What’s a typical Canadian farmer?

Quick – picture a farmer. What images come to mind? We can bet there might be a few that look like that. Our bigger wager would be that you might be surprised to learn who is farming today in Canada.

It’s difficult to describe a “typical” farm/farmer or ranch/rancher in Canada because every one of them is unique. Many of today’s farms have little in common with the images of Old MacDonald that you may remember from the popular children’s song. The important connection across all types of farms and farmers that spans the generations is the care and commitment needed for the animals and the land, 365 days a year.

Have big corporations taken over farm ownership? Absolutely not. More than 97 per cent of Canadian farms remain family-owned and operated, and are often handed down from generation to generation. From the very young to the young at heart, sometimes four generations work together on one farm. Continue reading

What does ‘social license’ mean for agriculture?

Social license is a buzzword that has gained traction in various industries and has recently firmly established itself as part of agriculture’s vernacular.

For centuries, farmers have been producing food to feed their neighbours, communities, and the world. Going back just a few generations, most people had a direct connection to the farm and understood how agriculture worked. Farmers didn’t have to talk about what they did because people knew. And people implicitly trusted in the food they ate and that farmers were doing the right thing.

Social licenseThe world is a very different place than it was when my grandparents farmed. Today, only about two per cent of Canadians farm. The other 98 per cent likely know very little about agriculture.

Couple this with the fact that people have greater access to information today than they ever have and a desire to know more about the food they eat and how it’s grown, and it brings us to the conversation about social license. Continue reading

Inside Farming: View from an Iowa Farm

By: Brendan Louwagie, CanACT Member, University of Guelph

Misconceptions in agriculture in choosing seeds, ‘I’m no pawn of Monsanto’

Farm & Food Care Ontario photo

Winter allows a bit of downtime for most farmers. We use it to look back on the prior year and to make plans for the next. We learn from mistakes, failures, and successes, and attempt to make sense of it all. Personally, I think of each growing season as a clean slate to test out theories and debunk some popular myths about how a corn or soybean plant creates maximum yield. It’s also a time when we get to make choices about what to plant, where to plant it, and what seed to use in each situation. It’s often a very personal and private decision. Continue reading

August Faces of Farming

By Kelly Daynard

August Faces of Farming calendar page.

There was never any doubt in John Kapteyn’s mind that he wanted to become a farmer. Growing up, he spent his free time helping his parents on their family farm in Simcoe County.

When asked why he wanted to farm, he answered, “I love to farm because it is very rewarding to raise birds or plant a crop and see them through all of the stages to egg production or crop harvest.” Continue reading

Inside Farming: Hormones Are Everywhere, Including In You

By: Chloe Gresel, CanACT member, University of Guelph

The beef with growth implants in cattle production

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

Many Canadians actively search for hormone-free beef for their next meal, but hormonal implants may not be the enemy. In reality, growth implants help beef animals convert feed more efficiently, which results in leaner meat and keeps the price of beef more reasonable for the consumer. In addition, the levels of horses in these animals not be as worrisome as some think. Photo by Rudolph Spruit

There is much buzz in today’s media about wanting hormone free meat. Can I let you in on a secret? There is no such thing. You see, just like humans, all animals have naturally occurring hormones in their bodies. What the consumer is actually trying to get when they ask for “hormone-free beef” is animals that are raised with no hormones outside of their own. Companies such as A&W are trying to scare consumers into thinking that their products are better because they are using beef that is raised without growth hormone implants.

Can I let you in on another secret? Implants are not the enemy. Growth implants are used to help beef animals convert feed more efficiently. This means the animals develop more lean meat and grow more on less feed. Beef animals that are implanted have increased weight gain from 5 to 23 per cent and convert feed to meat 3 to 11 per cent more efficiently than non-implanted cattle. By using less feed, costs are reduced for the farmer and beef is kept at a reasonable price for the consumer. There is also a smaller environmental impact when cattle are implanted, as farmers are using fewer resources to get them finished and ready for harvesting. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Animal Science stated that if we were to remove growth implants from our cattle production system, we would need 10 per cent more cattle, 10 per cent more land and feed, and 7 per cent more fuel and fertilizers to raise the same amount of beef.

