Food Safety Thoughts From a “Mom” Farmer…

I received a private email from a blog site visitor a few weeks ago asking a combination of questions regarding food safety and sustainability. While I feel as though I have hit the topic of environmental sustainability thoroughly over the past year, food safety plays an important role in the discussion and a post covering it seems appropriate.

girlsswim2015a2.jpgAs the mother of three daughters as well as a farmer, the topic of food safety relative to beef always occupies the forefront of my mind.

  • I grow it.
  • I eat it.
  • I feed it to my children.

BCItshirt.jpgWhen I think back to early lessons that my farm taught me, there are two that quickly rise to the top of the list:

  1. I cannot control Mother Nature. My savvy as a farmer increased when I realized that my “job” was not to control, but rather to work to build harmony – to bend and adjust my farming practices in order to positively blend with what Mother Nature gives to me.
  2. The world is not black and white. We all exist in the “gray area” and every choice that we make has consequences. Every day I use both practical skills and science to put “the pieces of the puzzle together” in order to best use the resources of the farm.  I want it to be on the “white end” of the gray, and I need it to both thrive in the present and to remain healthy to protect for the future. My farm has a footprint – my life has a footprint – everyone’s does. There is no perfect answer to any challenge– simply an array of choices that each has both positive and negative influences.

When I think of the topic of food safety, I think that both of those “life lessons learned on the farm” come into play. Mother Nature drives my farm. I cannot change weather patterns, nor can I change naturally occurring scientific evolution. What I can do is manage the resources and the animals on my farm to be as close to harmony as possible.  While I recognize that I will never be perfect, I do work resolutely toward continuous improvement.

Bacteria exists universally on the planet earth. Normal micro-flora live in the rumen of cattle that can be pathogenic to humans. Let’s use Ecoli 0157:H7 as an example. Bovines provide natural “host” environments for these bacteria – the bacteria does not negatively affect the animals, but we discovered in 1993 that they could negatively affect us. In the ensuing 20+ years, scientists and farmers along with government regulatory agencies have focused on improving the safety of hamburger utilizing a united food production chain effort.

System wide food safety mechanisms follow the structure of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points). They start on the farm, continue at the packing plant and retail distributor, and end with your kitchen. Let’s take a moment to look at all of the ecoli food safety mechanisms that occur with hamburger grown on my farm.

On My Farm

When bacteria are a concern, isolation and containment are critical. We know that many different strains of ecoli exist naturally in the environment (some are harmful to humans, some are not). These bacteria exist in pasture based growing systems (ranches) as well as feed yards — on conventional farms as well as organic farms.  Good sanitation programs are vital components in a holistic food safety system.   Clean water tanks, clean feed, clean living spaces, and clean equipment lead to a reduction in the spread of bacteria.

One of the three pillars to the Progressive Beef QSA is food safety. The majority of the 39 Progressive Beef Standard Operating Procedures that I use to manage my feed yard pertain to sanitation because the farmers in our BMG Cooperative recognize what a critical role we play in delivering a safe and healthy beef eating experience.

I also feed a direct fed microbial called Bovamine Defend to all of the cattle on my farm. This all natural product reduces both the amount of Ecoli 0157:H7 in the rumen (stomach) of my animals as well as inhibits the spread of the bacteria from one animal to another. My packing plant partner, Tyson, measures the amount of ecoli in the groups of cattle arriving at their facilities and reports that animals fed Bovamine Defend have ecoli levels 50-70% lower than animals not fed Bovamine Defend. There are multiple scientific studies that consistently report the effectiveness of this all natural product in reducing ecoli levels in cattle. I believe this to be a critical component to my personal “food safety” footprint.

At the Packing Plant

The last 20 years have seen enormous food safety strides at the packing plant level. New technologies such as: Hide cleansing, steam vaccums, organic acids, thermal treatments, as well as chilling and sanitation practices all provide multiple layers in a stringent food safety regime. You can learn more about these practices by visiting the Beef Industry Food Safety Council website (BIFSCO).

In Your Kitchen

You can also play an important role in food safety by using good sanitation and cooking practices in your kitchen. Disinfect utensils and counter surfaces as well as your own hands after handling raw meat. Cook your hamburger to 160 degrees which will eliminate/kill any bacteria that might be present.

