Farmers are Hiding the Truth: 5 Reasons Why That’s Wrong

If you have nothing to hide, then why do you have Ag-Gag laws?

If you have nothing to hide, then let the public in to inspect your farm?

If you have nothing to hide….

The thing is, farmers have nothing to hide.

In today’s world farming looks different. We have a lot more technology and things don’t look quite the same as when grandpa did it. One example of this is how we raise animals like pigs and poultry. They are kept in large enclosed barns. The purpose of these enclosed barns is to protect the animals from weather, predators, and diseases. It also allows farmers to provide better care to these animals.

It also tends to “hide” the animals from the public, and many are outraged by this fact. It isn’t that farmers are wanting to hide practices, treatment, or the animals, rather they want to protect them. Unfortunately, many don’t see it like this. There are many statements I have heard over the years by outraged individuals who think farmers have something to hide, but they are wrong. Why? I’m so glad you asked. Here are 5 common statements, and why they are wrong.

1. Biosecurity is just an excuse to prevent the public from seeing the inside of your operation.

It isn’t an excuse. It’s serious business. Ignoring biosecurity will kill hundreds of animals. Biosecurity is the process of preventing diseases from entering a farm. There are many steps taken regarding biosecurity practices. For example, disposable coveralls, hairnets, and boots are often required when visiting a farm. On some farms (those with babies), you even have to shower in and out. Let me tell you, this isn’t done because I think it’s fun,  I do it because I care about the health of the animals. That’s why I will gladly strip all my clothes, hop in a farm shower, and put on oversized coveralls with sopping wet hair to check on and care for those pigs. When a farmer says you can’t come visit because of biosecurity reasons, they are not making excuses. They are protecting their animals. One or two people may not hurt, but if you open the gates it could make a lot of animals sick. If you have a baby, you don’t let everyone and their mother hold it, do you? No. You are careful because you want to protect your child. It is no different on the farm.

dsc_0960
Don’t you just love my marshmallow suit? It is so very fashionable.

2.Ag-Gag laws were created to keep people out and hide things.

Ag-gag laws encourage honesty in employees and protect businesses. These laws are not only poorly named, but they get a bad rap. First of all, the law (in NC at least) covers more than agricultural entities. Nursing homes, daycares, and other businesses are also included. So take out the Ag part. Secondly, they aren’t really gagging anyone. They were put in place to prevent individuals from seeking employment under false pretenses. In other words, you can’t say “hey, I want a job at your turkey farm. I need a job to support myself.” When in reality your motive is “hey I want to get inside your turkey farm, film for months, and then leave.” The law prevents that from happening. It also prevents employees from filming or photographing without the employer’s consent. The thing is, there has been a lot of shady business regarding photos and videos. So many times footage has been edited to make a situation look heinous. The law just helps folks be more honest. So… what if there is abuse on a farm? You report it. As an employee or employer, you need to report immediately. Most larger farms have hotlines available, and employees are trained and encouraged to alert about any abuse. Any good farmer is just as outraged about the abuse of animals as the next person.

3.The public has a right to know what’s going on in those barns.

You’re right. You do have a right to know how your food is raised. We have a duty as farmers to let you know what is going on too. What you do NOT have a right to is waltzing in to a barn and checking it out. You have a right to know how your food is being prepared in a McDonalds, but you don’t just walk to the back and go to inspecting. The same principle applies to a farm. It matters even more on a farm because a lot of times, farm families live right there. You see, a barn is an extension of a home. You don’t go peeping in people’s windows and taking photos without permission at their house, so you shouldn’t do it at their home away from home either. Plain and simple. Finally, a farm is not a petting zoo. So, no you do not have the right to come inspect or pet or play with the animals on a farm. You do have the right to know what is going on though….which brings me to my next point.

4.If what you say is true, then show me a picture or video that isn’t some pretty PR piece.

I’m never sure how to react to this one. Typically, that pretty PR piece referred to is the truth. If you won’t believe the truth, then I don’t know what to tell you. There are so many farmers and organizations that are so transparent with day to day life on the farm because they know farms can’t really have physical visitors, but they can have virtual visitors. What is so frustrating, though are those that refuse to believe what is right in front of them. They only want to look at the negative pictures taken from who knows where. Does abuse happen? Yes, and that makes me sick, but know that most farmers are not that way. Those “PR pieces” are the real deal and are not staged. If I lead you to the water, please drink it.

