Category Archives: A Farmer’s View on Foodie Thoughts…

What is ‘Ethical Beef’?

When people talk about ‘ethical meat’, what does it mean?

This great question came my way from nocrumbsleft via the girlcarnivore last week while I was in Denver.  Kita, AKA Girl Carnivore, attended the Top of the Class seminar for beef advocacy where I held an honorary position as ‘faculty’.  I love the passion that Kita has for all things meat (even the farmers that grow it!), and I have a great respect for her ability to bring people together online for important discussions.

DSC03744As I offer “Anne’s answer” to what is ethical meat, I am going to operate under the premise that it is ethical to eat meat, and instead address the question from the standpoint of what farming practices enable meat to be described as ethically raised. To my knowledge, there is no official definition or label for ethical meat, so please bear in mind that anywhere you see the term ethical meat you are reading someone’s opinion.

For the sake of this article, I am going to focus on beef since that is the meat that I grow on my farm.  I personally define the word ethical as ‘morally correct and striving to use practices that do not harm either people or the environment’.

Anne’s short answer to the question is,

“Farmers behave ethically by employing core values that encompass good animal welfare, environmental stewardship, and effective safety practices in their quest to raise food.  Ethical farmers grow ethical beef.”

As a city girl turned farmer, I have often pondered what makes quality food.  After twenty years on a farm, I seem to always circle back to the role of the farmer.  The very heart of food exists with the farmer.

Farmers care for animals day in and day out:

  • Working with a veterinarian to ensure good welfare
  • Making decisions of how to use and protect the natural resources on the farm
  • Striving to incorporate safety into daily farm practices

To me, food is simply an extension of the person who toils to grow it.  Perhaps the long winded answer to this question manifests itself in another question:

“How do you know that the food that you buy was grown by an ethical farmer?”

Doing the right thing tops Anne’s priority list.  Whether it is caring for my cattle and our farm, mothering my three girls, or mentoring other youth in my community through coaching athletics — I take the responsibility of doing a correct and careful job to heart.

I recognize that many of you (my beef customers) don’t personally know me, so it is hard for you to trust me.  This creates a dilemma as every time you decide to purchase my beef, you must take a leap of faith trusting that I am competent and honorable in the care that I offer to my cattle.

Almost five years ago, I found a beef farmer program that not only provided a framework to my daily cattle care, but also offered an audit tool to verify my competence.  I settled on Progressive Beef  because it was the most comprehensive and practical QSA program that fit my core values of quality animal welfare, environmental stewardship (sustainability), and food safety.

Progressive Beef provides me with 39 different Standard Operating Procedures to ensure a daily culture of good ethics on my farm.  Crew training and in depth documentation requirements pair up with audits that verify the behaviors and management practices of my crew and I.  The core values of the program become a promise of competence when I pass the audit; thereby lending credence to my claim of being an ethical farmer.

In essence, Progressive Beef closes the gap between the farmer and his/her beef customer when a personal relationship between the two is unattainable.

Aligning our core values within the Progressive Beef QSA allows for both of us to enjoy ethical beef.

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Advocacy…

bovinephotobomb-jpgI traded dirt roads for the Denver pavement this week in order to participate in the MBA Top of the Class Training.  While most folks think of an MBA as a business degree, in my world, the letters represent Masters of Beef Advocacy.  Sponsored by the farmer funded Beef Check Off, the MBA program exists to inspire farmers and other beef advocates to share their story. 

The core information learned in the MBA program creates a basis of necessary knowledge and skills to begin the advocacy journey.  The Top of the Class Training consists of a two day intensive seminar which enables MBA graduates to find a higher gear on their journey.  Top of the Class graduates are “super advocates” who consistently channel their passion in order to share the story of beef.

I was invited to provide the Keynote Address as well as mentor other bloggers in one on one learning sessions during the two day event.  The topic of my Keynote Address was “The Evolving Journey of a Beef Advocate”, and preparing the power point presentation for the speech was a bit like traveling down memory lane.  My advocacy journey began with public speaking events and routine media interviews in 2006.  It eventually lead me to creating this blog in 2011.