Food safety is vital to all of us. We must eat to live, and we must eat safely to remain healthy. A team effort provides multiple layers of protection and ensures a nutritious and safe eating experience for each and every one of us.

annemattbeef1

Safe and Healthy Beef

It’s What’s For Dinner at my house!

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Things from Home

Anne:

My favorite farmer and I watched this young lady and her sister grow up about 20 miles east of our farm. She now lives in Washington DC and works as a “Hill Staffer” for one of Nebraska’s Senators. Reading this brought me smiles as well as a few “mom” worries for the years just down the road at the Feed Yard Foodie house…

I think that likely every mother experiences moments of worry when a child leaves home to begin an independent life. I already worry about it and my oldest is only a sophomore in high school. Did I raise her “right”? Does she know how to take care of herself? Will she be true to herself and where she came from, all while pursuing her dreams of the future? Will she find her way as a happy and contributing member of society?…

Cecily does a great job of candidly describing this journey — from the eyes of a young college graduate and through the lens of a Nebraska farm girl…

Dawson County is proud of you, Cecily, and has high hopes that you will work hard to fix the myriad of problems that plague our Federal Government. Go to work girl — the sun is up and your parents already have chores done :)

Originally posted on D.C. Liminality:

porch

It’s only a short plane ride back home, or two short plane rides if you’re poor like me and can’t afford the direct Delta flight– sooo, two short plane rides and one long drive are all that separates me from D.C. and our farm north of Lexington, Nebraska.

I came home for a week. That’s why I’m discussing planes here, traveling and such. I was in Nebraska for a whole week and a day to just visit. My plan was to see as many people as I could in the short amount of time I was there. That, and just sit in a corn field for a bit or go on a run and not see another human being for miles.

I don’t mind the city, I really don’t. Yet sometimes it’s nice just to be home and be away from masses of strangers and traffic lights and have breakfast…

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The Final Days of Summer…

Yesterday morning marked the official end of summer for the youth of Cozad.  Each year, the first day of school creates a natural transition from the summer to the fall.  Transitions always challenge me and this year was no exception to the rule.  I find comfort in routine (perhaps that is why I am a good cattle caregiver), and it tends to throw me off when change occurs.

My favorite blonde cowgirl shares this tendency with me, so this last week has been bittersweet for us.  Megan spent the summer working on her cattle handling skills helping me to exercise calves and also participating on the processing crew.  Last Wednesday we received a group of new cattle into the feed yard, and I gave Megan the responsibility of exercising them during the acclimation period.  While she often acts as an assistant during acclimation, these steers provided the inaugural group for her to acclimate on her own.

Trailing cattle down the alley during a dawn exercising session...

Trailing cattle down the alley during a dawn exercising session…

The previous owner did a great job teaching his calves to trust a human caregiver, so these animals provided an excellent group for Megan to guide through the process. The video below shows her moving the cattle out of the home pen at the beginning of the last acclimation/exercising session Sunday morning.

By the end of the acclimation period, the cattle have learned to attribute comfort to the home pen, and prefer to remain there rather than feeling a natural drive to go somewhere else.  Watching a group of cattle make this shift (from wanting to leave, to desiring to stay) is a fascinating process.  It takes several days (these cattle were on day 5) and requires cattle savvy to guide them to this change.  A few thoughts as you watch the video:

  1. When you have a lone handler and many animals, the first step is to herd the animals together in a group — this both makes them feel more comfortable and also makes leading them easier.
  2. The second step is to ask them to move in a designated direction through the use of alternate pressure.  They should continue moving in this direction until something stops them (like a fence or a closed gate).  An open gate allows for them to leave the pen when asked.
  3. Calm cattle under good leadership walk in straight lines with positive energy.
  4. Consistent and confident handler behavior makes learning easier for the cattle.

    Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session...

    Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session…

Good cattle handling instills important leadership qualities in the caregiver.  Cattle are very sensitive, yet they are willing to look for guidance and leadership when the handler can empathize and correctly gauge their “human interaction bubble”.  I believe that the most important skill to develop when working with animals is the ability to look outside of yourself, viewing the world through their perspective, while still retaining the confidence of a leader.  It has been fun for me, both as an animal welfare enthusiast and as a mom, to watch Megan develop these skills.

One last moment of rambunctious joy before loading in cars to head to the first day of school...

