Friday, April 8, 2016

I did it! I wrote THAT letter.

It seems as though every where I turn, this organic lifestyle is promoted as the simple answer the health. I read a lot of blogs, and in almost every post that answers something about health or healthy living, they answer it so simply: I eat organic. Well, I finally stepped out of my comfort zone and sent over a lengthy email to one of these bloggers in response to their organic lifestyle:

Good Afternoon,

I wanted to write an email to you clarify a few things that I read on your blog. First of all, I just want you to know that I mean absolutely no disrespect in writing this, I just feel that you have been ill-informed about some things and I wanted to clarify them for you. 

You write frequently on your blog about organic and clean eating habits that keep you healthy. I feel as though you have been mislead on organic living. Organic certainly does not mean healthy, and healthy does mean that is has to be organic.

I strongly believe in healthy eating, and certainly strive to do so myself. I have three young daughters that I am trying my hardest to teach them healthy habits and provide nutritious food for them. I can relate to cutting out sodas and sugars, as I struggle to cut out Mt. Dew from my diet. However, I also know that spending more money on organic food does not mean that I am providing my girls with any more nutrition or even safety. Food nutrition, balanced meals, moderation and exercise are much more effective and important when it comes to living a healthy life, not the label on the package.

To give you some background, I am a farmer from NW Wisconsin, but I also spend much of my time talking to consumers about their food: how it is raised and grown and where it comes from, and I wouldn't be doing my farm justice if I didn’t take the time to clarify these things for you.

Now back to the organic or clean eating. A strawberry is a strawberry no matter how it is grown or what label it has in the store. It still contains the same amount of nutrients and vitamins no matter how it is grown. Many consumers then associate organic food with no pesticide use, well that in fact is not at all true. There are over 400 organic pesticides used in organic farming practices, many of which are much more harmful to you than the synthetic pesticides used by conventional farmers, and much of which is used at a higher dosage due to lack of other conventional practices used to reduce weeds, insects and disease on the crop.

Another good example of this is organic tobacco (yes, there is a HUGE market for this!) Is organic tobacco any more healthy for you… certainly not! It still causes cancer, it still rots your teeth, it still stinks just the same. But many consumers are lead to believe that it is safer for them simply because it says that it is organic. I know that this is an extreme example of label marketing, but it applies to almost every item in the grocery store. Take the hormone free label for example. You will quite commonly see this on poultry or pork in the meat department. And around Thanksgiving you will see a 'hormone free' turkey costing a significant more than the one without this label. This is very misleading to consumers, because it is illegal to give any pork or poultry ANY hormone, and animals are tested before it goes to market. So now that company just receive a significant more money simply by adding a label on the package.

The organic label was created to market products. In fact, in order for a product to carry the organic label it only has to contain a percentage of organic product. That percentage varies depending on the product and can contain as much as 100% or as low as 25% organic product to still have the organic label on it. Eating organic chocolate or smoking organic tobacco certainly does not mean that it is any better for you.

It is wonderful that we have an abundance of healthy food in our country, but marketing tactics are making it harder for consumers to decipher what is healthy or what is not, and that is why I share my passion for agriculture with consumers. Many consumers have no connection to their food, other than it came from the grocery store, and I strive to be that connection for many.

 I apologize for the lengthy email, and I hope it was worth the read for you. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. I am always open to conversation and answering any questions that you might have about food or farming. And as stated before, I certainly mean no disrespect in writing this, I just feel as though 'organic' is used a trigger word for you making it automatically healthier. I really enjoy your blog, your faith and grace certainly show through in every word, and I appreciate the encouragement that it brings in my life.

Warm Blessings,

Rebekah Gustafson

And to my surprise I received a lovely email in response:

Now this blogger is someone with a wonderful message that she shares through her blog, and I truly enjoy the encouragement that it brings me. We have shared some more communication since, and I am so glad to see that I was able to connect with a consumer that has the potential to reach a very broad audience through her own blog. I may not have fully changed her mind, but I brought it to her attention and opened communication between this blogger and the farming/foodie community.