DSC_0596.jpg

5.If you aren’t hiding anything, then why put the farm way down a dirt path and put the animals in confinement?

The simple answer to this, is we like to be neighborly and to protect our animals. No matter what type of farm it is, it can smell. Farms just smell like, well farms. So, every effort is made to put farms away from people. As for the confinement bit, as has already been stated, the animals need protecting. The larger barns they stay in are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. They are cleaner, encourage better biosecurity, and allow for more individualized care to the animals. It’s not hiding, it’s protecting.

DSC_0275.jpg


Farmers have good reasons for not letting just anyone into their barns. They are not in the entertainment or tourist business. If you have concerns or are just curious, then find a farmer and talk to them. Be respectful and listen to what they have to say. Do farm tours happen? Yes, but a farm’s purpose is to raise animals well…not to give guided tours. Beyond that, there are serious reasons why farmers do not allow the public to come into the farm. Primary reason is to protect the animals. I wish with all my heart the world could experience the life of a farmer, but alas, it cannot be. I promise, though, farmers aren’t hiding. They love their work, and want to share it. Open dialogue coupled with faith and trust goes a long way.

Green Beans–Behind the Scenes

As I was driving home, I noticed a field of what looked like soybeans, being harvested. I was quite confused at the sight (and the leaves all over the road) because soybeans aren’t harvested when they are green. Dad noticed the field too and stopped to investigate. He determined that they were green beans!

DSC_0855

When I learned this, I grabbed my camera and asked Mom to drive. My plan was to just take pictures out the window, but there were workers standing right by the road. I quickly put the camera away to avoid being super awkward. Mom suggested that I should just go up to them and ask to take pictures. First of all, I was in purple stretchy shorts. Second, I had chicken shoes on (yard shoes with chickens on them and maybe even chicken poop). Unfortunately, Mom, in all her motherly wisdom, decided that I should go home to change. Now, I had absolutely no excuse.

I changed my shorts, but left the shoes (I was feeling bold). I asked Alec to go with me this time. I’m not sure that was the greatest idea because he was absolutely no nonsense about it all. All of a sudden, we were parked on the side of the road, and he was out of the truck telling me to come on. He walked up to the men, and said, “hey, my sister likes to take pictures, do you mind?” That was not the eloquent introduction I was going for, but it was something. I introduced myself and started shooting.

DSC_0916

After talking to the guys there, I learned that they were from Pennsylvania and were with Hanover Foods. They had been working their way up from Florida picking beans on contract. This allowed for a longer growing season.

DSC_0868

DSC_0880

The current field they were working on was 147 acres, and they would harvest 41 million pounds of beans.

DSC_0899

The neat part was we have bought Hanover green beans before from the store. Now, I know that someone had to grow those beans that I got from a can, but actually putting a face to the name and seeing the process was pretty special. I hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look too. Special thanks to the guys for letting me take pictures and answering questions.

DSC_0917DSC_0895

DSC_0903DSC_0896DSC_0859DSC_0861DSC_0854DSC_0853DSC_0905DSC_0923DSC_0922DSC_0897DSC_0887DSC_0876

Does FFA Impact Lives…Just Ask

Recently an article was released from PETA that was beyond negative about the FFA. While I will not be linking the article here (I have no desire to increase its views and I do my best to only include truthful things in my blog), I can tell you it was not a fun read.

According to this article, FFA only promotes youth to murder, abuse, and unethical principles towards animals. My first thought was “goodness gracious! Way to turn the colors of National Blue and Corn Gold into a horror movie.”

My second thought was, “how sad is it that with all of the negativity in this world, with all of the negative influences affecting our youth, with all of the school shootings, bullying, and drugs, someone would attack an organization that makes a positive impact in our youth? How does this happen?”

While I have a thousand arguments that I could throw out there about how wrong the article was, I don’t want to go down that road. You see, this goes beyond a typical agriculture versus animal activist argument. This is about youth…our future. The author of the PETA article, well, they missed it. They ran into the situation, guns of assaults blazing like a bull in a china shop, but they missed it. While trying to make some sort of impact of their own, they missed the impact that FFA has on thousands of youth –629, 327 students to be exact, and that does not include alumni.