One last moment of rambunctious joy before loading in cars to head to the first day of school…

Yesterday, Megan traded the feed yard for 8th grade.  There, she will learn different things using different learning tools than those developed on the farm.  I do believe that her summer lessons will grant her a broader educational perspective.  I have to admit that we were both very sad to have the summer come to an end.  I will miss my cattle handling assistant and she will miss being a valued member of our feed yard crew.

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 With each summer that draws to an end, I realize how quickly my girls are growing up and find myself wanting to hit the “pause” button. 

Some days it seems that parenting is a bittersweet journey.

 

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Be There…

Saturday the 15th of August marks the 2nd Annual 100th Meridian 10K Road Race. Our community (and runners from across Nebraska) will gather to celebrate a great man while raising money for a local scholarship that carries his name.

Claude Berreckman Sr., known for his proclamation Be There!, touched the lives of many during his tenure on earth. As his mantra denotes, Claude believed in living life to the fullest, engaging in his community on a deep level with a steadfast devotion to philanthropy.

Claude with his beloved wife and three sons...

Claude with his beloved wife and three sons accepting one of many awards that he received in his lifetime…

Claude took the time to care – the genuineness of his personality made him an inherent “people builder” inspiring those around him to think outside of the box in order to achieve greatness. Claude loved his community and worked avidly to achieve sustainability for our little corner of rural America.

Perhaps what endeared him most to me was his sense of natural optimism and honest interest which captivated the young people that he made it a priority to mentor. A staunch and universal supporter of Cozad’s “next generation”, Claude touched the lives of countless students as they traveled the journey of adolescence searching for their niche in the world.

#140 still smiling at the end of a race :)

#140 still smiling at the end of a race :)

The annual road race and scholarship, created by his family, reminds me each year that it is both my pleasure and my responsibility to be there: for myself, for my community, and for all those that I have the ability to positively influence. Claude loved running and held a life-long dedication to fitness.  He continually inspired me both as an athlete and a coach/mentor.

The FYF family last year at the 1st Annual 100th Meridian Road Race...

The FYF family last year at the 1st Annual 100th Meridian Road Race…

The Feed Yard Foodie family will be there on Saturday to run in his honor. We unite in support because we share his love of community and appreciate the positive culture that he worked so hard to build.

It is a momentous event for my favorite farmer to participate in a road race (a far cry from his preferred sprint performances on the track). There are likely very view people that can inspire Matt to run a race that is measured in miles – Claude was one of a select few.

It is my hope that Claude’s spirit will continue to inspire a be there culture – To motivate individuals to give selflessly in the name of community sustainability.

Will you Be There?

Click here to register or donate.

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The Story of India…

My favorite blonde cowgirl and I found a surprise at the feed yard early Sunday morning.

indiamega.jpg

It is no secret that our family and our farm crew are known for being animal lovers. The need to care and nourish runs strong, and that provides for success on the farm.

When Megan and I discovered “India” Sunday morning, I did not realize the story that this little kitten could tell. As the day unfolded, my emotions ran from joy to sadness to anger and then back to joy.

Saturday afternoon someone threw India out the car window while traveling down one of Cozad’s main roads. Luckily she landed in a grass patch by the local softball fields and frantically climbed a tree. Even luckier, one of my favorite farmer’s crew witnessed the incident while driving past in a tractor and was able to turn around and rescue the scared kitten.

indiatreea.jpg

He brought the kitten to the feed yard to find it a home.

Whether she remains at the feed yard to be spoiled in the office, or takes the short trip down the road to the Feed Yard Foodie house, India will be part of a family that cares.

There is nothing like a baby animal to bring an instant smile and a moment of joy. The needy little face and the innocent desire to be loved pull at my heart always inspiring me to care. Our house is full of animals – most of whom have been rescued. I believe that providing for God’s creatures is the right thing to do.

indiaannea.jpg

It brings me tremendous sadness that not everyone shares my love of animals. It brings me great anger that there are some who also do not share my feeling of responsibility toward them.

It is shameful to neglect and abuse animals – they rely on us for survival and it is our responsibility to care. India’s story has a happy ending because people took the time to care – to right a terrible wrong—and provide a needed home.

Please take the time to care and be a responsible pet owner.

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It Takes a Team…

Where does your food come from?

Apart from food that is completely home raised and never leaves the farm, it takes a team of people to get it from farm to fork. While I believe that many would love to have a simple answer to this often asked question, the reality is that food production in 2015 is not a single story.

