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: