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An on-farm agriculture and food experience

Lots of changes in the Snobelen house again since I last posted! We welcomed a son in April of 2017 and he is the most happy, energetic, and playful little boy! What a joy it is to be his Mama, and we are a happy family of 3. Hard to believe he will be a year old very soon!View More: http://newtownimages.pass.us/babydylan

This summer, my husband and I are planning to dip our toes into a farm market business. We have vegetable and ornamental seeds in-hand, and plan to provide a variety of farm market offerings through the summer and into the fall!

To dig into my crafty side we will also be offering hand made home decor items!

We are very excited to start this new endeavour together, and to teach our son about agriculture and food! We hope to reach out to the Chatham-Kent community to provide an agriculture and food experience. I will be posting photos and updates on this blog and other social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) so check back often, especially as we approach spring weather!

So many choices – a first world problem

An interesting concept was presented to me this week while at a conference put on by the Ontario Processing Vegetable Grower’s Association. Marty Seymour (@MartySeymour1), an Industry and Stakeholder Relations Director at Farm Credit Canada, presented this week on Public Trust and Social Licensing in Agriculture. Marty outlined why we have such a strong conversation in social media when it comes to food and agriculture. Very simply put, this is a first world problem driven by the number of choices we have at the grocery store.

Think about it. When you go to the grocery store, and read the items on your list, how many choices do you have? For example, let’s talk about bacon. Its Super Bowl weekend, everyone loves a little bacon in their party snacks. So when you go to your local grocer and move to scratch bacon off the list, how do you make the decision? Options range from not only different flavours of bacon, but different fat and salt ratings, and different ‘production’ types of bacon. Free from antibiotics bacon, 23% less salt bacon, ½ the fat bacon, maple bacon, thick cut bacon…the options are endless. So what’s driving your decision? I do not want to open the nutritional recommendation platform, because that’s not my background. BUT, I will say that when I approach the bacon chest at the grocery store, I start with a nutritional influence. Bacon is not exactly a ‘nutritional’ product, but if the recipe I’m following doesn’t dictate a specific bacon, I am more likely to buy the reduced salt variety.

Let’s transport ourselves to a different country for our grocery shopping. For example, a good friend of mine spent 3 years in Bangladesh. Given it is a muslim country, bacon isn’t exactly widely available. But you can find it. When you find the one and only option for bacon, do you question it? Or has it been long enough hunting for this treat that you are just happy you can fill your apartment with the aroma of it cooking?

The same phenomenon exists for almost any food item in a grocery store in Southern Ontario. Grapes, tomatoes, cheese, bread, all marketed with everything from my previously mentioned Non-GMO verified label, to certified organic, to country of origin labels. I personally try my best to find products that are produced in Canada. I picked up a package of greenhouse tomatoes at Costco this week that had a beautiful picture of the tomato plant, and some sliced tomatoes with mozzarella cheese which made me think I could eat exactly that at home! Then I noticed it was a product of a South American country. Having just toured one of Chatham-Kent’s Tomato greenhouses, Truly Green, the last week of January, I put the product down and reserved my purchase for something that was produced here ‘at home’.

So the next time you’re at the grocery store, think about the end goal of the products you are buying. I think we are all working towards the same goal; feeding our families food we feel good about buying. Think about the way the marketing on the package makes an impact on your decision making process. Don’t let something like celery with a ‘gluten free’ label fool you into buying it, and quite possibly paying more for it instead of celery grown in the Holland Marsh here in Ontario. Of course celery is gluten free! Cheeky marketing that plays on buzzwords and plays on our emotions about the food we feed our families are just that – cheeky ways to sell more off the shelf.

As always, please leave me questions about the food you see at the grocery store. Send pictures of a label that you find shocking/ interesting/ outrageous, and I’ll address them all!

Just for fun, here’s a recipe using bacon from Ontario Pork.

Non-GMO Project Verified

I found this label on a box of cereal. IMG_1009It is strategically placed beside the notable nutritional nuggets that one might be looking for on a product. The placement of the non-GMO project verified logo plays into perceived ‘healthy facts’ of this cereal.

A quick Internet search will take you to the home page of this non-profit organization, where the stated goal reads, “Working together to ensure the sustained availability of non-GMO food and products”. This organization started in California, and operates a headquarters in Washington State.

The discussion on GMO’s is so widespread, so enormous, that this humble blog will not be able to touch on the entirety of the topic. However, the goal is to help consumers wade through the mis-leading marketing when buying food. I will draw your attention to the page The “Non GMO Project Verified” seal, and the explanation under the heading “Are products bearing the Non-GMO Project Verified seal GMO free?” The explanation, in my opinion, makes the entire organization’s project collapse on itself,

“GMO free and similar claims are not legally or scientifically defensible due to limitations of testing methodology.”