This is what advocating is about. Writing an email like this is completely out of my comfort zone, but there was something in me that just could not leave this alone. Not all of my efforts get the same, well- received response, but I like to rejoice in the small victories.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Sustainability: What is it and Why is Important

Sustainability is a hot topic right now, both in mainstream media and also within the agricultural communities.

Well, what exactly is sustainability and why is it so important?

According to Wikipedia sustainability is the capacity to endure; it is how biological system remain diverse and productive indefinitely. The BEEF industry defines sustainability as meeting growing global demand by balancing environmental responsibility, economic opportunity and social diligence throughout the supply chain. My personal definition of sustainability our ability to efficiently and continuously produce enough quality product with the least impact on the environment.

So now that we have defined sustainability, why is so important?

Well, we are humans that live on this earth, and no matter where we live or what we do, we are going to have an impact on the environment. We need basic food, water and shelter just to survive. Environmental sustainability is really a journey to a unattainable goal. As much as we would love to have zero impact on the world around us, we also need to use our environment to survive. Sustainability becomes important so that we are able to maintain our environment and its resources so that it in turn can support our human needs.  However, there are many ways in which we can greatly reduce the impact that we do have on our environment.

Mainstream media has recently been pointing fingers at agriculture when it comes to bad sustainability practices to the point that it has been suggested to reduce or get rid of meat and animals agriculture all together. Sustainability is extremely important to us as farmers and ranchers and will always be. We certainly know that you have to take care of the resources that we are given or they will not return the favor. We get to see first hand how this works. Whether it be soil, water or animals they all need to be properly cared for or they will not produce a quality product that is beneficial to both us as farmers or us as consumers. However, we are always looking for new ways in which we can improve our practices, Science and technology, such as GMOs and GPS has allowed farming practices to be improved by leaps and bounds.
Photo Courtesy of Ask the Farmers

Just as farmers know that there are always room for improvement, there is also ways in which consumers can have a direct impact on improving sustainability. One simple way is by reducing food waste. Not only does that food sitting in a landfill directly impacts the environment, but also all of the resources used to produce that food are then wasted. Taking this thought back to the thought of animal agriculture. 24.3% of all edible beef produced is wasted at the consumer and retail level. That is A LOT!! Definitely a place for some much needed improvement.

Photo Courtesy of
Sarah Schultz,

As much as we all like to point fingers, there are ways in which we all, as consumers and farmers, can improve our habits and practices to reduce our impact on our environment. No one person, industry or practice can be to blame. So I challenge you as a farmer (if you are one) or as a consumer to take some action, and share with me how you can improve your personal sustainability on this earth.

For more resources on this topic, please visit:

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Top of the Class Training, Part 2

Despite the blizzard that shut down Denver for the first time in a decade, the Top of the Class training was also a once in a life time experience. So, as promised, here are the details from my Top of the Class training last week in Denver at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association headquarters:

Last winter I completed the Masters of Beef Advocacy classes, and soon after found out about Top of the Class. Masters of Beef Advocacy and Top of the Class are all programs for advocates to help them to better communicate about the beef industry to consumers. They are farmer and rancher funded through the Beef check-off, and are a great way to be a part of this industry. I am always looking to learn more both about advocacy and anything agriculture. My husband and I are starting a cow/calf beef operation this summer, and I love to advocating and connecting with consumers, so I thought this would be a great place for me to learn more about it.

Advocating is such a huge part of the agricultural industry now, and I am proud to be a part of this. Farming isn't just about planting crops and raising animals anymore, we as farmers need to reach out there and share our stories. Agriculture is so important to our world, and consumers need to be reconnected with where their food comes from and how it is raised and produced.

Myself, Alison, Brooke, Adam and Caleigh infront of the NCBA headquarters in a blizzard.