What kind of impact does FFA make on youth? All you have to do is ask, and that is what I did. I asked several FFA members how FFA had impacted their lives and to share their favorite photo. This is what I got:

“The FFA has impacted me in so many ways! It has given me a way to connect with people all over the nation as well  develop my leadership and personal skills. It has given me a deeper understanding of agriculture and its importance, not only to me, but to every single person on the earth. Without FFA, I can truly say that I wouldn’t be the person that I am today.” -Shelby Bireley, 2015-2016 NC FFA State President

12583830_1052586404794202_1951350823_n
Shelby’s favorite picture is the very first one taken as the NC State Officer team.

FFA has not only impacted my life, but it’s truly changed it forever. FFA has inspired me to devote my life to service and become an agricultural education teacher. FFA is far from your average club; I’ve been in quite a few clubs, and while they are great, none have influenced my life like FFA has and will continue to do. I have been in FFA since I have been in the 7th grade. Since then I have served in multiple offices (Treasurer, Vice-president, and Tobacco Federation President) and competed in several career development events including Parliamentary Procedure, Extemporaneous speaking, Agricultural Sales, Livestock judging and many more events. But nothing has meant more than the friends I’ve made through this amazing experience and the mentors I’ve had established through this life changing experience. FFA is the best experience you can have as a high-schooler, because it not only builds you as a leader, it gives you opportunity to influence and change people’s lives. That is what FFA has done for me and millions of people that have been in it. It has been one of the biggest blessings God has so greatly blessed me with.” -Alan Johnson, Spring Creek Chapter Vice President and Tobacco Federation President.

12636926_932374306861741_594783618_o
Washington Leadership Conference selfie is one of Alan’s favorite photos

“FFA opened doors that I never thought possible. The Blue Jacket provided a network of friends and family that has accelerated my life and passion for agriculture. FFA gave me a place to belong and instilled in me a love of life and passion for service. I am forever grateful to FFA, my adviser and my fellow members for their impact on me.”- John Stewart, 2011-2012 NC State FFA President

 

12596494_1133203200025531_472591230_n
John’s favorite picture exudes joy!

 

 

FFA has shaped me into the person I am today! When I was no longer able to play contact sports because of concussions, FFA provided me everything contact sports did plus more. It gave me the chance to take the drive and passion I put into my sports and put them into FFA. I plan to run for a State FFA officer position, to attend an agriculture college, to pursue a career in agriculture, and give back to the organization that has shaped me into who I am today and aspire to be in the future! I have learned from FFA through the Classroom, Career Development Events, and my Supervised Agricultural Experiment.” -Trey Palmer, Orange FFA Chapter President

12625956_449535591918166_428311542_n
Trey, second from left receiving his state degree.
12632973_449535598584832_1975478144_o
National Convention

“Long story short, FFA made me who I am today. There were about six years where FFA was a majority of my life. To me, it’s more than a club. It is family, passion, faith, and tradition. I have met a lot of my closest friends through my experiences with FFA. I also explain to people that this organization took a young, (for the most part) shy, young boy and made me into a young leader in the agricultural industry who strives to do his best and encourages others to do the same. FFA has taken me to South Africa and Costa Rica, not to mention all over the United States. I have made friends all across the nation through FFA and feel like I could call a good majority of them up if I ever needed anything. We say that the three pillars of FFA are premier leadership, personal growth, and career success. Yes, that is why we do what we do: to develop young people into leaders who have a passion and purpose in life. However, to me, FFA is something I will take with me throughout the rest of my life. Some of my greatest triumphs, as well as greatest defeats have been through experiences in FFA.” -Bradley Glover, 2013-2014 NC State FFA Vice President

 

1239189_10201470183869452_324305863_o
Bradley was able to meet a lot of people through FFA including NC Secretary of Agriculture, Steve Troxler

Bradley went on to express his thoughts on the article from PETA…

“In response to the article written by PETA, if the writer was once an FFA member, they never got the idea of it fully. They missed the whole purpose. Those CDE’s and other opportunities mentioned do not exist to promote unethical treatment of any living being. Instead, they are aspects of the agricultural industry. The National FFA Organization has set out to make its members successful in agriculture, or any industry in which they choose to work, as well as promoting that they grow as a person each and every day to make this world a better place. A major aspect of this organization that many people often forget is service. FFA members are constantly giving back to their communities. I am proud to be an FFA Alumni and will always stand with the agriculture industry. We are not perfect, but we are always trying to be better.” -BG