  • I became a farmer because I fell in love.
  • I became a farmer advocate because when you believe in something, you want to share it.

After more than a decade, I remain an advocate because I believe that the stability of our country is intrinsically tied to the availability of food.

A plentiful and safe supply of food relies heavily on eliminating the knowledge gap between the 98% of the population that consumes food and the 2% of the population that not only consumes it but also grows it.

  • Farmers need to share their story.
  • Others outside of agriculture need to engage and listen.

Together we create a meaningful dialog that leaves all of us smarter and ultimately protects the livelihood of our country.

Feed Yard Foodie is not just “Anne’s Story” — Feed Yard Foodie is a piece of Anne.  I sustain in my advocacy journey by remaining true to my core values and creating a revolving fountain of energy through the personal growth that I gain from living on a farm and writing about those experiences.  I tell my girls to always pack their FAITH. 

F ortitude

A ttitude

I ntegrity

T rust

H umility

These are the core values that make me “Anne” and they provide the heart and soul of my advocacy.  I may not always be right, but I always care and that’s what keeps me going…

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Benny Had a Good Life…

Likely the most often asked question by my non-farming friends is “How can you care for animals for long periods of time and then send them to their death?”

I love animals.  I love spending time around them, and I enjoy the daily interactions that go along with their care.  To be a caregiver is both a responsibility and an honor, and I am thankful to play that role. The answer to the above question exists amidst my own philosophical belief that different types of animals hold different types of purposes…

  • The stray dog that showed up one day at the feed yard lives in my house and falls under the category of “pet”.
  • The horses that live in my back yard are supposed to fall under the category of “work animal” (but likely trend closer to ‘pet status’).
  • The cattle that live at my feed yard are “food animals”.

I care for all of them with the same set of values as that is my God-given duty, but the actions of care that I provide differ depending on the animal’s purpose.   

Cattle exist to turn non-edible resources (like grass) into products that people need: a nutrient dense protein source, leather, soap/cosmetics, and human pharmaceuticals to name just a few.  They deserve a good life, but the end of life for a bovine holds a link to sacrifice as that is his express purpose.

Kurt and Jessa Karlberg

Kurt and Jessa Karlberg

I’d like to take a moment to share “Benny’s story” as I think that it illustrates my answer to the above important question.

Benny was born on the Karlberg Ranch and lived briefly with his natural mother.  Sometimes Mother Nature acts harshly, and Benny was orphaned not long after birth.  He got a new “mama” by the name of Jessa Karlberg.  Jessa bottle fed Benny until he was big enough to eat grass and grow on his own.  He ate, slept, and played with herd mates.

bennyjessaJessa cared and he thrived.

Benny had a good life.

When Benny weighed about 940# (14 months of age), he left the Karlberg Ranch and traveled to Will Feed.  He traded grass for a feed yard casserole, and Jessa for me as a primary caregiver.  He ate, slept, and played with herd mates.  In just over 3 months, he gained 530#.

I cared and he thrived.

Benny had a good life.

benny2-jpgLast Sunday, Jessa came to visit Benny.  A couple of days later, I “put him on the bus” to head 20 miles down the road to the Tyson packing plant.  Benny fulfilled his purpose, and offered 1450# of products to nourish and provide for all of us.  By fulfilling his purpose, Benny returned all of the care that Jessa and I offered to him during his lifetime.

Benny had a good life.

Benny’s life resulted in products that, in turn, ensure that each of us has a good life. There is honor in that story. There is honor in Benny’s gift.

I think that it is time for all of us to celebrate the reality of food production — To have faith in the farmers and ranchers that dedicate their lives to raise animals like Benny. When we are thankful for the gift, we ultimately respect the sacrifice.

