Tag Archives: where does your food come from

Bringing the Story of Agriculture to 3rd Grade Students In Omaha…

Our family volunteers with the Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom program. This is an ongoing effort to pair farm families with inner city elementary students so that the kids can learn a little bit about “where their food comes from”. I love this concept and have participated in the program for many years.   This year, my favorite 16 year old brunette took over the pen pal letter writing responsibilities of our family’s involvement in the program.AGCattlePasture.jpg

Ashley Grace has spent the school year writing personal letters back and forth with each of the students in our assigned class. I think that she likely looks forward to receiving the letters from our 3rd graders just as much as they enjoy her replies. It is amazing what the kids ask, and the ongoing interaction is incredibly rewarding for all those involved. Quite simply, it is a win-win scenario.

We traveled to Omaha yesterday to visit our pen pal class. My public speaking, speech loving, letter writing teenager put together a power point presentation full of pictures and led the class in a discussion about our farm and how we grow food. We also brought a sample of my favorite farmer’s alfalfa dehy pellets and one of the casseroles that we feed our cattle.

The majority of these kids have never been west of Omaha, and only one boy in our class remembered ever seeing a corn field. Sometimes it is hard for me to believe that kids in Nebraska (The Cornhusker State) have such little interaction with farming. But, the excitement and positive energy of the kids toward learning about our farm is truly awesome.

Here are a handful of questions that the kids asked:

  1. “Do you name your cattle? Does it hurt when you put the ear tag in their ear?” Earlier in the year, we had given each of the kids an ear tag and explained the number system that we use to trace our animals from birth to harvest, so this was a great time to talk about it again. Ashley Grace also talked about the fact that cattle do not have a large number of nerves in their ears so it really does not hurt very much when the ear tag is put in. She likened it to the kids getting their ears pierced which seemed to resonate well.
  2. “Have you ever fallen off of your horse?” Ashley Grace and Karyn were able to tell the story of when they both were riding my horse Dandy bareback (they were age 5 and 10) when he sidestepped and spooked and they fell off into the grass.
  3. We had a long discussion on how much cattle weigh: when they are born, when they leave the ranch where they were born and come to our farm, and when they go to make beef. Karyn weighs about 100# so we were able to use her as a measuring stick 🙂
  4. At the end one little girl asked,”Isn’t it sad that they have to die so that we can eat their meat?” I told her that our animals give us a great gift when they die. We had a really neat discussion after this about respecting that gift by cleaning our plates and not wasting our food. I was excited to see that many of the kids had obviously talked about food waste at home and had thoughts to share about it.AGClassroom20162.jpg

We were all a little bit sad when it was time for us to leave. The kids pleaded to be able to travel out to our farm, but unfortunately the 3 and ½ hour drive makes this logistically difficult. We promised to send more letters and pictures, and left them to their celebration of Dr. Seuss. I was very proud of Ashley Grace and Karyn – they did a wonderful job teaching and interacting with the kids. It is fun for me to see them learn how to “tell their story”.

If you are a farm family and are interested in participating in the program, you can find more information on this website. The urban classroom demand for “farm families” in Nebraska outnumbers the number of families willing to participate so please think about taking part in the program. It is a phenomenal way to give kids personal contact with their food. Agriculture in the Classroom is a national program so you can likely participate even if you live outside of the Cornhusker State.

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Filed under Family, General

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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Filed under CAFO

Jury Duty…

My feedyard crew consists of three guys and myself. Together we care for close to 3000 animals as well as the business part of the farm. During the busy fall run, the amount of work comes close to overwhelming us. By Thanksgiving, there is a light at the end of the tunnel but our days are still very busy.

This week we have an additional challenge because my cowboy was called to Jury Duty. This is actually the second time this fall he has been called. He still comes to work at 6:00 to help us start the day, but by 8:00 he is on his way to the courthouse.

coffmancalf1a

His list of responsibilities at the yard consists of: daily checking of cattle health, shipping cattle to the packing plant, being a member of the cattle vaccinating/processing crew, cleaning water tanks and an array of other things. When he is gone, the rest of us fill in the gaps.

