Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Window

I live in rural America. After our Thanksgiving feast it is often my good fortune to get to stand at the sink and wash dishes for a period of time. This holiday was no different in that regard. While I was scrubbing some pot or pan I stared out my window, across the yard, to the barren fields, to the woods on the horizon and had this thought, "You know the first Thanksgiving meal was completely organic and locally grown."

Ok, so I am a little too wired on this issue. I have heard the story of the old farmer sitting at one of the farmer meetings that are held all winter long by this or that seed company or fertilizer dealer and he says something like, "You know, when I was young all our food was "organic". You know what we had then that we don't have now? Labor!!! That was hard work and people found easier ways to live." He is right you know. Did you ever try to grow a garden? It is hard work. We have found easier ways to live.

So back to my window story. I wondered if I were a Pilgrim what would we be eating? Only what we could find out-side our window. Nuts, berries, game, were abundant then. Not so much now. I live in rural America and I would be hard pressed for food that way, much less the 98% of the country that doesn't live in rural America. What is outside their window? At best a yard. It would be a bleak Thanksgiving for everyone if we had only that for our dinner choices.

You see, as man has gone forth as he was commanded by God to do in the early chapters of Genesis, he has learned to subdue the land. He has learned ways to pull a living from the earth that is not as hard as it once was. It is still hard. The curse of sin has guaranteed that will be the case until Christ returns and reorders man's relationship with the world.

Are man's intenventions that ease this burden perfect? Absolutely not. Man is not perfect. Is the world without man's inventions perfect? No. Not as long as the curse of sin endures. Stare deeply at the natural world or just watch the National Geographic channel and you will see a world full of violence, upheaval, and uncertainty where everything is strugelling to survive. Yes, we could eat like the Pilgrim's and many of use would die from hunger. What is outside your window?  Or we can accept some of the imperfections of man's inventions that produce abundant and varied food and be thankful for the grace that made it possible.

In the land of the Pilgrim's we hear the story of learning to plant corn on top of a buried fish. This made for better corn. An invention of man that made life easier. Why? Well, the fish is high in protien. Protien is high in nitrogen. Corn needs abundant nitrogen to grow. So the rotting fish was fertilizing the corn by giving off nitrogen.

 Today we have invented nitrogen fertilizer as an easier and more accurate way of burying our fish. The plant is still getting its nitrogen. We have learned an easier way. I plant about 30,000 corn seeds per acre on some 600 acres every year. If I am to do it like the Pilgrim's, where do I get the fish? I might suggest we would need to drain the ocean through a screen each year to get enough fish. Man's invention has made it easier. It is still hard. It is not perfect. But there is abundant food while we learn to do better.

There is plenty of room for the critic to put forth his concerns. The work of man in fighting against the curse of sin can get pretty edgy and downright frightening. Every action has a reaction. The reaction is not always known immediately. Steps are taken that need to be reevaluated. But the struggle to invent and to find easier ways to pull a living from the earth must go on or we will surely die.

Thank you for your thoughts.

P.S. If you are unfamiliar with the Genesis story there are "click tab" resources on the right side of this blog that will help.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Commitment to Quality

I enjoy blogging. The idea of expressing myself to the world at large appeals to me. To be quite honest it appeals to my ego. I am a person that always has an opinion and tend to think it should be accepted by others as intelligent and thoughtful. This attitude may make me appear arrogant but it doesn't make me unique. The blogger world is full of people just like me. For this reason I am appreciative that you take the time to read my posts. Thank you.

In an effort to keep the quality of my posts to an acceptable level I am trying to only post when I have something intelligent to say on a subject that others might be interested in. Consequently, I really don't have a big post this week. It is not that I am not thinking, I most certainly am, but rather I don't want to say something that would end up making me look bad. It would hurt my ego and that would make me mad.

Here is a partial lists of topics I am thinking about:

The underlieing shift in worldviews that comes with the change in Ohio politics from a Democratic Governor to a Republican Governor and how does that affect the way goverance is done in the State of Ohio. Of course, my main focus is in the Department of Ag and the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board specifically. There is an earthquake shift happening but I am unsure what to make of it yet.

No matter the worldview of the government officials, how does that play out in the hearts of consumers. What do I make of the large group of consumers I met at the "Fabulous Food Show" in Cleveland last weekend who were absolutely not asking how food is raised. At least that was not what brought them to the show. I was amazed at the number of peole that drove 1-2 hours, to pay $8 parking and a minimum $30 admission to see "Food Network" stars and wonder around the vendors at the show. More amazing was that people with this kind of money would stop, turn around, and come back to get free recipes. Are recipes that hard to find? Is free that important? What is going on here?

How should a Christian respond to the extreme volatility in the economy right now? Does my heart get troubled easily or is my confidence in God's provision? What do my fears say about my faith?

So many questions are out there. I will eventually think of something to say. Until then, thanks for reading, and have a great Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Option Three Please

The Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board is faced with an interesting challenge in the coming weeks. Let me attempt to describe it simply so that the challenge can be seen clearly. I see all things through the lense of a pork porducer but I think the situation is the same for other species.

The question before the Board is, "What do we do about the "Ohio agreement" with HSUS?". There are, at present, two options to chose from. Neither, appears particularly beneficial when a person stops and thinks about it very hard.

