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Sunday, September 30, 2018 ISSUE #946

Farmers, food, and freedom to choose

Is it okay with you if I say nothing about the Supreme Court?

Thank you. (Early responses show that 99% of you folks agree.)

How about food and farming? Let me share a few random thoughts.

Food in America is cheap. On average, we spend about 5 percent of available income on food at home, leaving 95 percent to spend on everything else, including food in restaurants and pet food. Only 1 percent of Americans are farmers, producing food for the other 99 percent, plus exporting a lot to other countries. Most people don’t know a farmer, and never even met or talked to one.

The low cost of food allows us to be choosy. In a large grocery store we have almost as many choices of dry cereal as we do of dog and cat food. If you have a question about a choice, do you ask a farmer or do you follow the advice of a stranger on social media?

Do you prefer Non-GMO food?  Well, you’re in luck because only a handful of our food has been genetically modified. Soybeans, canola, corn (including sweet corn), sugar beets, paypaya and squash. That’s all. Farmers do not grow any GMO oats, GMO wheat, or GMO tomatoes. There are no GMO cows, hogs or chickens.

You have probably seen many packaged foods claiming to be non-GMO. The packages are correct, except there are usually no versions of similar food that are GMO. All cereals of oats or wheat are non-GMO. Milk products are non-GMO.  

If you prefer non-GMO foods because you don’t want farmers to use a lot of chemicals to reduce damage from insects, disease or weeds, then you are in for a surprise. The main purpose of genetic changes is so fewer chemicals are needed to grow a crop.

Do you know that many farmers grow crops (such as corn, soybeans and cotton) without plowing? In most of the country we call that “no-till farming.” No-till improves water quality in streams and lakes, reduces the barrels of oil needed for fuel, and with the help of cover crops grown after the cash crop has been harvested, reduces the need for chemicals to manage weeds and provides nutrients for the following crop.

Do you like meat? Most of us do, whether it’s bacon, steak, salmon or a turkey leg. Even vegetarians apparently like meat because fake “meat” is popular in grocery stores. And nut juice is in the dairy case with a fake name “almond milk.” If it’s not meat and it’s not milk how should it be labeled?

We could talk about organic farming (which often uses more chemicals and diesel fuel than no-till), locally grown (delicious in summer), and free-range chickens (raccoons love ‘em).

The great news is that American food is so cheap a consumer is free to choose any source, even if it costs two or three times as much. And American farmers are happy to produce it.

National Farmer’s Day is Oct. 12. Yes, it’s good to give them a Day, but don’t farmers deserve a Week, or maybe a Month?

Historic quotes by Will Rogers:

“We always have good things to eat at my sister’s (Sallie McSpadden) in Chelsea (Oklahoma)… Beans, kinder soupy navy beans cooked with plenty of real fat meat. And then fried ham; they cure their own ham…They got their own cows and real cream. Ham gravy is just about the last word in gravys…Beans, cornbread, country ham, and gravy, and then just raw onions… Then for desert? Don’t have room for any desert. Had any more room would eat some more beans.” WA #449, August 2, 1931

“Cattle are so cheap that cowboys are eating beef for the first time in years.” DT #1751, March 4, 1932

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