It’s okay to think of Benny, Jessa, and I when you eat a steak.  Benny had a good life; and Jessa and I worked hard so that you could reap the benefit 🙂

 

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Refilling the Cup…

Katie Pinke of the Pinke Post made a comment on Facebook last week stating the difficulty of finding ways to “refill the cup” as an advocate for agriculture. Katie has many years of experience in social media and her intuitive thoughts often leave me pondering. As advocates for agriculture, our cups of energy are often depleted. Learning how to refill them is a journey of survival.

annecattlemiranda.jpgThis April will mark the 5th year anniversary of the Feed Yard Foodie blog. Four hundred and eighty nine blog posts and almost a million views (from a half a million visitors) separate the naïve cattle feeder of 2011 with the seasoned (and somewhat hardened) blogger of 2016. So much has changed since the birth of this blog, and yet, so much remains the same.

It takes an enormous amount of optimism and energy to brave the social media world that revolves around agriculture. On a good day, you pick up a follower who shares some common ground and wishes to further understand “where food comes from”. On a bad day, you are threatened and disparaged with an appalling lack of basic respect.

As I close in on five years, I find myself reflecting and attempting to rationalize the volunteer time and energy that I pour into Feed Yard Foodie. I try to look past the heartache that sometimes permeates my outreach to find the shining light that leads me to continue down the ag-vocacy trail. It takes a constant effort to figure out how to tap that unlimited source of energy which serves to fuel the blog amidst the regular list of chores that go along with being a mom and a feed yard boss lady.

I tell my girls that the most important life skill they will learn is perseverance. Perseverance is all about refilling the cup. My words take on a new depth of meaning as they watch me “cowgirl” up and continue the journey. They live with the stubbornly independent mom and boss lady, just as they watch the vulnerable woman struggle to find the courage to continue to share her story.

My girls work every day to refill my cup because they watch first hand as others deplete it. I do not shield them from my struggles, and it teaches them to not only persevere but also to empathize and offer compassion to those in need.

Life is hard. It is filled with demands that work to deplete the cup. I believe that the difference between those who persevere and those who do not lies in the ability to gather the love and optimism that is required to refill the cup. That is a very personal journey as everyone’s cup is unique.

Below are five things that I have learned to rely on for the past five years in order to persevere:

  1. Accept that everyone (including you) is human. Learn to forgive.
  2. Notice your blessings – learn to look for the good as it is what refills your cup.
  3. Draw a line between your real life and your cyber life – understand that the majority of what refills your cup comes from personal interactions outside of the internet.
  4. Take the time to be pensive – quiet thinking breeds both respect and learning.
  5. Understand that temporarily walking away is not failure – rather it is a necessary component to finding the courage to continue.

I do not know how to measure the success of my agricultural outreach, but I can recognize the personal growth that has occurred as a result of it. The road to excellence is rarely comfortable and I can attest to the fact that being an advocate for agriculture is not a comfortable journey. I am thankful to all of you loyal Feed Yard Foodie readers as you play a vital role pushing me to search for continuous improvement on my farm. You all help to refill my cup by reading, commenting, and sharing of yourselves.

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A Feed Yard Foodie in Aggieland…

Anyone working in agriculture recognizes the name of Texas A & M University. Over the past 18 years, I have crossed paths with many Aggie alumni and each encounter left me intrigued by the deep seated love and faithfulness to this place called “Aggieland”. Perhaps most endearing is the fact that although Aggies are fiercely loyal, they are also openly friendly and engage respectfully with others outside of their alma mater. This special ability to be proud of their heritage while also focusing on broad spectrum leadership and devotion to selfless acts of sharing is a beautiful combination.

texasA&M1.jpg

Responding to an invitation to speak on campus, I traveled down to College Station, Texas with an intellectual curiosity and a desire to understand the culture of this unique land grant institution. I traveled back to my farm in Nebraska with an incredible respect for the faculty, students, and the core values that make Aggieland so exceptional. Honestly, I have rarely felt more welcome on a college campus, and the open friendliness that permeated the university grounds was inspirational.

