased grass growth, preventing us to keep our cattle out on pasture later in the fall.

Thankfully, we had feed to use up. Last year, although it was a drought, the rains came later. These later rains landed right during haying season. To bale good hay, we need dry conditions to allow the hay to cure (be dry enough to store properly). Since it was raining, we made the decision to bag our hay turning it into haylage (fermented grass & alfalfa—similar to making pickles!). The haylage doesn’t keep well, so to keep from wasting it, we had to feed it all, and we just ran out in late June. 

IMG_0622 (1)Before we take the heifers out to pasture, we have to sort them in to two groups. One group will go out to pasture, breed with a bull, become pregnant (hopefully!), have a calf next spring and join our cow herd. The other group will be sold as open (not pregnant) heifers.

After we sorted and got our two groups, we loaded the group going out to pasture into a trailer and drove them to their summer pasture. We always trailer the cows out to summer pasture, rather than “push” them out on horseback because our area has a lot of crop fields, a few houses, and not many fences. It’s safe and efficient. 

When the cows were unloaded on their summer pasture they are always happy. Kicking and bucking usually happens—and then they go off to graze for the summer!

Want to learn more? Have questions for Jill? You can follow Crooked Lake Farm on social media: on Facebook and Instagram as @CrookedLakeFarm, and on Twitter as @crookedlakecows, and through their website and blog: www.crookedlakefarm.com

July Faces of Farming Features Modern Homesteaders

By Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

The farming lifestyle might not be for everyone, but for AmyBeth and Colin Brubacher, there’s nothing better. The Elmira, Ont., couple are turkey producers, and they see farming and family as their greatest passions.

“We absolutely love our lifestyle,” says AmyBeth. “It’s modern homesteading, living close to the land. There’s a lot of great things to learn.”

IMG_0236aBox2AmyBeth and Colin own and operate B & B Farms, where they raise turkeys for both large processors as well as for direct sale. They are an average sized turkey farm in Ontario, and also have 100 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat which they share crop with their cousin who has the neighbouring farm.

With three children –   Zoe (age 11), Stella (age 7) and Mercedes (age 2) – AmyBeth and Colin are the third-generation of Brubachers to run the farm. AmyBeth is also the face of July in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar.

As part of their direct turkey sales, the Brubachers supply both whole fresh birds for holiday seasons – around Thanksgiving , Christmas and Easter – as well as value-added products like ground meat and sausages. The family markets their turkeys and value-added products under the brand “Scotch Line Turkey Co.”

“We love working with animals and the satisfaction you get from raising healthy turkeys,” says Colin. “It’s very rewarding being able to produce healthy, great tasting food and just being a part of the agricultural community.”

Colin and AmyBeth took over the farm management from Colin’s parents nine years ago, but actually started building a succession plan over 16 years ago. To help things run smoothly, the couple work alongside Colin’s dad, Landis, and employ local part-time students to help them on evenings and weekends. The extra help is particularly valuable since Colin also works off the farm as an insurance broker.

B & B Farms is also a green energy producer. On one of the farm’s smaller outbuildings, the main turkey barn and their house they have three 10-kilowatt  micro-fit solar systems. The family also has a contract to build a larger, 100 kilowatt solar project on a new turkey barn, which they plan on constructing in the near future.

“We are all about green energy,” says Colin.

AmyBeth is the face of July in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. Her page is sponsored by Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

AmyBeth is the face of July in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. Her page is sponsored by Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

Previously to raising turkeys, Colin worked as an auto mechanic, however, he insists that he always wanted and planned to be a farmer. AmyBeth, on the other hand, did not initially plan on having a farm-centred life. She went to Wilfrid Laurier University for a degree in music, and York University for a degree in education. She then worked as a teacher for seven years before deciding to stay home in favour of having more time with her family.

“We started home schooling the kids a few years ago. We have a good opportunity to educate our children right here at home” says AmyBeth.

Outside of the farm business, both AmyBeth and Colin are involved in their local church through various committees and programs. The family also likes to travel when time permits, visiting relatives who live as far away as Newfoundland, British Columbia, and many places in between. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the love of food also features prominently in their leisure activities – both AmyBeth and Colin enjoy canning and preserving together, as well as sharing their backyard and turkey products with friends and family.