Don’t get this comment on testing methodology confused with testing how safe products are for human consumption. The testing mentioned here, relates to testing products for the presence of GMO’s. The section continues to say,

“In addition, the risk of contamination to seeds, crops, ingredients and products is too high to reliably claim that a product is GMO-free.”

What should be more important on this box is the nutritional value. It really is excellent marketing that places need-to-know nutritional information right beside a label for an organization that has no scientific foundation. That’s why we buy and eat food in the first place! For nutrition, fuel for our bodies, snacks for kids, not to support an organization’s dead-end attempt to claim products are GMO-free.

Having overloaded you with information about this particular label, I urge you to check out the Health Canada website that covers biotechnology and genetically modified foods, particularly the safety assessment of genetically modified foods. I trust Health Canada; I think we should as Canadians. I think we should rest assured that our Canadian standards for food safety are among the top in the world. A company producing a genetically modified corn or soybean cannot just produce it one day, and sell it to consumers the next. There are extremely stringent protocols of testing that are completed over many years before Health Canada considers any product safe. Health Canada’s safety assessments consider everything from the molecular biological data of the genetic change, the nutritional composition compared to its non-modified counterparts, and the potential for causing allergic reactions.

I hope this has increased understanding of the genetically modified food registration process. Bottom line, borrowed from Health Canada, is that food derived from biotechnology, or genetic engineering, is as safe and nutritious as foods already in the Canadian marketplace.

A new year, a new direction

This humble blog has been in the back of my mind for the better part of 7 years now. I have been struggling over the past few years finding the right topics to write about that will keep my hunger for communications fed.

There have been a few influences and experiences that have given me new direction and motivation to write. That motivation comes from wanting to better connect the city and the country. I was raised in the city and didn’t step foot on a farm for 20 years. Now I live on a farm and advise Ontario producers on their business decisions every day. Many people raised in the city like myself, don’t get the opportunity to learn how the food on their table arrives there. Meat just doesn’t appear on grocery store shelves. Fruits and vegetables don’t box or bag themselves. So how do those products arrive in the local grocery store? The goal here going forward is to help bridge the gap in understanding of what Ontario producers do to make the best food we have ever had access to.

And while we’re on the topic of grocery stores, how do you decide which product to buy? At any given store you have the opportunity to purchase 3 or 4 different options of the same product. Buzzwords and marketing magic have made it increasingly difficult for consumers to decide what they should be buying, or feeding their kids. This phenomenon has widened far beyond the conversation of organic vs. non-organic. Food trends carried by social media have also impacted the labels we see on our products. I want to dispel some myths and clear away the smoke and mirrors that marketing companies have incorporated into everyday items.

So that’s what I will do. I will find an item in my pantry, or at the grocery store, that has a very compelling label, picture, or buzzword, and get down to the bare bones of what the product actually is, and how it got there.

I look forward to any constructive comments or questions about the upcoming topics, and hope that you forward my posts onto anyone who would find interest. Reality is, we all make those trips to the grocery store; wouldn’t it be an easier trip if we could see through the marketing and just buy the products we like to eat?

Trust in precision agriculture

yieldmap
Photo1. Graphic showing the yield data created by a combine yield monitor.

Precision agriculture and big data are a couple of today’s buzzwords in the ag industry. Companies are offering precision agriculture services in the way of anything from grid or zone soil sampling (see photo 2 for zone map example), variable rate fertilizer and lime applications, drone imagery, to precision planting prescriptions. The term ‘big data’ refers to all the information required or created when completing precision ag services.

Photo 2. Example of a zone map derived from drone imagery or combination of drone imagery and yield map overlay.
Photo 2. Example of a zone map derived from drone imagery or combination of drone imagery and yield map overlay.

Services such as variable rate fertilizer or lime applications are not new to many. What is new is the constant questions about yield monitors and planters. What kind of guidance system does it run on? What kind of software do you need to download and read the maps? If you’re a farmer and these questions puzzle you, you are not alone.

How does someone who’s new to the precision side of agriculture learn about the technology? Do they ask their equipment dealer? Do they ask their ag-retailer? Do they have to hire someone to process the data that these machines produce? What do I do with all this data? Send it to the cloud? What is the cloud? Can you trust the cloud with your farm-business data?

The question I get at home is, “how do I supply my customers with yield data on the fields that I combined?” I’m frustrated to say, that I’m not sure how to answer that! Numerous phone calls with the equipment dealers led to more phone calls to a precision ag specialist, but ultimately, we still have not produced a map from the recent wheat harvest.  Is it reasonable to take the card into the ag-retailer you deal with to get them to produce the map, even though it might be for a non-customer? Are today’s crop specialists the same as precision ag specialists?