It is no secret that agriculture in 2015 and beyond has many challenges. Outside of the regular need for continuous improvement that goes hand in hand with growing food, there exists a great chasm between farmers and their urban customers which is unfortunately separated by a rarely traveled bridge. As I look into the future, I recognize that our sustainability is intrinsically tied with our ability to interact respectfully.

texasa&mdignity and respect.jpg

The journey is marked by:

  • The innate pride and loyalty to our chosen field combined with an intrinsic interest in the “outside world”.
  • The realization that it is in sharing that we learn how to solve our most difficult challenges — relying on a diverse population of participators to find the best answers.
  • The knowledge that the success of our outreach is closely tied to our ability to create an organized team to cross that lonely bridge in order to share “where food comes from”.

As I walked the streets of campus and visited with students and faculty, it became apparent to me that the culture at Texas A & M could provide the template for agriculture’s public outreach and educational effort to increase the transparency of food production. The university pillars of: Excellence, Integrity, Leadership, Loyalty, Respect, and Selfless Service provide the foundation, the inherent positive attitude sets the stage for the engagement, and the “team mentality” and the Corps of Cadets coordination creates the movement that once again builds trust in the realm of food production.

texasa&mannemeg.jpg

  • Perhaps what agriculture really needs is a 12th man to selflessly give to the common good,
  • A good “Yell leader” to teach us a universal cheer that both celebrates our uniqueness as well as reinforces our common ground,
  • And a friendly “Howdy” to start the conversation…

At the end of the day it isn’t about any one group or individual, rather the meaningful answer lies in our ability create loyalty and trust—both on and off the farm.

*Many thanks to Emily Von Edwins, Dr. Russell Cross, Dr. Tryon Wickersham and all of the Aggies that welcomed Megan and I last week. I hope that we enriched your lives as much as you enriched ours.

**Stay tuned for the next post, “Megan’s Mom in Aggieland”, which takes a look at Texas A & M from a different point of view…

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#myAGstory

Last fall, Tyson CEO Donnie Smith gave the commencement address at the National FFA (Future Farmers of America) convention. The positive energy radiating from both Smith and the thousands of high school students in attendance is nothing short of awesome. The 18 minute speech can be found here.

As a member of Tyson’s 3rd party Animal Wellbeing Farm Check committee, I am fortunate to interact with Donnie as we work to consistently improve food animal care. His dynamic personality and positive enthusiasm reminds me of a football coach pumping up his team for the big game. The coach in me loves to listen to him, and the farmer in me is thankful to call his team a partner in food production.Annegate.jpg

Smith’s theme, #myAGstory, provides an emotional reminder of one of the steepest challenges that farmers face today. The story of food production in 2015 often is not told by the farmers that grow it. Rather, we have allowed our food story to be hijacked by others outside of the farm gate. Smith repeatedly challenged the students to protect the future of agriculture by “Taking back the story of food production”.

There exists a critical bridge between “food” and “agriculture” and it is made up by communication. Smith asks the students,

“Are we going to drive the conversation or sit back and let someone else do it for us? — It is only in taking back the story that we can honestly share the truth of how food is grown in the United States.”

The leaders in this movement to reclaim the voice of farming will undeniably be our young farmers. They have the unique ability to share their talents by simultaneously growing food while also tweeting about it!

Two enthusiastic young ranchers brought the first "selfie stick" to my feed yard last spring.  It was great fun to watch them *share*!

Two enthusiastic young ranchers brought the first “selfie stick” to my feed yard last spring!

Each one of us has a vital and unique story to tell. It is in combining these stories in a respectful conversation that we all will find sustainability. As farmers and scientists, today we have the technique and the technology to feed 10 billion people. The question is, will we be successful enough telling our story in order to gain the consumer confidence needed to use that technology to feed the world?