Option 1: The Board upholds the agreement, as written, and thereby ends the use of gestation stalls as a singular housing strategy by 2025 in Ohio. The off shoot of this is that sows will have to spend some part of their time in group housing environments. While there are managers and systems that can do a fine job in this environment, not everyone can do it 100% of the time. It is inevitable that when sows are housed together they will fight to establish a social order and in this fighting some are going to get chewed up pretty good. It is also inevitable that pictures of these sows will find their way into the media. These pictures could be used to discredit the Livestock Care Standards Board. I can hear it now. The voice-over audio accompaning video of two sows in a death match fight says, "This is what the Care Standards Board approves as human treatment of animals ......". This is not a good option from the Care Board's perspective, in my opinion.

Option 2: The Board disapproves/ignors the "Ohio Agreement" and thereby allows the use of  gestation stalls as a singular housing method in the state of Ohio. HSUS has made it very clear this option will be met with an all out assault on the states producers through a ballot initiative. This campaign would feature every ugly thing that can be put on display and do tremendous harm to the reputation and stability of the farming community well beyond the borders of Ohio. The board would be painted as a bunch of industry hacks and a sham and be discredited in the eyes of the voters that gave it authority to deal with their concerns. It seems to me, this is not a good option from the Care Board's perspective.

It is obvious a third option is needed. A course of action that brings something new to the table that is a stretch for both the farmer and the critic. A course of action that reaches to the consumer to address his concerns in a credible and obvious way. A course of action that allows the Care Board to address the issue in a way that there is hope for it to be resolved in the future, over time, not just to continue as a point of contention into the future.

What might this option look like? How can the consumer be reached in a new way? What things are out there that stretch the producer and the critic but add value to the consumer? I am aware as a producer of a couple things that could be done. Things I am a little uncomfortable with for various reasons but that might be of interest to the consumer who is wanting more transparency and information on where food comes from and how animals are being cared for.

For example: I give farm tours from time to time. These allow people to see what is happening and to experience it, but I can't completely control the impression that is made. The same for news stories and interviews. Both stretch my comfort zone, much like my wife cleaning the house before the guests arrive. There is nothing to hide but some things don't need to be seen. I can't really control what the guests think when they leave.

I am aware that video monitoring technology is available. is one example. American Humane has a more advanced system I am told. Could this technology be used to "open the doors" on my operation to the consumer?

Along the "farm tour" line of thought, could groups of random consumers (a jury pool type deal) be given access to farms to fill out audit questionaires and then that data be compiled to guide and direct the industry and enforcement actions.Questions to the pool might be of the type, "Rate your perception of the condition of the animals at this farm", "Does the farm operator appear to be providing for the needs of the animals", "is the farmer making reasonable tradeoffs to advance the animal's well being?", etc. These audit results would then be used to develop a score card that farms could use for comparison and to make adjustments to increase future scores and to defend themselves from accusations.

Part of the "Ohio Agreement" discusses joint research. Could developing this audit questionaire and the data baseline be part of this research. Maybe this random consumer group would followup on complaints with ODA and provide another set of eyes and ears to the process.

These suggestions are a stretch to my comfort level and are way beyond my ability to design but they would provide the consumer with greater access to his food and it's care. The critic would be tested because the consumer might just conclude that the farmer is generally doing a stellar job and is deserving of continued support and appreciation. This would hurt the business of being a critic but should critics have a full time job?

My point in all this discussion is that there has to be an "Option 3". Somewhere there is knowledge and understanding that can be brought to bare on this challenge for the Care Board that will be beneficial. The Care Board needs to be able to chose an option that is a "good" option. Right now I only see two "bad" options being discussed. In all things the consumer and his needs must be brought front and center since without a happy and comfortable consumer things are going to keep getting worse.

Thank you for your consideration.

Monday, November 1, 2010

You can vote often!

On election eve, I thought I would share how you can vote early and vote often and be perfectly legal. I, the American farmer, earn your vote everyday when you shop. Your dollars "votes" will determine the course of Agriculture into the future. So how you decide where to spend your dollars "votes" is of great interest to me and my peers everyday. So vote early and vote often!

I enjoy watching how people "vote". I have heard for years that people are becoming more and more cynical, less willing to trust anyone or thing. This seems true in my own life. I don't really trust much of anyone. The doctor? No, I internet research any major opinion he has. The government? No, this is a proven puddle of muddle. The court system? No, you are a fool not to settle before the trial, who knows what a jury will decide. The academic? No, he is doing research for his sponsor. The producer of almost anything? No, he is biased trying to protect his money. The media? No, they filter everything to fit their need. The list goes on and on.

If there is any source that seems credible it is my neighbor's and peer's. Their experiences would seem to represent an unbiased source of information, be trustworthy. The internet has given this strategy new power. With "Facebook" and "Twitter" and other social media I can get instant information from nieghbors and peers on almost any subject. "Emily's List" and others have made a business out of this very thing. If one person gives a poor comment on a product or service I will shy away, if two or three are negative I probably have serious reservations. Am I unique in this behavior? I doubt it.

The real issue is trust. Who are you going trust? (see my previous blog "worldview part 1). Without trust, our society breaks apart pretty quickly. If you don't trust anyone, you are going to live your life rushing from one thing to another. You will be constantly worried about every decision. If you can't trust those in a position to KNOW the answer, how will you ever gain security in any decision? Who will you follow? How will you feel safe? It really is a scary world to think about.

Enjoy your voting!

Thanks for your thoughts.