Here I am doing a beef food demonstration with Daren.
My class included 4 other beef advocates from all areas of the industry and myself and we spent two days learning how to better communicate and connect with consumers about the beef industry. Those communication areas included Media and Interview training, Blogging, Finding our personal story and how to best share it, Social Media, and Farm and food photography. Our training was very direct and one-on-one with those who do this best for the NCBA, and much of it was a swift kick to get motivated and do a better job with my advocating skills.

My practice of food photography.
(This was lunch the first day!)
We were trained by the likes of Brandi Frobose (Buzzard's Beat) and Daren Williams (The Beefman Bloggeth) who both work in communications for the NCBA, and also Debbie Lyons- Blythe, a fellow Top of the Class graduate who blogs about her ranch life at Kids, Cows and Grass, and many more amazing people at NCBA. One my favorite things about the Top of the Class training was that we got to work directly with the NCBA staff, and those who participate in the industry every day. Other organizations that I work with use a communications company to train and represent us, and I appreciated that we were given direct connection to the industry leaders.

More photography practice.

The other members of the Top of the Class were such a great group of people that I really enjoyed spending my time with and made the trip much more fun. We were from all different areas of the country and all different backgrounds, but all have a unique and important role within the industry, and we were able to learn so much from each other.

So here is a shout out the my Top of the Class-mates and their advocacy efforts: Caleigh Payne works on a cattle and bison ranch in Colorado, and shares about it here at Ask Me About Agriculture, Brooke from Meet Your Beef works for a veterinary supply company and her family has one of the largest cattle ranches in central California, Alison McGrew is a fellow Ask The Farmers contributor, and has a cattle operation in Illinois. And last but not least was the only guy in our class: Adam, a James Beard nominated chef from Spokane, Washington. He owns 5 restaurants and a catering company in the Spokane area, including the Gilded Unicorn.

The NCBA Vision: "To be the trusted leaser and
definitive voice of the beef industry."
I feel honored to be a Top of the class graduate, to be a part of the NCBA and all of the great things that it stands for. Overall this was by far the best advocacy training that I have experienced, and would highly recommend any advocate to take the MBA 2.0 courses. It was very intense, and a bit overwhelming at times, but well worth every minute of it, even with the chaos of a blizzard. Thank you to the NCBA staff for all of your hospitality and for making this opportunity possible to me. I look forward to working with you and representing the NCBA as a Top of the Class advocate.

This training has given me a lot of motivation to move forward in my advocacy efforts, and I promise, you will be seeing A LOT of changes around here, so stay tuned!!
The mountains from Denver, after the blizzard.
For more pictures and info about my Top of the Class training opportunity, check out my Facebook page, and in case you missed read all about the blizzard in part one of my Top of the Class Training.

In case you missed it, you can read Part 1 of my Denver travels HERE, and as always you can head on over to my Facebook page to see more pictures from my adventures

Monday, March 28, 2016

Top of the Class Training, Part 1: The Blizzard

So I have spent much of that last couple of months traveling across the country, and boy-oh-boy it has been an adventure! Last week I was in Denver participating in the Top of the Class training with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Top of the Class is a group of men and women from across the country that have completed the Master's of Beef Advocacy courses, and were selected to participate in this advanced training, and my class was made up of my self and 4 others from various places within the beef industry, from farmers and producers, to sales and chefs.

Besides the intense training and motivation that this trip gave me, it was a blast!! I have never eaten more delicious beef in the few days I was in Denver. We had beef for every meal, including beef jerky to snack on throughout the day. But the big topic of the trip, besides the beef talk, was the blizzard. Right in the middle of our training Denver was hit with a monster blizzard, dumping over 2 feet of ice and heavy snow across the city shutting everything down. This blizzard made the trip go from fun to an all out adventure!

I promise that I will talk more details about the training in another blog post, however I had say something about the blizzard that truly took this trip to a once in a lifetime experience!

The blizzard hit Wednesday morning, the last day of our training... the day that we were supposed to fly home. Well, needless to say, we weren't going anywhere. The Denver airport shut down cancelling more the 1200 flights, and all freeways around the city were closed. I have been born and raised in NW Wisconsin, so I am definitely used to snow, and I have to say it was bad!! The roads were impassable, the snow came down so fast that the plows could not keep up with it. Not only was it the heavy wet snow, but layered on top of ice, making travel impossible as trees and roofs were beginning to fall.