Today, there are 1 billion people across the globe that are hungry — tomorrow that number will grow. It is not just people across the ocean – many, many Americans are food insecure. I would like to think that we all can be granted the Freedom To Thrive, fueled by the energy of quality nutrition. The start of that journey lies in farmers taking back the story of agriculture and sharing how they grow food.AnneMeg.jpg

Today, my favorite blonde cowgirl and I head to College Station, Texas to bring our story of beef production to Aggieland. We will visit with college professors, graduate students, and undergraduates in a whirlwind two day journey discussing how beef is grown. I will share #myAGstory with hundreds of Animal Science students as we discuss both the future of agriculture as well as the increasing role that women play in growing food.

I take Donnie’s message with me in my heart as I hope to make an equally positive impact on this next generation of farmers. We all need to eat in order to thrive, so growing food is everyone’s business.

Have you shared your story today?

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Monkey In the Middle…

As a kid, I played Monkey In the Middle with my older brother and his friends. They delighted in throwing the ball far above my head making the likelihood of me catching it microscopic in nature. Every once in a while, I outsmarted them and snagged the ball which earned me temporary bragging rights — but mostly it left me frustrated and unequipped for success.

The buzz word sustainability often takes me metaphorically back to that childhood game.  The word itself encompasses such a broad range of ideas and topics that it becomes difficult to tie it down into meaningful bullet points for action.  The politics surrounding the word also exacerbate the inherent complexities as large corporate businesses, NGO’s, and politicians bat the word back and forth in an effort to prove to Americans that they are engaged in the conversation.

Without a doubt — the sustainability of our country, our culture and our planet is vital to both our present and our future.  Effectively learning from the past, changing our actions in the present, and teaching our children how to protect for the future helps to ensure our livelihood.  There is no easy or simple answer to the challenge of creating something meaningful and sustainable.  It takes both a grass roots understanding of the challenges as well as dedication on the part of each individual to work toward positive action.

fallrainbowbeauty.jpg

Sustainability is not a headline — it is not a marketing label — it is not piece of legislation — it does not appear magically at the end of a rainbow… 

Sustainability is a team effort — One that effects each and every one of us in multiple ways. 

I spent a large amount of time this winter covering the topics that I believe are vital to the sustainability of our future:

  • Identifying and reducing food waste
  • Getting balanced and meaningful science back into both the education and the research on nutrition
  • Realizing that good personal health comes from a diversely balanced diet teamed with appropriate levels of exercise
  • Understanding that responsibly growing food animals is a complex challenge that includes a dedication to environmental stewardship and quality animal welfare.

    They gather closely around me because they are thoughtful and curious.  They choose to do this despite the large amount of space in the pen that they call home...

    They gather closely around me because they are thoughtful and curious. They choose to do this despite the large amount of space in the pen that they call home because they trust me as a caregiver.

There is one component of sustainability that is often not voiced. 

It is trust. 

I am deeply saddened at the lack of trust and faith that Americans have in farmers.  From the individual American — to the large corporate grocery store– to the philosophical intellectual foodie — to the NGO — to the government — In the last twenty years, our country has collectively abandoned support for the people that grow food.  Instead of building appreciation and goodwill; a plentiful, diverse and safe food supply has rendered the American people unsatisfied, distrustful, and accusatory.

Sustainability is not possible without nourishment. 

Widespread nourishment disappears when the American Farmer decides to only feed his/her own family and leave the profession of agriculture behind.  There will come a point when those of us who work to feed the world will decide that it really just isn’t worth the pain when the only thing that you get in return is the ability to wear the monkey hat.

pasturetrees.jpg

Do you value the farmer who feeds you? Please take the time to request that farmers be included in the sustainability discussion.

*If you missed the winter blog posts on this subject, some of them are chronicled according to topic below.

Food Waste:

A Student Of Life

Food Waste We All Play a Role 

Food Waste, Sustainability and the Journey of Continuous Improvement

The Love Food Friday spring series offering food waste elimination tips from Chef Chris Giegel.