“It’s the family aspect of this business that makes it special to us,” Colin says.

-30-

The eleventh annual “Faces of Farming” calendar, 2016, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario, is designed to introduce the public to a few of Ontario’s passionate and hardworking farmers – the people who produce food in this province. See more at facesoffarming.ca.

More Than Farming: Meet a Nutrient Analyst

MorethanFarming

By Stephanie Vickers, Farm & Food Care

When you want to make an informed decision about choosing a new camera, you go to an electronic store and talk to an expert. When choosing a car, you go to dealership. When making an informed decision about choosing a healthy recipe to make, though, you probably don’t check with an expert — you likely check the nutrition information yourself.

That leaves an information gap. What anonymous expert developed that nutrition information?

Katie Brunke is one of those experts. Her official title is nutrient analyst, and it’s one that Brunke stumbled into during her time at university. 

Brunke found her passion for food and cooking at a young age. Growing up with a twin who had Type I diabetes showed her the impact food can have on someone’s well-being. With that insight, she decided to pursue a career as a registered dietitian (RD).

Brunke started pursuing her career goal by attending Ryerson University in 2010. At the time, she had no idea what a nutrient analyst was, let alone that she would become one herself. During her time at Ryerson, Brunke was the Ryerson student liaison for the Ontario Home Economics Association where she met Mairlyn Smith, who also sat on the association. Mairlyn, a well known professional home economist and Canadian food writer, became Brunke’s mentor and introduced her to nutrient analysis.   

“I started to do nutrient analysis for [Mairlyn] and then through recommendations I gained more clients and it became a thing. I just fell into it really,” Brunke says.

KatieWhiskAs a nutrient analyst, Brunke receives recipes created by her clients to be published in cookbooks or other platforms and finds the nutritional breakdown for that recipe.

To find the nutrient value of a recipe, Brunke standardizes all ingredient measurements and compares them to the Canadian Nutrient File. This file contains the nutrient value for most food ingredients. If Brunke cannot find the ingredient in the Canadian File she will check the American equivalent or hit the grocery store for some product research. By adding together the nutrient value of all the ingredients for a recipe, Brunke comes up with the overall nutrient information. It takes approximately a half hour to an hour to find the nutrient breakdown for one recipe.

I want to inspire people to make healthy food choices, become excited about nutritious foods, as well as build cooking skills and food literacy skills — Brunke

“Sometimes it is really straight forward… and all I have to do is calculate the nutrients for it,” says Brunke. “Other times I could be making the recipe healthy, making adjustments or standardizing the recipe; it completely varies depending on the clients.”

Along with finding the nutrient information of recipes, Brunke also develops her own recipes. Her inspiration comes from fresh, seasonal ingredients and creating straight-forward healthy recipes. She particularly enjoys creating cookie recipes with the goal to making delicious, high-fiber, low sodium, and low fat baked goods.

She contributed two recipes to Homegrown, a cookbook published by Mairlyn, along with completing all of the nutrient analysis for the project.

This autumn, Brunke will move another step closer to becoming a registered dietitian. She has been accepted as an intern with Sunnybrook Hospital, but also hopes to publish her own cookbook in the future.

“I want to inspire people to make healthy food choices, become excited about nutritious foods, as well as build cooking skills and food literacy skills,” she says.

A Day in the Life of…Valleykirk Farms

Rob & Courtney and Courtney the Cow

Rob & Courtney and Courtney the Cow

A Day in the Life captures a morning, afternoon, or entire day of a Canadian farm. This entry highlights the Kirkconnell/Denard family’s day for June 21, 2016. Have a question about a particular farming type or practice? Leave a comment below and we’ll be sure to reach out and connect you!

My name is Courtney Denard and I am proud member of a farm family in Owen Sound, Ontario. Together with my husband Rob Kirkconnell, and his parents Bob and Mary Ann Kirkconnell, we run Valleykirk Farms, a 50-head dairy farm on 160 acres of land.

Rob and Mary Ann were up at 5:30 a.m. this morning (like every morning), and out in the barn milking the cows. It takes about two hours to milk our cows or “do chores” as we farmers like to say. Bob was in charge of delivering our bull calves to the Keady Market this morning so he left the farm around 8:00 a.m., and made his way to the sales barn where a livestock auction is held every Tuesday.