It takes a team.

I like to grow what I like to eat. My favorite food is beef. I loved a juicy steak when I was a budding athlete on the East Coast of Florida, and I still love one today. My knowledge of the beef production cycle has increased exponentially over the years as I learned to be a farmer, and my desire to enjoy a wholesome beef dinner with my family holds steadfast.

I rely on my rancher partners to help me humanely raise cattle which grow to become healthy beef.

Pasture Raised...

Pasture Raised

annecattlemiranda.jpg

Grain Finished

I rely on my feed yard cooperative, BMG, my packing plant partner, Tyson, and niche brands such as Certified Angus Beef, to help me take my beef all of the way from my farm to your family’s dinner table.

It takes a team.

I had the pleasure of hosting a film crew from Certified Angus Beef at the feed yard last week. Deanna and Josh traveled to Nebraska to help me share the story of the feed yard part of the beef production cycle. CAB is a long-time partner of mine, helping me to market my high quality beef as well as facilitating outreach to retail customers to talk about “where that beef comes from”.

The day and a half that we shared last week was filled with not just filming, but also learning. I love any opportunity to share my farm with others, and it is always such a joy when I get to host people like Josh and Deanna. Their genuine interest and sincere friendliness renews my faith in outreach work, and gives me hope looking forward to the future of my farm.

This project focuses on explaining a cattle feed yard to urban customers.

  • What is a feed yard?
  • What is the role of a feed yard in the beef production cycle?
  • How do feed yard crews offer care to their animals?
  • What role does a veterinarian play at a feed yard?
  • How are feed yards sustainable?
  • How can a feed yard be both a steward to its animals as well as to the environment?
  • What faces lurk on the other side of the farm gate?

Annegate.jpgThe people are the heart and soul of a farm.

I am incredibly excited to see the finished video which is set to unveil at the Certified Angus Beef Annual Retail Conference in late September. You can also look for it on Feed Yard Foodie as I plan to share it as soon as CAB completes the project.

It will provide an authentic view of a feed yard — this nebulous and under-explained part of the beef story. Video footage is complete with filming taken remotely via a camera drone flying over the cattle pens as the sun prepared to set on our farm. What an awesome piece of technology!

The drone and it's fearless leader :)

The drone and its fearless leader!

Many thanks to Deanna, Josh and the entire Certified Angus Beef team for taking the time to understand and also to share. Additional thanks to John Butler of the Beef Marketing Group for inspiring me to continue to share my story.CABjohnfilm

It takes a team…

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The Haymakers Rock the Pool…

The Haymaker Swim Team rocked the pool during the 2015 Plains Tsunami Swim League Championships.

52 Haymaker Swimmers competed garnering a total of 210 medal winning swims, and 13 individual swimmers earning High Point Awards for the meet. The stack of medals is indeed impressive – glittering brightly to match the smiles of the swimmers after they powered through more than 70 PR’s and secured the team victory.swimteam2015a

Words cannot describe how proud I am of the team, and it is my fervent hope that each swimmer finished the season stronger and more confident than they began. Many share my enthusiasm for our team’s success in 2015, but very few realize that I held an additional and very important personal goal for the 2015 Championships.

This year I celebrated my 40th birthday as well as my 10 year anniversary with Graves Disease. A few months prior to my 30th birthday, this autoimmune system disease racked my body – leaving me physically debilitated and mentally shattered. My anemic and painfully thin body refused to function and simple things like lifting my 12 month old baby or reading aloud to my children became nearly impossible.

As my physical strength deteriorated, my mind ran on constant adrenaline leaving my mental and emotional fitness devastated. My Graves journey was unique and I experienced some unexpected complications both from the disease and the treatment. I have few specific memories from those first 5 years of my 4th decade, but many regrets for the trauma that my family experienced as a result of the disease.

My biggest fan...

My biggest fan…

The last five years have been years of healing for me – finding new balance – and accepting that my flawed body (with the help of modern medicine) can indeed persevere. Losing fitness is difficult for anyone, but it hit me particularly hard as my identity was closely tied to athletics. Soul searching eventually led me to decide that I needed to come full circle in order to effectively “finish the Graves Chapter” of my life.

