Hi! Megan here, Cindy’s niece. I was lucky enough to fill in for Cindy on the Kansas #farmfoodtour while she was away. Just a few short weeks ago some regional bloggers and Skip to my Lou were invited by the Kansas Farm Bureau and The Kansas Soybean Commission to participate in a tour visiting Kansas Farms to learn directly from the farmers and ranchers how our food is grown and raised.
Photo credit: Kansas Soybean Commission.
It was a fantastic tour, and similar to last year’s trip. This year, Cindy wanted to really dig in and focus on current consumer food concerns. I feel the conversation about food in America is really heating up with hot button topics such as labeling, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and antibiotics. This was an opportunity to ask the tough questions directly to the farmers and ranchers. These topics are so polarizing, and we really learned a lot.
Are GMOs bad?
Before I tell you all about the various farmers, ranchers, and stops we made, I want to share some of my reflections from the trip. The biggest message that became clear to me was simply that Kansas farmers are feeding all kids of consumers, and consumers have choices. I love that there are small ’boutique’ farms that produce high end specialized products and that there are massive farms producing a product at a price that ensures it’s consumer won’t be without food. This was what really sold me on GMO crops. GMOs can be grown with fewer pesticides, more responsible no-till techniques, and produce more food. More food! With so many people around the world where starvation is an issue, to those living on a tight grocery budget, to those that just want a tasty snack, GMOs get the job done. GMOs offer a choice when before there wasn’t one. As with any new technology, learning and researching will help shape and grow the conversation, but for now, GMOs mean a choice for consumers. Each stop we made along the trip demonstrated a different type of product made possible by a Kansas farmer. We saw all natural basil, heritage pork, GMO soy, grain fed cattle, grass fed cattle, milk producing cattle, allergen and gluten free products, sorghum, healthy land, happy animals, and lots of hard working family farmers. Regardless of the type of consumer you choose to be, a Kansas farmer has likely helped you put dinner on the table; here are a few of their stories:
We boarded a bus and off we went around Kansas for three days:
Our first stop was at Jeff and Pam Meyer’s hydroponic basil farm in Basehor, KS called Cal-Ann Farms.
They are doing exciting things in their greenhouses! If you’re lucky enough to live in the Kansas City area you can buy their fresh basil at most of the major grocery stores around town. I was so impressed with their growing practices and their technology. The basil is sold with its roots intact in peat to keep it fresher, longer. As you can see in the pictures, the greenhouses are so pretty and provide everything the basil needs: (and could be tweaked as needed) natural light, fresh air, food, water, and insect control.
It was easy to see that the Meyers take pride in their product and grow it without pesticides or other interventions. I was surprised to find out that organic certification does not include hydroponically-grown plants yet. While Cal-Ann grows a natural product, they aren’t able to gain the benefits of the Organic label. This made it clear to me that labeling in the U.S. has a long way to come. Some consumers only buy products with the organic label, and would have missed out on something as fresh and great as Cal-Ann’s basil. Until labeling can catch up, it is important as consumers to do a little bit of research into local food producers so you don’t miss out on fresh products that also support your community.
Westward we went to Olsburg, Kansas and the home and farm of Craig and Amy Good.
The Goods raise heritage pork as well as Angus beef and sell their top of the line products to chefs in New York, Napa, and Kansas City. We were fortunate enough to try their (very delicious) pork. Amy cooked homemade pork meatballs with gorgonzola on greens. Had I not just met them, I might have taken the whole platter home with me- they were that tender and delicious! Cindy will be sharing that recipe soon!
When we went out to see the pigs, we wore beautiful blue plastic shoe protectors. The protectors were keeping our shoes clean, but were really meant to keep the areas where the pigs live clean so they stay healthy. Animal health is extremely important to the Goods and part of their success is the density of the pigs on their farm. While Craig and Amy choose to keep their operation small at around 500 hogs and 60 sows, Craig was quick to point out that all sizes and types of pork producers have a place feeding Americans. A variety of consumers exist, and therefore a variety of producers must exist to meet demand.
Our last stop for day one was at Derek and Katie Sawyer’s farm and ranch in McPherson, KS. Katie writes her own blog about life on the farm. Be sure to check her out at New to the Farm. Sawyer Land and Cattle grows a variety of crops on their 2300 acre farm, but our discussion focused on their soybean and cattle operations. We talked a lot about hot button topics such as genetically modified organisms (in this case soy) and antibiotics in beef.