The goal of all this data and precision work is to make farm management more profitable and more efficient. More efficient use of fertilizer, and better seed choices and seeding rates for certain farms and soil types. It all sounds like we’re heading in the right direction, but the start of this road is bumpy and has a few potholes. I welcome you to share this, and please comment with your experiences, frustrations, or pointers!

Battling herbicide resistance

Well we’re approaching the end of April, and I’ve finished school for the year and have gone back to work.  Aside from the most recent snap of the seasonal temperatures, farmer’s have been tending to fields and applying burn downs.

The nerd in me picked up an old Ontario Farmer today (April 3rd edition) and got all wrapped up in the advertising.  BASF is heavily marketing their herbicides Integrity and Eragon which are under the KIXOR technology, and they are supposed to control resistant biotypes that glyphosate alone won’t kill.

Now, just to be clear, I am not advocating for BASF or getting any money out of this post, but they have some very cool time lapse videos of their chemical tank mixed with glyphosate and Merge that I just had to post.  Resistant weeds are becoming more common in Ontario farmer’s fields, and there’s some strange satisfaction in seeing glyphosate resistant Canada Fleabane wither and die under the action of this tank mix.

So check out this website to see the chemical in action against Canada Fleabane, Lamb’s Quarters and Common Ragweed. Happy spraying this spring.

Community Supported Agriculture Initiatives

This morning on my drive back to Ridgetown, I was listening to the radio and the hosts brought up the incredible opportunity to support local farmers and take part in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), or Community Shared Agriculture initiatives.  CSA farms are farms that grow and provide fresh vegetables and fruit for a number of ‘shareholders’ each season.  Anyone interested in buying ‘shares’ in a farms products is expected to pay a full amount upfront, and then receive a certain number of weeks of produce (length of delivery season is dependent on individual farm operations).  Some CSA farms will deliver, or provide multiple pick-up locations for their shareholders to receive their weekly farm fresh produce.

Not all farms are the same as there are no requirements for becoming a CSA farm, but many of the farms are rooted in organic practices or are on their way to becoming certified organic.  Many of these farms will provide people with the opportunity to experience nutrient dense foods as my last post discussed.

To get more information or become a shareholder in a CSA farm you can visit the Ontario CSA Directory and check out the farms in your area. This is a great opportunity to seek out the local producers of vegetables and fruit in your area, and to help make healthier decisions when it comes to the food on our plates.

Nutrient Dense Food Production Movement

Well, it has been a very long time since I have visited my own blog and updated with new posts.

I’ve been attending the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus since September 2011, and have been studying a diploma in Agriculture.  As I get to know my professors, and they get to know me, some topics that I am interested in have come up.  Today, infact, one of my professors started talking to me about a production movement in the world of vegetable and fruit production.

Nutrient dense foods seem to be on the top of the agenda when considering new practices for vegetable and fruit production.  Many claims have been made that the nutrient content in our fruits and vegetables has been on a steady decline for many years due to the extensive cultural pratices carried out on, what were once, very fertile and productive soils.

Great looking vegetables, but drastically decreased nutrient value

Many foundations and campaigns have been established to spread the word about remineralizing our soils, and in turn returning the nutrients to our fruits and vegetables.

The links I have provided and the information I have summarized barely scratches the surface of what is a rapidly growing trend in the research into conventional and organic fruit and vegetable production.

In talking to my professor, I found that it is important to understand that this movement is not all ‘anti-conventional’ and ‘pro-organic’.  Even conventional farmers can continue with conventional practices such as using protection products to ensure a healthy yeild.  The core of this topic, is in the soil.  Creating, or returning soils to a state where the nutrient levels are balanced, increasing microbes in the soil, and in turn making a large impact on the fruit and vegetables that come from the field.

2nd Annual Soup Fest raises funds for CWEC

On March 22nd, World Water Day, the Waterloo-Wellington chapter of the Children’s Water Education Council (CWEC) held their 2nd annual Soup Fest.  This event was intended to raise awareness of World Water Day, as well as fund raise for festivals in the Region that aim to educate students about our water sources.

The Children’s Water Education Council is composed of 25 regions across the province and has the mandate of educating youth to respect our water sources.  Many of these regions have their own Children’s Water Festivals, as well as other environmental events and camps available to youth.

In the Waterloo Region, upcoming events include, an environmental leadership camp running April 15th and 16th at the Region of Waterloo Museum.  Click here for registration.

The Waterloo-Wellington Children’s Groundwater Festival will also take place Monday May 30th to Friday June 3rd, 2011.