As a farm reporter and agricultural communications specialist, I work from home writing newspaper and magazine articles about the agriculture sector. This morning I had a phone interview about a new project that is placing giant wooden quilts on barns across our county. I’ll spend the rest of my day coming up with new story ideas, contacting people for interviews, and eventually writing articles for my weekly deadline. I might take a break or two to Tweet about our life on the farm or take our puppy, June, for a walk.

Rob came back to the house around 8:30 a.m. and spent some time working on the farm’s accounting books. Most farmers take care of their own financials so this is just one more job that needs to be done on a regular basis.

Rob and the new puppy, June

Rob and the new puppy, June

And because it’s summer, the farm is in its busy haying season so Rob made his way into the tractor at 11 a.m. where he will be cutting hay (kind of like mowing grass but with bigger machines, and we let it dry, then make it into bales) until 4:00 p.m. We’ll take up to three cuts of hay off our fields between June and August and use it to feed our livestock year round.

The cows will need to be milked again at 4:30 p.m., so it will be back to the barn at that time for two more hours. Dinner is usually at 7:00 p.m. but during the busy summer we really have no supper schedule. It could be a quick bite after evening chores or leftovers at 9:00 p.m. on a tailgate in the field. Bedtime at our house is around 11:00 p.m. but once again that depends on what needs to be done. Work trumps sleep when you’re making hay!

If you’d like to follow Rob or me on Twitter please do. Our Twitter handles are @Valleykirkfarms and @CowSpotComm.

Four Ways Farmers Promote Pollinator Health

By Mel Luymes, environmental coordinator, Farm & Food Care Ontario

This week is pollinator week, and all across Ontario insects are briskly buzzing about their business. Pollinators play an important role in agriculture and, in turn, Ontario farmers play an important role in protecting and feeding them.

Sam McLean farms in Peterborough County, and grows 175 acres of strawberries, raspberries, pumpkins, and other crops that rely on pollination. McLean is careful in his application rates and timing of pesticides, and understands that farming is all about creating balance. “We have a lot of hedgerows here, a lot of natural habitat for bees and other pollinators, so we don’t even need to bring in honeybees to pollinate our crops,” he says. 

Video Resource: Fruit farms and pollinators work together  

Sue Chan is a pollination biologist with Farms at Work and she has been working with McLean for years. “What I’m seeing is many, many species of native pollinators here, so he is obviously doing something right,” says Chan. She points to the plants in the hedgerows: basswood, sumac, elderberry, wild raspberry, even burdock and dandelions are great food and habitat for native pollinators, she says.

On the other end of the province is Mary Ellen King, a fourth-generation farmer in Lambton County who operates several hundred acres of wheat, corn and beans. “Ten to fifteen years ago we started to enhance our farms with trees, hedgerows, wetlands and native tallgrass prairie,” she says. “We need the birds and the bugs and the bees, it all works together to make a healthy farm. I like to walk around the farm in the evenings, it just sings!”

Video resource: Farmers plant cover crops for pollinators 

Kathleen Law is a master’s student at the University of Guelph and studied the ways farmers can and do promote pollinator habitat on their properties.  Farms have historically been great habitat for bees, she says. “As farming has changed and field sizes have gotten bigger, it means that farmers need to be intentional about enhancing pollinator habitat. Instead of having fencerows play that role, they can create habitat around buildings, ditches or woodlots,” she says.

“As an environmental researcher, it was really heartening to see how much cash croppers care about pollinators,” continues Law.  “Often the missing link was having the necessary information and support to go ahead with pollinator projects on farmland.”

Video resource: Riparian areas & Hedgerow Management for Pollinator Promotion

In Ontario, there are many resources for farmers interested in enhancing pollinator habitat. The Environmental Farm Plan addresses pollinators and the Ontario Soil & Crop Improvement Association supports projects through cost-share programs like the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP) and the Great Lakes Agricultural Stewardship Initiative (GLASI). In certain areas, farmers may have access to the Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) program or Farms at Work.  Local Conservation Authorities can also be a great resource as well.