My crew is a cross between a family and a well-oiled machine. We make an awesome team. It is hard when one of us is gone – especially on a holiday week in the fall…

Fortunately my favorite blonde cowgirl starts her Thanksgiving vacation from school today. She will be spending her time at the feed yard helping me to check cattle health and working cattle. Her sunny disposition will keep us all smiling, and her cattle savvy will lessen the work load.

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To say that she is a blessing would be an understatement. She may well be quickly approaching angel status 🙂

This week our family wishes each of you a Happy Thanksgiving — Take a moment to appreciate your life’s blessings and say a special word of thanks for all of the farm kids in our country who give of themselves to help bring food to your dinner table.

We are indeed all blessed.

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Filed under CAFO, Family, General

Responsible Sourcing — It shouldn’t be a marketing ploy…

Thoughtful Thursday

Everyone wants to eat food that has been responsibly raised. Taking care of our Earth and the animals that roam on it is a priority for the vast majority of us.  I believe that our future and the vitality of our families depends on good stewardship.

As a farmer, I spend the majority of my day caring for our animals and our land. I try my best to make responsible decisions which ensure sustainability and judicious use of our resources. Animal welfare, food safety, and environmental stewardship are the core pillars that drive my decision making process.

I believe in wisely developing and using technology to grow food. I think that technology improves the environmental footprint of my farm, the quality of my beef, and also the care that I offer to my animals.

annecattlepasture.jpg

I believe that I grow responsibly raised beef—pasture raised on a ranch, and grain finished in a feed yard.

Because there are a variety of eco-diverse regions where American farmers grow food, I do not believe that there is a “one size fits all” protocol for responsibly sourced food.

I have faith that the vast majority of farmers make responsible decisions while raising food even as I recognize that many different types of farming practices are used to put quality food on the grocery store shelves. There is not one management system that is better than another provided that those systems maintain a commitment to animal welfare, food safety and environmental stewardship.

Their address has changed but the quality of their care has not...

The cattle’s address has changed but the quality of their care has not…

It angers me when corporate food companies give into pressure from special interest groups, make demands regarding farming practices, and then use the term responsible sourcing as a marketing ploy to increase their profit margin.

This type of practice belittles the American Farmer and confuses the American consumer.

Responsibly raised and responsible sourcing covers the vast majority of the food grown in this country — it is not a special niche marketing tool to be manipulated — it is the reality of the United States food production systems.

Annegate2.jpg

Is it too much to ask for a little bit of trust so that I can do my job as a farmer responsibly?

 

 

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Filed under CAFO, Thoughtful Thursday

What Does Your Farmer Look Like?

Thoughtful Thursday

MegMatt.jpg

97% of all farms and ranches are family farms like ours, so there is an excellent chance that your farmer looks quite a bit like this…

Feel good about the food that you eat because we feel good about the way that we grow it!

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Filed under General, Thoughtful Thursday

Farm Check: The Goal

I have to admit that as a child and teenager, I never gave a thought to where my food came from.  I took both the food and my mother’s wonderful home cooked dinners completely for granted.  As a dedicated athlete who trained four hours a day, I consumed a lot of food—thinking about nutrition and fuel for my body, but never giving a second to think about what it took to grow it.

Finishing an ocean mile race as part of my training twenty years ago...

Finishing an ocean mile race as part of my training twenty years ago…

I’ll never forget the look on my husband’s face the first time that he attended a team dinner for the Dartmouth Women’s Swim Team.  As a college football player he was no stranger to eating, but the feeding frenzy that he witnessed that night left him speechless.  He wisely decided to step aside and let my team mates and I eat our fill before attempting to enter the food line himself…

As I transitioned from competitive athlete to farm girl, I found myself (for the first time) taking an active role in both understanding and growing food.  When I moved to Nebraska in 1997, I had complete trust in modern food production but very little understanding of it.