Untitled-1

Of course, these testimonies of how the FFA has made an impact are just a drop in the bucket. FFA is something positive for our youth. Agriculture aside, it develops skills, connections, and life lessons that can be used in any scenario. I’ve seen it make an impact time and time again. Unfortunately, some people don’t see that, but that is where you come in. PETA told an FFA story, and it was dead wrong (no pun intended). Now it’s your turn. How has FFA impacted your life? Share your story, and let your voice be heard in the comments section. Let’s fill it up with all of the ways that FFA helps build our future…our youth.

So, my challenge to you is, A) don’t share the PETA article. It only gives them more attention and traction. B) Try not to get too angry. Anger shuts people down. C) share your excitement and passion! Let your voice be heard. You can start now, by commenting how FFA has impacted your life. Ready, set, go!

 

 

Southern Snow

Although yesterday was the first day of winter, here in North Carolina, it is a balmy 70 degrees and super wet(Santa, you might want to bring your swim suit). I have never seen a white Christmas. Well, there was that one time it snowed the day after Christmas, so I counted it, but still.

There are places here in the South where fields of white can be seen. I’m talking about cotton. It is a southern snow if you will, and it is beautiful.

12

Not only is it beautiful, but it is also pretty important to America. Cotton is the number one value-added crop in America, bringing in $5.3 billion just at the farm level and more than $120 billion in annual business revenue.

13

14

Cotton isn’t just about the fibers. All parts of the plants are used. The seeds are processed into oil, meal, or hulls. Oil is often used in shortening and salad dressing. Meal and hulls are a great protein feed for livestock.

2

America’s currency is 75% cotton.

DSC_0096

One  bale of cotton weighs about 480 pounds.

10

Weather affects the quality of the cotton. If the bolls (the balls of cotton) have opened and are rained on before they can be picked, the cotton sprouts and reduces the quality of the lint.

11

16

Cotton quality is determined by taking a sample from the bale where color, cleanliness, staple length (length of fibers), and strength are analyzed.

89

Thomas Edison used cotton fibers for filaments in his first light bulb.

13

14

America is the third largest grower of cotton, and Texas is the top state.

6

5

Eli Whitney’s cotton gin invention changed the face of cotton forever. It was able to process cotton 10 times faster than by hand.

43

Cotton is truly the snow of the South. I must say I’m partial to it over the real deal. Actual snow wreaks havoc. Everyone freaks out a bit, roads are on gridlock, schools close, and bread and milk fly off of the shelves. Not to mention, here on the farm, it gets to be a mucky mess. So, now that it is officially winter, I will not complain about my balmy weather (however I would appreciate a lot less water), and will embrace the snow of the South…cotton.

7

cotton

 


Sources:

Cotton Campus

National Cotton Council of America

 

Is Turkey Trending?

Turkey. It is a hot topic right now. You could even say its trending. People are trying to decide how big of a one to cook, how they should cook it, or should they even cook one at all. The President will pardon one lucky bird from doing his duty of becoming a meal. As of right now, the word turkey is trending with 620 thousand tweets, but the thing is, turkey was trending long before Twitter was even thought of.

History

In the beginning, the turkey was regarded as a god by the Aztecs and had two celebrations for the mighty turkey. It has fallen a little bit in esteem in today’s time. The Spanish were the first non-natives to discover turkeys.  They described them as a sort of peacock with great hanging chins. It would take years for the name turkey to stick to the bird. Because of Columbus and his mistake in geography, the birds were called anything from the rooster of India, the Peru bird, Lebanese bird, and the Ethiopian bird. The word turkey probably came from the Turkish merchants who knew of them or from the Indians that called them tukka, tukka because of the way they sounded.

The Aztecs weren’t the only ones to hold the turkey in high esteem. Benjamin Franklin,  thought the bird was of good moral, calling it a Bird of Courage. You may have heard that Franklin wanted to make the turkey our national bird; however, there is some dispute about that fact. In a letter to his daughter, he says that the eagle on the seal looks like a turkey. He went on to say that this was better as the eagle was not of good moral compared to the courageous turkey. Even if the turkey did not rise to be an emblem of America, it has certainly become iconic on at least one day of the year–Thanksgiving.