Law recommends that when farmers plant pollinator habitat, they should be more proactive in letting people know. “Put up a sign up that says who you are, what you’re doing and why,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate Ontario farm stewardship to your community and to society.”

An Open Letter and Invitation to Rachel Parent

By Lauren Benoit

Dear Rachel Parent,

My name is Lauren Benoit. I’m 21 years old and I have been following your story and your crusade against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for quite some time. You are a remarkably talented and accomplished young lady. I applaud your quest to provide people with more information about where their food comes from.

As both a farmer and someone who aspires to a career in science, I couldn’t agree more that the public deserves accurate reliable information about the products on grocery store shelves. Truthfully, the only place we disagree on is what actually qualifies as good information.

I am firmly in the pro-GMO camp. Biotechnology is a valuable tool for farmers that allows us to grow the abundance of safe and affordable food that we are privileged to here in Canada. The use of GM technology has several benefits, including reducing the need for tillage (which can cause soil erosion) and reducing the amount of fossil fuel burned on farm (and thus GHG emissions). More recent genetically-modified innovations, such as non-browning apples or bruise-resistant potatoes, are new options to help significantly reduce food waste.

The National Academy of Science recently released a report supporting the safety of GMO foods and cited no risk to the environment or humans — the future of science and biotechnology is bright.

Right now, you are choosing to continue your anti-GMO crusade despite overwhelming evidence that your information is flawed. I don’t know if this is because you distrust the more than 270 scientific bodies standing behind the safety of GMOs or because of the financial gain and social status that you gain from it. Either way, I feel for you. The empire that you have built on pseudoscience and fear seems to be crumbling.

For someone at the age where they are just beginning a career, I could understand if you’re afraid of what this means for you. Being 19 years old is hard enough as it is, and you have a lot of added weight on your shoulders right now. You started Kids Right to Know when you were 11 years old. You’ve spent 8 years — almost half your life — working on this cause, and as we continue to learn about GM technology, the facts are not in your favour. 

Even though we disagree on a topic very near to both our hearts, I do respect your drive and, if armed with accurate information, I think you have potential to become one of the great scientific communicators of our generation. I truly hope that you will listen to the science before it is too late and we see what could have become a wonderful career communicating science-based information disintegrate.

I would very much like to meet you and hear more of your story, if you’d be willing to meet — the coffee’s on me.

Yours truly,

Lauren Benoit

Lauren BenoitLauren Benoit is a 2016 BSc. (Agr) graduate from the University of Guelph who was raised on a grain farm just outside of Kirkton, ON. Lauren is currently working in crop protection research and has plans to begin an MSc. Degree in weed science at the University of Guelph in January 2017.

Family of Nine Featured as June’s Faces of Farming

By Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care Ontario

Farming has been on Andrew Henderson’s mind for most of his life — or at least since high school. It was at that relatively early point that Andrew realized farming was the career for him. Now, almost 25 years later, Andrew is busy running a successful, enterprising farm while raising a large family.

“After high school I went to Kemptville College for agriculture,” says Andrew. “I graduated in 1998 and have been farming ever since.”

Andrew and his wife Tracey are the sixth generation owners and operators of Kenora Farms — a Spencerville-area dairy farm named after Andrew’s grandparents Ken and Nora. The couple married in 1998, and have seven children: Anna (age 13), Sam (age 11), Lily (age 9), Grace (age 8), and triplets Claire, Kate, and Luke (age 5). Andrew works on the farm full-time, while Tracey, an engineering graduate from Queen’s University, works off the farm as a math and science teacher at a local high school.

Andrew Henderson

Andrew, and his farming family, is featured for the month of June in the 2016 Faces of Farming calendar. Now going into its eleventh year, the calendar is published by Farm & Food Care Ontario, and the Henderson’s page is sponsored by Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Limited.

Kenora Farms has seen a lot of changes and expansions over the years, particularly since Andrew moved home after completing his post-secondary education. At that time, the farm housed 50 Holstein cows in a free-stall barn, and included 300 acres of corn, alfalfa and pasture. Since then the number of dairy cows has steadily grown to 160,  as did the farm’s acreage; now, there are about 900 acres of alfalfa, corn and beans under the Kenora Farms banner.