The silly thing is that the airport shut down early in the afternoon, and my flight for that evening wasn't cancelled until late in the afternoon, making it nearly impossible for me to find a different
flight. I finally got booked on a flight leaving Thursday night, leaving me with some time to explore Denver (in a blizzard).

Those of us who were left in Denver ventured to the airport around 3 pm. The airport was still a mess, and after a security breach and the bombings in Europe, was on high alert. Brooke has a great story to tell about her embarrassment in security, that left us all rolling for a while afterwards, she shares her story on her blog Meet Your Beef. We had some time to kill before our flights, so we ate some more great food and enjoyed that last of the good company before my flight left at 7:15 taking me to Seattle. I then had a 3 1/2 hour layover in Seattle, and then finally left for my homeland, landing me at MSP at 6:00 Friday morning.

I am happy to be home and was ablet to relax and enjoy Easter with Neil and the girls. As awesome as it is to travel and get a break, it feels amazing to come home.

I will eventually get to blogging about my other trips this winter, and you will see that this whole blizzard adventure is becoming a habit for me. I think I need to come with a travel advisory: *If traveling with this person, be prepared for winter weather to follow. Bring extra clothes, supplies and plan for an upheaval in travel plans for your chances of being stranded due to the wintry conditions are very high.*
  For more pictures from my trip to Denver, check out my Facebook page.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Farming: Why Its Not Our Grandpa's Farm Anymore

This past year, my 7 year old daughter came home from first grade, and nonchalantly asked if we were bad people because we are farmers. Right away that triggered a whole lot of red flags in my mind. She asked if Daddy's put poison on the fields that kills the eagles because that's what they learned in school and so her class agreed that farmers were bad people. Well, at that point I was nothing less than furious, but at least able to figure out what she was talking about and where this was all coming from. In their reading book, there was a story by Rachel Carson called Silent Spring. Well, most people within agriculture know what this book is and know the story and meaning around this.

Rachel Carson was an conservationist that published the book Silent Spring in 1962. Silent spring informed and educated both consumers and farmers about the use of pesticides, specifically effects that DDt, a commonly used pesticide at this time, had on eagle and other bird populations. There are many aspects of Silent Spring and Rachel Carson that are good, and others not so much. We no longer use DDt and have learned a great lesson from the information that Ms. Carson brought to farmers and scientists attention. However, I find this to be awfully heavy material for my first grader to be reading and fully understanding. Needless to say, I was not happy with this reading selection, and took this up with the teacher and the school. No child should ever be lead to question whether their dad is a good person, especially by their teacher and classmates!! We also had to sit down and explain how farming has changed in the last 50 years with our daughter and inform her that farmers are not bad people. We told her that she needs to be proud to be a farmer, and explained all of the amazing things that farmers do. Through this all, I have found that this is a great lesson for many consumers to learn.
As a farmer and advocate for agriculture, I get asked often, "Why can't we just go back to the way our grandparents and great-grandparents farmed?" Well, Silent Spring is just one of many reasons why. Another great lesson learned in agriculture is the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. Through science and education, farmers have become extremely smart people. We have learned how to manage our farms, and take care of the land, animals and the environment around us. This is called sustainability. Science and technology has allowed farmers to grow and abundance of safer, more nutritious food, on less land, using less resources than ever before, why would we ever want to go backwards in time? You sure wouldn't want to return to medieval medical practices, or have to type out your paperwork on a typewriter, or your only mode of transportation be a choice between your own two feet or a horse and buggy? Most consumers, including myself, would be completely lost without our cellphones. Why would it even be logical to want agricultural practices to do such a thing?
Sustainability is a very important part of farming, and it is not something that we, as farmers, take lightly. Which is exactly why I share my story about our farm everyday, and why so many other farmers are doing the same. We need to reach the students, teachers, and all consumers to let them know that we are using all of the technology and information that we have available to provide them with a safe, healthy and abundant food supply.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Christmas In The Country Exchange Reveal!

