Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Different Path to Sustainable Food Security

A friend posted this article to a group of agricultural communicators and asked for our thoughts.

Women in Agriculture

 I would like to answer this article with a personal story.

Some years ago I had the opportunity to visit David Forris and his wife in a remote Chinatec indian village in the mountains of southern Mexico, Oaxaca Province (our visit was not a tourist destination). Mr. Forris is aWycliff bible translator and has spent his career documenting the society, developing a written form of the language, translating helpful literature into the native language, teaching natives to read the language, then documenting the changes in society, here is his book. Of course his primary aim was to translate the Holy Scriptures for the people so that they might have easy access directly to the teaching of God and Christ for belief.

Mr. Forris (right) and I eat food cooked in a bannana leaf

What the documentation shows is that when people start to read the Gospel (the first thing translated) society starts to become more civil. Men stopped drinking, chasing women, neglecting their families, and the whole list of human failings. Women and children also responded favorably and began to benefit from the increased civility. I do not remember the details only the broad analysis.

a church service

One of the other observations/memories from my visit is evident in these pictures. Where are the man? I was told it was that time of year when the men went to find work in the cities or the U.S.. I realised then that the workers I always thought of as Mexican or Spanish, were in fact all of these things and many more.

a scenic corn field

Food is grown where ever it can be in the mountains. It was reported that people have "fallen out" of their corn fields.

a private home

Housing was rudimentary for many.

walking was the common form of transportation

Tranportation utilized old technology, but it still worked.

language school children

The society at the time of our visit was warm and welcoming.

So my response to the article at the lead of this blog post is to suggest that there are multiple paths forward. The path I witnessed in Mexico was uplifting men and women and children by addressing first their heartfelt need for a spiritual understanding of their condition. Then allowing them to work out the social details as fit their need. The article leaves me concerned that the men are being singularly blamed for the problem and overlooked in the solution. Beyond that I will hold my comments at the present time.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Pig Farmers Vote for National Pork Board

I spent a few days last week as a delegate from the state of Ohio to the National Pork Forum in Orlando Florida.

National Pork Forum is the annual meeting of the delegates of the National Pork Board. Delegates are nominated by state organizations and appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture. The primary tasks of delegates is to elect the board of directors for the National Pork Board and to set the mandatory national checkoff rate.

Here are a few pictures I took while there.

There are 150 ish delegates from across the U.S. representing every size and kind of pig farm.

Electing a board of directors gets complicated and technically is not what happens. The delegates rank nominees from a list established by the nominating committee and the rankings are submitted to the Secretary of Agriculture at USDA. This year there were 13 nominees to fill 5 board seats. So by rule the top 8 names in the ranking will be forwarded to the Secretary of Agriculture. The Secretary  then picks 5 from the list to fill the seats.

Voting is done on the electronic key pad at the top center of the picture

Some years the Pork Forum is held at a vacation destination (this year is an example) other years the meeting is in a less noteworthy but always nice location (next year it is Kansas City).

Since the National Pork Board is funded with mandatory checkoff dollars it would seem unreasonable for those dollars to be used for political lobbying purposes. Just as I don't want to be forced to fund abortions with my healthcare and tax dollars, I don't want to be forced to support candidates I don't approve through mandatory checkoff funding.

 A second, completely voluntarily funded organization, to does the political work. This organization is the National Pork Producers Council. The National Pork Producers Council has its annual meeting in conjunction with but very seperate from National Pork Board. The National Pork Producers Council raises some of the funding it needs each year with an auction. Some really nice items are donated and auctioned off each year.

At the end of a long day of sitting in a conference room, listening, voting, and talking it is always a treat to take your wife and a few friends and head out for a nice meal.
If all this sounds and looks interesting to you, the place to start is by getting involved with your local and state organizations. You may be surprised how quickly you can make a difference.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fair Oaks Pig Adventure

I recently visited the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure in Fair Oaks Indiana. The dream of the Adventure is to create a large scale pig farm that is accessible to the public so that anyone can see for themselves where food comes from. The facility will house 2700 sows (mother pigs) and should open in the summer of 2013.

My interest in this project is driven by the fact that my farm will be growing some of the baby pigs born here from the time they are weaned until they reach market weight.

As you can see it is not complete yet. This picture was taken 3/2/2013.

Visitor center to left, Gestation Barn in rear, Gilt Developer Barn on right

Visitors will arrive by tour bus from the reception area at the Fair Oaks Visitor Center and pull straight inside the building. The intent is to contain any diseases being carried by visitors inside the building (all the air will be filtered as it leaves the building) and away from the pigs. Since the farm is located 1 hour south of Chicago it is expected to recieve guests from all over the world. Preventing the spread of disease is a matter of national food security.

Visitor Center with bus door

Inside visitors can move through an educational display area to the viewing mezzanine of the breeding and gestation barn. As you can see the mezzanine provides a panoramic view of the pigs, the workers, the housing, and the equipment being used.

Breeding/Gestation Mezzanine

It is fun to watch sows

It is fascinating to watch. I could watch others work for hours.

Sow loafing pens

Sow feeder/sorter driven by individual electonic ear tags

Breeding stalls are used for worker safety and sow protection during the heat cycle. They allow for artificial inseminatin and prevent sows from fighting during the critical breeding time.

The construction crews are now racing against the due date of the first sows bred (early June) to complete the Farrowing Barn (the maternity ward). There is, obviously, a lot of work to do. The fork lifts need to be replaced with multiple walls, floors, penning, equipment, and all sorts of stuff that isn't there yet.

Each farrowing (birthing) room will have an observation window from a mezzanine area. With 200ish pigs being born every day a visitor won't have long to wait to see this miracle of life.

Future birthing room

walls will block this view as construction divides the space into rooms. Note the ventilation inlets in the ceiling and the fans on the outside wall that will provide regulated airflow to each room

Farrowing mezzanine with windows into each room

It is a big comfortable space for visitors

Here is a late arriving picture of the penning used in the birthing suites. Sows (mother pigs) are tightly confined during their 3 week lactation to provide for safety to the baby pigs and the care givers. There are many care giving activities during this three week period. The sow's primary urge at this time is to lie down and nurse.

view of public birthing room from viewing area

So, here's to the boys that make the noise........ with hammers and saws, let's cheer them on because the pigs are coming and the visitors will be welcome to come and see!

For more information here are some other links you might find interesting.

First sows arrive at Fair Oaks Pig Adventure
Breeding starts at Fair Oaks Pig Adventure
Construction at Fair Oaks Pig Adventure
Fair Oaks Websight, directions, etc.