See more about the Faces of Farming calendar here

Kenora Farms has a number of characteristics that help Andrew keep things running smoothly. Andrew’s father Paul is still very involved in the farm’s day-to-day operations, and works on the human resources aspect of the business. In terms of facilities and equipment, a new heifer barn was constructed in 2010, and a robotic milking system was added to the main dairy barn last year. This milking system allows the cows in Andrew’s barn to walk into a stall and be milked – by a robot – whenever they want.

The robot may have been an expensive investment, but it has proven quite valuable to the Henderson family. As Tracey explains, “It frees up more time for [them] to do more things together.”

In the same year the new heifer barn was built, Andrew and his family incorporated a soybean crushing system into their farm. This system crushes and separates soybean seeds into oil and meal, allowing Andrew to supplement some of his cows’ food, and consequently, reduce the amount of money spend on purchasing feed. The leftover soybean oil can also be sold, adding even more value to his family’s soybean crop.

The construction of the new heifer barn and the incorporation of soybean processing machinery even helped Kenora Farms earn a “Producer of the Year” award at the Canadian International Farm Show in 2011.

As a business, Kenora farms has also expanded vertically through the supply chain. It is, for example, one of 1,200 farm companies behind Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd. – which is the second-largest dairy co-operative company in Canada – with Andrew himself acting as one of 60 producer delegates. Andrew and his family have also been a part owner of a milk-trucking company for the last few years. Overall, this means they are involved in the production, transportation and processing of their cows’ milk.

0D4A0148aBoxThe Henderson family are also very involved with their local county milk producer committee and Holstein club. All of Andrew and Tracey’s children downhill ski, and play soccer and hockey.

Andrew and Tracey also say they are not too focused on succession planning at this point in time, but will be paying close attention to how the next decade proceeds; that is, they will be looking to see which family members start expressing interest in being the seventh generation of Kenora Farms

Yes, There’s an App for Farm Animal Care

By Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Coordinator, Farm & Food Care

The days of carrying a notepad around the farm still exist, but there’s a new kid in the barn and field that carries a lot more functionality than a farmer’s well-worn pad of paper.

Farmers love technology and have embraced it willingly, from GPS-equipped tractors, to radio frequency eartags, to robotic milking machines. Maybe some generations have adopted it faster than others, and certainly some forms more than others, but farming and technology go hand-in-hand.

Thinking back to where mobile tech was just a few years ago when I picked up my first cell phone. I was a late bloomer for a millennial. I distinctly remember a conversation with my dad about texting that went something like this…

“Why would you text anyone? If I want something I’m going to pick up the phone and talk to a person. Who needs texting?” My siblings and I just shook our heads thinking that dad will never get it.

Fast forward to today, most of my communications with dad are through text messaging. We kids had it wrong. Now dad sends me pictures from the farm, uses abbreviations like lol (properly!) and populates his messages with emojis. And I love it.

Usually he has a newer phone than me, carries it everywhere with him and is always asking me if I’ve downloaded the latest app. But the guy doesn’t use Facebook. Or that tweetagram thing, as he calls it. But, like many other farmers, he recognizes that some apps have made farming more innovative, efficient, informed, and sometimes even easier.  

IMPACT 2Whatever you can dream up, there is probably an app for that. And now with Farm & Food Care’s IMPACT program there’s an app for animal care information.

Accessing info on animal care has never been easier from the barn, field or beside the chute.

The multi-species app offers information on euthanasia, procedures, handling, transport and other general care. Videos, articles, decision trees, loading density calculator are all at your fingertips and in your pocket. It’s not your grandpa’s factsheet!

Don’t want to read an article or watch a video on your phone screen? You can email it to yourself and watch it later. You can also bookmark what is important to you and share it between your employees, colleagues, and fellow farmers.

The app is available for download for Apple and Android devices, and is free. Have a new employee starting on your farm? Use it as part of your training program or implement it into on-going training.

Download it today. If you don’t have a smart phone, not to worry. IMPACT resources are available online by visiting www.farmIMPACT.ca.

Technology can be great but if you regularly experience a slow internet, let the Farm & Food Care office know. A USB stick with videos and content can be sent to your farm. There are options, no matter your circumstances.