The day that I graduated from college--pictured with my husband and brother.  The next day, I began to trek from New Hampshire to Nebraska to begin a new life...

College graduation: pictured with my husband and brother. The next day, I began to trek from New Hampshire to Nebraska to begin a new life…

Somewhere in the last 16 years, universal trust in food production has been eroded.  Farming practices have been questioned as well as the integrity of the farmer that implements them.  This saddens me.  While I truly believe that every person has a right to understand where their food comes from, I also believe that it is important to truly understand before passing judgement.

The challenge that we all face is the ever growing gap between farmers and urbanites.  Whenever a disconnect like this occurs, myths perpetuate and misinformation stands in the way of good conversation and understanding.  Perception becomes a cloud of fog that hinders trust and stands in the way of true learning and comprehension.

I believe that I care for him responsibly, and I want to share that story of care with you...

I believe that I care for him responsibly, and I want to share that story of care with you…

Somehow philosophers like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser have become the authority on food production, while farmers like myself have become the evil opportunists.  While I can certainly respect that every person has a right to their own beliefs, it bothers me tremendously to read books like Fast Food Nation that misrepresent both who I am and what happens on my farm.

  • I believe with all of my heart that responsible food production must universally exist.
  • I believe with all of my heart that this responsible food production includes quality animal care.
  • I believe with all of my heart that a deep understanding of food animals and their needs must play the key role in determining what defines proper care.
  • I believe with all of my heart that good care leads to healthy animals and a safe food supply.
  • I believe with all of my heart that together farmers and urbanites can come together to build relationships and understanding relative to meat production.

The goal of the Tyson Farm Check program is to bring scientists and farmers together with our customers to rebuild trust while also continually learning how to improve farm animal care.

Do we care?  Absolutely! 

Can we get better?  Absolutely!FarmChecklogo

  The goal is to build trust while responsibly growing safe and nutritious food.

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Filed under General, Tyson Farm Check Program

Digging In the Dirt…

I have always loved digging in the dirt.  Although I grew up in the city, my dad is an avid hunter and we spent many of my childhood weekends in the Lake Okeechobee area hunting on Florida ranch land for quail, ducks and dove.

My brother and I, many many years ago out at the "hunting camp"...

My brother and I, many many years ago out at the “hunting camp”…

When Matt and I moved to Nebraska, my one condition on the move was that I wanted a house “in the country” where I could have lots of room to have animals and gardens.  Our house is positioned on the edge of one of Matt’s farms and sits on about five acres.

My two horses lay claim to a large portion of those acres, but I still have plenty of room to experiment and grow things.  This spring has been mentally challenging for me because it has been too cold to garden.  Our trees are only now starting to bud and my summer perennials are barely peaking their brave heads above ground (the tulips and daffodils perished in a snow storm several weeks ago).  My fingers have been itching to play in the dirt…DSC05280

On Sunday, we had temperatures in the low sixties so I herded up my free labor and headed outdoors to do some gardening chores.  My girls always complain a little bit as we get started, but it does not take long for my older ones to get excited about transplanting and clearing out the flower gardens.

Transplanting lilies...

Transplanting lilies…

They seem to have inherited my love for digging in the dirt and making things grow…

In addition to my perennial flowers taking the plunge above the soil, my rhubarb and asparagus are coming up.  It will not be long before it is time to get the colder season annual vegetables in (it was 28 degrees Saturday morning so not quite yet!).  This year we are doing a combination vegetable garden with my  mother-in-law and the girls are in charge of weeding 🙂

Dividing our Irises...

Dividing out and replanting Irises…

It renews my soul to dig in the dirt.  It fuels my optimism to watch new life grow in my gardens.  It brings a smile to my face to watch my daughters learn the combination of care and just a little magic which brings beauty to our yard and vegetables to our table.