The Sawyers grow GMO seeds and feel that it is the best product that they can buy to plant because it allows them to use less pesticide and the plants are heartier. There is a lot of negativity surrounding GMOs even though current science overwhelmingly says that GMOs are safe for consumption. Sawyer Land and Cattle firmly believe in the science behind the soy they grow as Derek points out: “This is the best way I know how to grow food for the public.” Katie was quick to add: “We are going to do everything we can to keep this land in the best shape possible.”
Antibiotic use in beef
The other hard topic we discussed was about the use of antibiotics in beef. This turned out to be a very clear cut issue. Only cows that get sick at their farm receive an antibiotic if necessary to return the animal to normal health. That animal must follow very strict guidelines about clearing the antibiotic from their system through a withdrawal period before they can enter the food market. Derek pointed out that antibiotics are expensive, and he would be out of a job if they didn’t use antibiotics responsibly.
Derek and Katie run a successful business and did a great job fielding all of our tough questions. They provided us with a lot of very good information based in science and fact on sensitive subjects. The visit to their farm made it abundantly clear that there is a lot of misinformation out there about GMOs and antibiotic use.
Kansas is a pretty big state, and we spent much of the day traveling to and from our only stop on day two. We toured the Nu Life Market headquarters in Scott City, Kansas and it was well worth the travel time. President, Earl Roemer showed us around the facility. Nu Life produces gluten free flours and sunflower seed spread for consumers and provides bulk gluten free products including popped sorghum and other products to well-known manufacturers.
The facility production areas do not allow peanuts, gluten, dairy, or soy products in order to ensure an allergen free product. We were lucky enough to have a home-cooked meal provided by the staff there featuring their pearled sorghum and all purpose flour. They made homemade tortilla chips and bread from the flour, and used the pearl sorghum in many dishes as one would rice or barley including chilaquiles and salisbury steak. Everything was delicious! Their products are sold on their website and at Costco.
We started day three in Rexford, KS at the McCarty Family Farm, a large dairy farm. Although a big operation, this is truly a family farm. Four brothers are the main operators: Mike, Clay, David and Ken, each one managing one of the four farms. Ken was our tour guide and gave us some astounding stats: they milk 8,500 cows each day which produces 76,500 gallons of milk! All of the McCarty’s milk is sold to Dannon and processed in their Dallas/Ft. Worth facility to produce yogurt. We saw everything from calves born that morning to the open air barn where the cows hang out to the milking facility and milk processing facility.
This large operation is run on a tight schedule to keep the cows in a routine and happy. In fact, everything at the McCarty’s farm was about making the cows happy. The cows had scratching brushes, fans, misters, tire toys, and plenty of shade. I got the feeling that the cows were running the show and the employees were only there to keep the cows safe, fed, and milked. My suspicion was confirmed by Ken when he said: “Our goal with this entire system is to make it as stress free as possible for the cows.”
I was also impressed by the McCarty’s attention to community. They provide jobs in their communities, participate in providing yogurt snacks to schools, as well as focusing on water recycling on their farms.
Our final stop was in the Flint Hills at the ranch of Debbie Lyons-Blythe in White City, Kansas. Debbie was on the tour with us all three days and writes her own blog Kids, Cows and Grass. Debbie raises certified black Angus cows who graze on the native grasses of the Flint Hills. This was the perfecting ending to our trip complete with a very tasty dinner of homemade crock pot beef enchilada soup (Cindy will post this recipe soon, so keep a lookout) and a beautiful Kansas sunset. Debbie told us all about the benefits of burning the grasses in the Flint Hills in order to preserve the native grasses and eliminate invasive species. She absolutely loves the land that she works and she works hard to preserve it. Debbie also let her cows roam all around us which made me a bit nervous at first, but we soon forgot that they were there. They were so quiet! And they looked so clean! And it only smelled like grass.
Being in her field at sunset really provided the perfect setting for reflecting back on this short trip across Kansas. The take home message for me was this: Kansas farmers are feeding America in a variety of ways using a variety of methods for a variety of consumers. They are all doing their best to feed their families and our families, and they love doing it.
Be sure to check out the other bloggers that attended the #farmfoodtour
Stefanie Cornwall, Making of a Mom
Debbie Lyons-Blythe, Kids, Cows and Grass
Sharmin Meadows, What You’re Missing KC
Naomi Shapiro, Superdumb Supervillain
Dana Zucker, wineloversvillage.com, www.momsgoodeats.com, triwivesclub.com, Food Editor for TravelingMom.com
Natasha Gandhi-Rue, The Hungry Family