What a joy it has been to participate once again in the Christmas In The Country gift exchange. This year the swap was hosted my Jamie from This Uncharted Rhoade, Laurie from CountryLINKed, Lara from My Other More Exciting Self, and Kriby from 15009 Farmhouse. The connections that I have made through this wonderful community of Agvocates and bloggers has opened many doors and kindled many friendships for me. Christmas in the Country is one of these opportunities to connect, and it is always so much fun to be a part of.

This year I received a gift from Crystal Kellner who blogs over at Chasing-Saturdays. The first thing that struck me when opening her card and reading her letter, was how much she loves to share her faith. This too is important to me, so it is always awesome to connect with others that share the same faiths. For the gift exchange she sent me a fun journal, a desktop picture frame, two Christmas kitchen towels, and a bag of Hershey's Kisses (who doesn't love chocolate?!). These gifts are all perfect, and I cannot wait the put them to use. Actually, the girls already dug into the chocolate and the towels were well used while hosting Christmas dinner. The journal is smaller in size which will be perfect to throw into my purse and use for note taking at the conferences I will be attending later this month.

Thank you so much Crystal for the wonderful gifts!
It was wonderful to connect with you and I cannot wait to get to know you better through social media. And you are right, Jesus is the reason for this season! 

I had the blessing of being paired up with the one man participating in this swap. I sent a gift to Brian from Lil' A Farm. It was a bit of a challenge coming up with gifts to send to a guy, especially since I am crafter and enjoy sending homemade gifts, however it was also a lot of fun. Head on over to his blog and see what I sent him, or head on over to any of the host's pages and checkout all of the fun gifts exchanged across the country this Christmas season.

Thank you to Jamie, Laurie, Lara and Kirby for hosting a fun exchange. I look forward to participating again next year!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Crystal Cattle Beauty Swap

It is finally time for another Crystal Cattle Beauty Swap. Crystal has been hosting these beauty swaps for two years now, and I have participated in all but the first one. Crystal co-hosted this swap with Myla from The Purple Front Door. These swaps are always a lot fun and are a great way to connect with other women from all over the world. I have sent and received beauty packages from several states across the nation including Michigan, Montana, Iowa, South Dakota, Arizona, and also Canada. Through the swapping I have discovered so many fun beauty items, and many I have recommended to others through the swap.

For this swap I was paired up with someone who lives not that far from me. If you were to follow the St. Croix River that my town is located on, about 2 1/2 hours south, you would meet up with the mighty Mississippi and find yourself in Mamie's hometown. Mamie is a busy mom to two little girls, and a wife to her husband of 9 years. She works for the Mayo Clinic, and has small farm where she raises laying hens, sheep and gardens for the farmers markets. Mamie also blogs at Blessings Abound and Rochester Mn Moms Blog, and advocates for agriculture through AgStar's Women In Ag program.

Crystal Cattle 2015

Mamie Sent me some really fun items:

A Jamberry starter kit along with two additional nail sheets, MAYBELLINE Baby Skin Instant Pore Eraser, Bath and Body Works hand sanitizer, Lavanilla Body Butter, Fablash 3D Fiber Mascara Set, a notebook from Thirty-one and a pen from Jamberry, and these are great to toss in my purse.

I have not had the opportunity to try many of these products yet, but the body butter is great for my dry hands. I have tried the Instant Pore Eraser and I love it. It makes my skin feel baby soft, but doesn't add any un-needed greasiness. I am holding off on the Mascara because I recently opened a new tube. I am also really excited to try the Jamberry nail wraps, but am holding off for a trip that I have planned to Washington D.C. next month with CommonGround.

This was a really fun swap, and it was great to connect with another aggie blogger from the area.
To check out what other people received for their swaps check out Crystal Cattle's blog or The Purple Front Door.