You might be thinking that it’s great that implanted beef has a smaller environmental impact, but you still don’t want all those extra hormones in your own body. Well then, let me share this tidbit of information: 15 ml of soybean oil has over 28,700 nanograms of plant estrogen, while a 100 gram serving of beef raised with growth hormones has only 2.2 nanograms. Surprising, isn’t it? Studies have shown that there are greater differences in hormone levels between the different sexes of cattle then there are between cattle raised with growth hormones versus cattle raised without growth hormones. Continue reading

Happy Earth Day!

Our farmers are working hard year-round to protect the environment for future generations.  Here is an infographic showing just some of the ways they do this. Continue reading

My meat journey

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

Over the last two years that I’ve worked with Farm & Food Care, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. Most of which have come from volunteering at public events. I’ve had great conversations with moms, kids, dads, grandparents and teachers, who all love farm animals and want to know more. Some common questions being ‘how big is that cow?’, ‘how many eggs does a chicken lay?’ and my personal favourite of ‘are you a real farmer?’

Others are more complex like ‘why are pigs kept in stalls?’

But there was one question that I will never forget . It was a question that caught me off guard and one that I have not stopped thinking about since that day. A mom approached me at the CNE and asked ‘how can you care for your animals and then eat them?’

Now that’s a tough question. She was not a vegetarian; she ate meat, but genuinely wanted to know.  I can’t remember what I said to her on that day, but on my drive home that night it kept cycling through my head. How do we justify this decision? I never really considered it that much.

As a young kid growing up on my family farm I became very familiar with life and death. I marveled at the miracle of a new calf being born and also mourned the life of a cow after she had died or been put down. Many times I watched and helped my dad put down a sick or lame cow. Life and death is part of everyday life on a farm. It was something that I never really questioned and I continued to think about this question long after.

It was not until recently on a tour of a Cargill beef plant that I had a “light bulb” moment. I began to piece together my thoughts as I walked through and watched how cattle are turned into the beef you see in the grocery store. Watching the workers do their jobs and trim a small part of the carcass at each point along the way was amazing. Very little goes to waste; even the hooves are processed into products that you buy for your dog at the pet store.

A couple of times our tour guide turned around and checked to see that I was alright. I was the only girl on the tour, but probably the one most fascinated by the whole process.

I left Cargill that afternoon with a renewed confidence in our food system. Regardless of what you read, hear or watch, I can say with firsthand experience that the animals who produce the meat we eat are raised and treated in the most humane manner, from the farm through to your plate.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to that day in August and when that mom asked me ‘how do you eat the animals that you care for?’ I would tell her the following:

We (as farmers) owe it to our animals to provide them a healthy comfortable life, but when the time comes we also owe them a quick and painless death. Farm animals are raised in Canada for food.  Whether it’s beef, chicken, pork or turkey meat that I eat, I know that the animal was well cared for and respectfully treated. I will confidently continue to eat Canadian.

 

Dr. Oz’s GMO Global Conspiracy…debunked

Guest blog by Katie Pratt

Reprinted with permission from http://illinoisfarmgirl.wordpress.com/ Originally posted on February 13, 2014)

Today, Dr. Oz uncovered the “global conspiracy” surrounding GMOs.  I usually avoid these types of sensationalized “investigative” reports because they are nothing more than a regurgitation of biased studies, “expert” testimony supporting the biased studies and absolutely no exploration of another side to the story.  However, this blog is not a commentary on sensational journalism.

It also isn’t meant to attack the character of Dr. Oz or the producers of his show. I don’t know them.  They could be really nice people just doing their jobs.  They don’t know me either, but I kinda wish they did because I could have helped them clarify some of the pseudo facts they presented during their segment on “Stealth GMOs”.

Dr. Oz began his rant against genetically modified organisms by describing a tomato that can withstand frosty temperatures because its DNA has been modified with a gene from a fish.