Even while we garden and water, she still dreams about that great tasting steak that will go along with her vegetables :)

Even while we garden and water, she still dreams about that great tasting steak that will go along with her vegetables 🙂

We topped off the afternoon by finding the first toad of the year.  Karyn seemed to spend more time playing with it than helping with the gardens...I guess that is the joy of being the baby of the family!

We topped off the afternoon by finding the first toad of the year. Karyn seemed to spend more time playing with it than helping with the gardens…I guess that is the joy of being the baby of the family!

Is it warm enough to get your gardens going for the growing season?

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Filed under Family, General, Sustainable Spring

Together We Are Stronger…

I was first introduced to the concept of consumer outreach when I received the National Beef Quality Assurance Producer of the Year award in 2009.  I did not realize it at the time, but the award was actually the first catalyst to the creation of this blog.BQA Logo

Shortly after winning the award, I participated in the Farmer Goes to Market initiative which led me to the National Grocers Convention to speak with retailers about animal welfare.  What followed were a series of trips around the country (California, Texas, New York City etc.) speaking to groups of people that were interested in where their beef comes from.

As I sharpened my public speaking skills, the number of invitations to engagements rose until one day I realized something very important.  As much as I loved to share my farm and speak to others about how I raise beef, I loved my family and my farm even more.

They are the light of my life...

They are the light of my life…

When I traveled:

  • I missed the crooked half smile that lights up my husband’s face when I tease him.
  • I missed the laughter of my girls as we shared our day.
  • I missed the quiet dawn at the feed yard when it was just me and my animals and the work that soothes my soul.
  • I missed burying my head in my horse’s mane and breathing in his scent.
  • I missed home.

    She's a lot like her Mama...

    She’s a lot like her Mama…

This realization put me into a real quandary.  I knew that reaching out to others outside of my farm was important, but the passion that I felt for raising food was contingent on being at home with my family on the farm.  It was at this point that I began to blog—blogging was a compromise—I could still share my farm, but I could do it without leaving home…

We are all in this together...

We are all in this together…

The lingering question, then, becomes “is that enough?”.  Can I and other farmers create transparency regarding food production through social media?  I do not know the answer to that question but a group of diverse agricultural organizations have come together to help figure it out.

How is he cared for and how does he make beef?

How is he cared for and how does he make beef?

This alliance, USFRA (U.S. Farmer Rancher Alliance) is working hard to offer people, like me, some additional savvy and support as we look outside of our farms and into your living rooms.

Currently, the USFRA is searching for the “Faces of Farming and Ranching” in the United States.  This is a nationwide search for a few individuals who are excited to share the story of their farm or ranch with those folks that have interest.  USFRA is in the final stages of choosing the “faces” and has it narrowed down to 9 finalists who have expressed an interest in traveling across the United States to share the story of agriculture.

Janice and her family...

Janice and her family…

I am proud to say that Janice Wolfinger has made the final cut of finalists.  Janice and her husband, Jake, together with their two daughters have both a cow herd in Ohio and a small cattle feed yard in Nebraska.  Janice is currently taking a hiatus from teaching (she is a certified FFA instructor/teacher), and is looking to continue her love of education in a different role—as a Face of Farming and Ranching.

I would like to ask you all to go to http://www.fooddialogues.com/faces-of-farming-and-ranching/janice-wolfinger and vote for Janice.  You can vote for her every day between now and December 15th.  Please help me to help Janice to have the opportunity to share her wonderful story through USFRA!

I am so thankful for Janice and her willingness to give of her time to participate in this program.  I am proud to call her a fellow cattlewoman and look forward to all of her great work on behalf of myself and the other hundreds of thousands of beef farmers in the United States.  You can also check out her blog at http://www.fortheloveofbeef.blogspot.com.

Thank you for taking the time to help!

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Filed under Animal Welfare, General