Regardless of how you prefer to access information today — apps, websites, carrier pigeons — there is no doubt that we live in the age of endless information and technology has played a large roll in this. Farmers know the value of continually learning the best practices for today, tomorrow and for generations to come.

You Heard Me: I Like GMOs

By Matt McIntosh, Farm and Food Care Ontario

Few issues get me fired up like biotechnology and GMOs (also known as genetically modified organisms). Biotech interests me scientifically, concerns me socially, and confounds me to no end. It’s a subject where speaking out in favour can land you in a minefield of hateful conversations, and a topic that remains hotly contested despite thirty years of discussion.

It is also, however, a subject which the scientific and agricultural community must resolutely continue discussing with the public. The catch is, it needs to be approached in a specific way — it needs to be approached with less science and more stories.

To be honest, and if you haven’t guessed already, I’m a bit of a biotech fan.

I love GMOsYes, you read that right: I LIKE GMOs.

I see biotechnology as one of a great many tools that societies around the world can use to overcome significant agricultural, economic, and environmental challenges. Is it the scientific be-all end-all? Of course not. Should it replace things like traditional breeding? Of course not. But when used in conjunction with the practices, varieties, and lessons acquired over thousands of years of agricultural history, I can’t help but be awestruck at the astounding potential this technology has.

Why, then, does the opposition to biotechnology seem more combustible than ever?  The answer, or part of the answer anyway, is simple enough – biotech supporters are great at explaining, but not-so-great at connecting.

Kevin Folta, 2016

Kevin Folta, 2016

“Biotech is a battle between fear and fact, between heart and head, and heart always wins,” says Dr. Kevin Folta, a prominent biotech proponent and professor who chairs the Horticultural Sciences department at the University of Florida.

“You can’t pound people with science and expect them to accept it. You have to show that you have interests in problems that align with theirs, and how your solutions are viable mechanisms to fix them.”

I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Folta speak at the Farm & Food Care Ontario conference this past April. I fully support his message that establishing shared values and actually speaking-out is absolutely critical if we want the public to understand and accept this incredible science.

The unfortunate bit is Folta’s sentiment is not new. Indeed, the idea of communication through shared values has been one of the central themes discussed within agriculture for years. As progressive as this industry can be, though, it’s a theme that agriculture as a whole has in many ways failed to address — much to our detriment.

Personally, I can say I’ve bore witness to how effective a shared values approach can be (Farm & Food Care, my organization, has quite a few outreach initiatives). And really, if anti-GMO activists can successfully use this method – and they do – why can’t we?

For his part, I would suggest that nobody knows the highs and lows of public communication like Dr. Folta. His is a real roller-coaster tale.

During his presentation, and again in a follow-up email conversation, Folta explained that he, like many, had spent years reiterating the science behind biotechnology, but to no avail. In 2013, though, he started focusing on values and trust (what the Ancients called “pathos and ethos”), discussing how biotechnology impacts individual farmers, the goals of researchers, how communities cope and recover from diseases, and so on.

A change was noticeable almost immediately, and Folta began “changing hearts and minds” with much more success. Unfortunately for him, that success attracted the ire of characters with rather sinister intentions.

At that point, folks, the manure-slinging really started.

Through the American Freedom of Information Act, anti-biotech activists seized Folta’s email records (his research projects at the University of Florida make use of government funds, and thus he is publicly accountable). Using those records, a false narrative purporting him to be a payee and puppet of large agro-chemical companies was manufactured and spread from Vancouver to Pretoria. The incident forced Folta to defend his career, his science, his institution, and most significantly, his own credibility.

Kevin Folta speaks at the 2016 annual general meeting

Kevin Folta speaks at the 2016 annual general meeting

His name sufficiently tarred in the eyes of millions, Folta was worried his career was over.

Thankfully, the blatant lies were exposed soon thereafter, and he eventually rebounded both personally and in his career. Now, he actively discusses his passion through a number of different mediums, including a podcast (Talking Biotech), blog (kfolta.blogspot.ca), as a speaker, and as a contributor to www.GMOanswers.com – a public-facing site providing information, resources, and news on biotechnology.

On a personal level, Folta’s experience really hits home for me. It is a grand example of my significantly more minor-league experiences.  I myself have been called a “shill for big ag” while in university, working as a journalist, and even in social settings.