Clarification: In the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, the company DNA Plant Technology used DNA from the fish, winter flounder, and inserted it into the DNA of a tomato in order to make the fruit frost-tolerant. This “fish tomato” never went into field testing or made it to market.  Yet, Dr. Oz viewers were left to contemplate a picture of a bin of tomatoes labeled gmo and a bin labeled non-gmo.  No tomato in your grocery store is a gmo.  Only eight crops with genetically modified varieties are commercially available to farmers – corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, papaya, sugar beets, and squash.

Then Dr. Oz switches the topic from gmos to the use of pesticides.  He gives his own example of how plant scientists “improved Mother Nature” by making seeds resistant to pesticides.  But then, alas, insects became resistant to these gm-crops and farmers had to apply even more pesticide.

To read the rest of this blog visit http://illinoisfarmgirl.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/dr-ozs-gmo-global-conspiracy-debunked/

Whip up your understanding of plant biotechnology

Canadian consumers enjoy variety in their diets and this sometimes takes the form of a simple change in the foods we regularly consume, like choosing orange cauliflower or purple potatoes in the place of the typical off-white variety.

These colourful alternatives are widely available thanks to plant breeding, a technique that involves crossing plant varieties over many years until the desired colour is achieved.

Janice Tranberg

Plant biotechnology, an extension of plant breeding, offers its own variety of benefits such as healthier foods and increased yields. But consumers are sometimes hesitant to accept plant biotechnology, which is a bit perplexing given their acceptance of traditional plant breeding techniques.

Janice Tranberg, who leads the Council for Biotechnology Information in Canada, helps put consumers at ease by explaining plant biotechnology’s relationship to plant breeding with an interesting comparison – whipped cream. “There are a number of ways to turn liquid cream into its whipped counterpart,” says Tranberg. “You can use electric beaters, a hand held whisk and in a pinch, a fork can also do the trick. All three tools produce the same thing; they incorporate air into cream. The main difference is how long it takes to achieve the desired result.

Compared to plant breeding, plant biotechnology is in a faster way for scientists and breeders to achieve a desired characteristic.”

Tranberg is quick to point out that the use of the term ‘faster’ is relative. Products of plant biotechnology take years and years to come to market because of the rigorous testing they are put through to ensure their safety. Also of note is that scientists are currently using plant biotechnology to develop strawberries with improved shelf-life, texture and flavour, something that Tranberg thinks will go very well with whipped cream.

2014 Milk Calendar features recipes by Ontario dairy farmers

At Farm & Food Care Ontario, staff eagerly awaits the annual November release of the Milk Calendar, published by Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC). In fact, we’re almost as excited about arrival of the annual Milk Calendar as we are about our own Faces of Farming calendar (which if you haven’t already seen ordered, you can do so at this link.

Hats off, this year, to DFC for profiling Canadian farmers, and their favourite recipes, in the calendar including Ontario dairy farmers Reuben and Ed Bos who appear on the calendar’s cover. You can read a great story about the Bos family that appeared recently in the The Record.

Ontario dairy farmers Reuben and Ed Bos on the front cover of the 2014 milk calendar

Ontario dairy farmers Reuben and Ed Bos on the front cover of the 2014 milk calendar

Several other Ontario farmers and their favourite recipes are also featured in the calendar including Catherine Agar of Salford with her French Roast recipe appearing in May; Andrew Campbell of Appin with his mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies appearing in July; Nichele Steenbeck of Varna with her favourite Strawberries and Potted Cream; Sandra Willard of Thornloe with her Breakfast Smoothie recipe appearing in August; Jody Spriel of St. Marys with her Cauliflower Cheddar Soup recipe appearing in October and Jennifer Eastman of Kinburn with her Ham and Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese recipe appearing in November.

Farmers from Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec also contributed recipes to the project.

Ontario recipe developer and Professional Home Economist, Jennifer MacKenzie is again responsible for the array of great recipes that appear in this year’s project.

All of the milk calendar recipes can be found at http://www.dairygoodness.ca/recipes/milk-calendar/2014