On my 40th birthday, I made a promise to myself that I would train and compete as a 19 and Over Swimmer for the 2015 season. While I have haphazardly swum for a few years, I had not set an athletic goal since getting sick. I have to admit that it scared me. I am naturally driven to accomplish personal goals and my flagging confidence worried that I would fall short. Despite my trepidation, I recognized that it was a critical step in my journey.

I too was personally victorious at the Championships. I completed the meet with a sweep of Gold Medals (200M freestyle, 100M freestyle, 50M Backstroke, and 100M Individual Medley) and a collection of very decent swims to mark the first year of my 5th decade. My healed body showed stamina and strength which brought a feeling of pride and closure.

This picture was taken about a month ago -- since then, my favorite 10 year old has passed me by and I am now the shortest two-legged member of the household!

My Graves journey was life changing. I look at the world differently today than I did 10 years ago. There are a few physical challenges that still remain, but I have overcome the heart of this trial. As a result, I truly understand that the road to excellence is not meant to be comfortable.  I would not be where I am today without the love and support of my favorite farmer and the three girls with which God blessed us.  We persevered together.

Every day is a gift — Every race is an opportunity.

Go Haymakers!

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Dear Swimmer…

As most of you know, I coach my community’s swim team.  Last weekend, we competed in the Qualifier Meet and next Saturday we will travel to Championships.  I used to think that the best thing that I got out of competitive swimming was the ability to study and compete at an elite Ivy League college.  While I truly treasure my time at Dartmouth, today I realize that the best gift that I received from competitive swimming was the skills and ability to coach the young people in my beloved town.

Each one of the swimmers on my team holds a special place in my heart, and I believe that coaching them allows me to do God’s work in a meaningful and unique way.  Below you will find a letter that I wrote to my athletes this week as we prepare for the final meet of the season.  I am sharing it here in the hopes that it will speak to you, and be an inspiration for you to do youth volunteer work.  Our children are our future — our greatest asset as well as our greatest responsibility.

swimteam2015a

Dear Swimmer,

We spend many hours together learning from each other as we journey through each season. As we approach the 2015 Championships, there are a few things that I would like to say to you.

  1. I am proud of you and I love to watch you develop strength and fitness. I know that there are times when you think that I am crazy because of what I ask you to do each day in the pool, but I know that those things will take you one step closer to triumph. I believe that “the only place that you find success before work is in the dictionary” (May Smith), and it is my job to teach you how to work. I created the Pitchfork Challenges that we do each week in practice to help you realize that personal victory stems from reaching above and beyond your capabilities in order to accomplish far more than your dreams. It isn’t meant to be easy, easy does not create meaningful improvement.
  2. My goal for you is physical strength and fitness, the development of a tenacious mental focus, and the creation of emotional confidence and personal belief in your own God given ability. I look at each of you at the beginning of the year – I watch you grow during the season – and I hope for improvement in each of these things by our final meet. I do not compare you to other swimmers, rather, I compare you to yourself as you continue down your own unique swimming journey.
  3. Please know that we share every challenge and success that occurs along this journey. When you stumble—I hurt for you – When you find success, my heart is filled with joy – We are in this together. I do my best to provide you with appropriate leadership. I promise that I will harass you when you do not give your best effort. I promise that I will push you to search for excellence, rather than settling for adequate. I realize that you may not always think that my actions are “fair” or “right”. I understand this, but please know that I have your best interest at heart. While I love to be your friend, it is more important that I be your coach.
  4. The most important thing that I can teach you is to believe. The weakest muscle in your body is your brain. To be successful you must learn to trust: acting as your own advocate, as well as an advocate for your teammates. There are no limitations in life, other than the ones that you place on yourself. Learn to open your mind so that your body can fly.
  5. I care. I care about you – not just the athlete, but the person that makes you so very special. I will always be your biggest fan and I will always believe in you. Realize that although sometimes it might be easier for me to do it for you, I care enough about you that I will back away so that you can learn to do it for yourself.

Next Saturday you will compete at the Championship Meet. You will represent yourself, your team, and your community of Cozad. All of the hard work that we have done will come together to help both you and our team to achieve greatness. I ask that you give of yourself – for yourself—and for the other 52 swimmers that proudly wear the Cozad Pitchfork on their caps. Be physically strong, mentally tough, and emotionally confident – It is these three things that will lead us to victory.

Go Haymakers!

Coach Anne

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