My experience isn’t unique either. Discussing GMOs anywhere can be both frustrating and stupefying. The willingness to over-simplify complex science into tweet-sized falsities, to blindly argue correlation automatically means causation, is astounding. Most notably of all, though, is the level of personal and sometimes even violent vitriol hurled between opponents. Just take two minutes and read the comments under a GMO-focused news article and you’ll see what I mean.

The whole business is a sickening state of affairs, and one that has consequences in ways most of us wouldn’t even consider. One that has stuck with me personally is how Folta’s unfortunate experience as a target of anti-GMO activism has turned people away from pursuing science.

“It breaks my heart,” says Folta with very visible emotion during his conference presentation. “I have potential students emailing me asking if their names would be included in public records if they work with me. They are not going into the field because they are afraid for their future. It’s absolutely devastating. “

Now, I may be a writer by trade, but I’m also a farm kid with career aspirations. I want to get back to my family’s farm. I cannot fathom being forced away from that goal by fear. The fact that fear keeps prospective scientists from pursuing their interests, from pursuing a career in which they see value for themselves and others, is abominable.

Amidst the negativity, though, it’s important to remember that recovery is possible, and that the public is actually open to what biotech supporters have to say. In fact, Folta specifically identified farmers as key players in the biotech debate. Farmers are, after all, the prime users of biotech crops, and the public wants to hear their stories. 

“Get your online real estate. Register your farm as a Twitter handle, start a blog and just share personal experiences,” says Folta. “People like me can be smeared to death (but) you’re immune from that. You’re the most competent and trusted, but we don’t talk to (the public). Right now the people that want to take out tools away are filling the void.”

Misinformation is a reality impossible to escape from, but laying down and letting misinformation macerate good, honest fact is an option no one can afford to take. As Folta’s experiences so blatantly illustrate, repeating the same-old communication strategies does not suffice. Saying nothing does not suffice. Speaking together and from the heart, however, has the potential to really tip the scales.

My dad often imparts the phrase “might as well do it now” whenever there’s a tough job to be done, with the understanding that procrastinating only makes the job more difficult. A lot of us, myself included in many ways, are way past due for taking our turn in the trenches.

Science needs good spokespeople and good stories — and agriculture the world over has both in spades.

Straight Talk: Let’s Get Real About Technology and our Food

It’s understandable that many consumers are curious about about how their food is grown. After all, we put food in our bodies, share it when celebrating or at times of mourning, and are responsible for what we serve to our precious children. At a time when anyone can broadcast their own personal message to millions of followers in seconds, there’s no shortage of opinions and advice on what you should and shouldn’t eat.

The tough part is, the science of health and wellness is far less sexy than many food bloggers and celebrity-du-jour personalities would have you believe. Unfortunately, the words “safe”, “affordable” and “abundant” don’t get the heart pumping like “toxic”, “Frankenfood”, and “genetically modified”. Teasing out fact from fiction about our food is not always easy or straight-forward.

This week, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report on the effects of genetically engineered (GE, sometimes also called GMO) crops on human health, the environment, and agriculture. The broad study combed through 900 studies and compared conventionally-bred crops to their GE counterparts.

Hear More: Click here to hear “Debunking Food Myths” with Yvette d’Entremont, the Sci Babe

The panel of scientists came up with a rather ho-hum conclusion: GE crops are pretty much just crops. One of the scientists involved in the study went on to say that GE is not “the panacea that some proponents claim, nor the dreaded monsters that others claim.”

Ultimately, the study confirms that crop varieties containing GE traits are safe for us to consume and safe for the environment. They’re also not a silver bullet to any one challenge in agriculture  — but anyone involved in farming recognizes there are always trade-offs when you’re working with Mother Nature.

The Academy of Sciences’ report also noted that the distinction between “genetically modified” and not is becoming less obvious, as technology, such as CRISPR, a gene-editing technique, creates new varieties of crop types indistinguishable from non-modified lines.

Will this Biotech 2.0 ease the fears and distrust many consumers have of technology in food production? That’s the big question that many in agriculture would love to see answered with a resounding yes.

Curious about how your food is grown? Follow this link to The Real Dirt on Farming