Nutrition:

Raising Teenage Daughters Amidst a Sea Of Dietary Confusion

Perhaps It’s Time To Stop Apologizing For Fat

Policy Does Not Equal Science

My Comment Letter To Secretary Burwell and Secretary Vilsack Regarding the 2015 Dietary Guidelines

Fitness Foodies

Environmental and Animal Welfare:

When Your Husband Needs You For Your Manure

Good Timing

Answering Questions: Responding To a Recent Comment

Trust But Verify

How Do You Know When a Group Of Calves Are Acclimated?

Reviewing the Topic Of Antibiotics

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The Culture of Meat…

In addition to discussing food/meat in the written word, National Geographic is also doing a television series entitled “Eat: The Story of Food”. The second episode of the series centered on meat — most especially the culture of meat, the role that it played in evolution, and what the future of meat might hold.

I took several biological anthropology classes at Dartmouth College. Professor Korey and his lectures on the subject of biological evolution fascinated me. The how, the when, and the why all peaked my curiosity – and I poured over the material with avid interest. My specific draw toward anthropology centered on biological change, however, the element of culture seemed to always be intrinsically tied to the discussion.

A Samburu Elder with his child...The Samburu continue to be a semi-nomadic people based on a hunter-gatherer culture.

A Samburu Elder with his child…The Samburu continue to be a semi-nomadic people in 2014.  Their “agriculture” is different from mine…

Perhaps it is because I am a nerd at heart, perhaps it is because meat (growing it, cooking it, and eating it) plays a central role in my life, perhaps it is because the philosophical foodie discussion hits close to home — Whatever the reason, I found the first 2/3’s of the  National Geographic production incredibly interesting.

  • I became intrigued when the tool of cooking was linked to biological changes to the human body.
  • I followed interestedly as the discussion turned to the domestication of food animals more than 15,000 years ago as many peoples transitioned away from hunter-gather tribes to agrarian societies, and then eventually even away from farms to city life in the second half of the 1900’s.
  • I smiled when food was linked to community, family, and one’s cultural roots.
  • I nodded when cooking meat was labeled a “sacred ritual”.
  • I chuckled when someone stated that meat was an expression of manliness – thereby, a possible explanation for modern day man’s fascination with grilling. mattsteaks

All of these things resonated with me and I enjoyed the way that the information was disseminated to the viewer.  Unfortunately, at this point in the show, a shift occurred away from the historical and anthropological and toward the one-sided political abyss where modern food production is demonized. The historical balanced became the politically unbalanced, and I was sadly disappointed with the end of the program.

In the final 12 minutes Michael Pollan gave his usual rhetoric, “Feedlots are the biggest point sources of pollution in the United States…Meat agriculture will have to change. The way we are doing it now is unsustainable.” Upon hearing this, I immediately wondered how Mr. Pollan could accurately draw this conclusion about my farm since he has never once visited it? He offered no basis for his conclusions – apparently the American people are just supposed to believe his omniscient pontifications.

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Cattle on my farm which I call a feed yard and Mr. Pollan calls a feedlot…

The segment ended with suggestions for the change called for by Mr. Pollan.  The various contributors to the show offered two ideas as the future of meat was subsequently discussed.  They left me a bit perplexed…

  1. Eat more insects.
  2. Grow hamburgers (at the current cost of $325,000.00 per burger) in a petri dish.

Really?

I am the first to admit that continuous improvement is imperative for sustainability, and I believe that there are ways that I can continue to do a better job producing beef on my farm. I work hard every day to attain constant improvement remaining committed to growing high quality beef with the smallest environmental footprint.

I am most certainly not the same as my hunter-gatherer ancestors.  My farm runs differently now than it did 20 years ago and it will continue to evolve and change on into the future.  I choose to serve my family the pasture raised, grain finished beef that I grow with pride.

Pasture raised cattle that are now at my feed yard in preparation for slaughter...

Pasture raised cattle that are now wintering at my feed yard in preparation for becoming beef…

I don’t know about you, but I prefer that to a diet of insects or petri dish meat…

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