The Modern Turkey

turkeyToday’s domesticated turkey is much different than the ones that the Indians and explorers saw. Wild turkeys are brown and can fly, but domesticated turkeys (the ones in your supermarket) are white and cannot fly. The domesticated turkey is about twice the size of a wild turkey, explaining its flightless state. Domesticated turkeys have been bred to have white plumage so it does not discolor the meat. Wild turkeys need their brown plumage to blend in to their surroundings; they are also a lot quieter than their domestic cousins. That is probably a good thing so they don’t get eaten by predators. There are other heritage breeds of turkeys that come in gray, black and white, and red too.

Source:http://www.wideopenspaces.com/turkey-slam-pics/

Turkey Production Facts

turkey graph

  • Turkey production has increased 110% since 1970
  • In 2014, there were 237.5 million turkeys grown by farmers
  • North Carolina is the 2nd largest producer of turkeys behind Minnesota
  • The average person ate 15.8 pounds of turkey in 2014
  • Consumers turkey consumption has doubled in the last 30 years
  • 20,000-25,000 people are employed in America to help grow turkeys.

Turkey Trends

Cage Free: If you see this on a label, know that all turkeys are raised cage free. Domesticated turkeys are grown in large barns with free choice of water, plenty of feed, and shelter from the elements.

Hormone Free: Under federal law, it is illegal for any poultry to receive hormones. If you see this label, read the fine print. It will tell you that it is against the law. Don’t pay extra for a label.

Avian Influenza: This has been a major issue across America this year, claiming more than 40 million turkeys and chickens. While devastating for farmers and birds, it poses little threat to humans. No cases have been reported in American humans. It may pose a slight threat to your wallet, though. Turkey prices are around 15-20 cents higher than last year.

Thanksgiving Turkey

  • 88% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving
  • 46 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving
  • The average turkey bought for Thanksgiving weighs 16 pounds
  • 70% of the turkey is white meat and 30% is dark

The turkey has certainly proven itself as a bird worthy of esteem. It was trending hundreds of years ago, and it is still trending today. So, gobble up that gobbler and Happy Thanksgiving!

trending turkey


Sources:

National Turkey Federation

North Carolina Poultry Federation

Colonial Williamsburg

University of Illinois

The Smithsonian

PBS

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

USDA

The Poultry Site

An Endangered Species: The Farm Family–You Can Help!

Coming across a petition for or against something happens about as often as gas prices change. OK, maybe not quite that much, but they do pop up quite often. Some petitions seem rather silly or only matter to a select few, but there are those certain petitions that can make an impact on many lives. They have the potential to make a difference and they matter to more than just a few individuals. I’m not talking about the petition I saw regarding Bojangles’ Cheddar Bo Biscuits and their goal of making sure every Bojangles establishment sells the cheesy goodness (although, it is a good thing to petition for). The petition I have in mind that is worth taking time to sign is the Protect North Carolina Farm Families. If you like to dine on swine, then you should definitely sign!

swine and dine

What is the petition about?

This petition has been created as a result of a large amount of attacks on the swine industry for many years.The industry has been put in a poor light by bad press, activist groups, and lawsuits regarding animal welfare and the environment (read about the latest major attack here). The petition’s goal is to bring attention to the good that the industry provides (such as jobs and the economy) and highlight the families behind the farms. The goal is to get 10,000 signatures by June to send to Governor Pat McCrory.

Why is this petition and movement so important?

Sadly, there are groups that have not only stirred up trouble regarding the hog industry, but they have also caused a lot of grief and harm. Not only have they had rallies in Raleigh and put up billboard campaigns, but they have filed countless lawsuits, against both larger and smaller farms, most of which are family owned. There have been cases of bankruptcy and the loss of those farms. Even within the larger companies, individuals are being singled out for lawsuits causing a lot of stress and burdens. At times, the only thing these families are guilty of is owning a farm. While there may be cases of neglect and poor management, the majority of cases do not involve this. Almost always, farmers try to negotiate and mediate with these groups to reach an understanding or agreement; however, it is often that this does no good.

With all that being said, farmers are your neighbors. They are your friends. They are the people you go to church with or see at your kid’s baseball game. Farmers are families, trying to make a living like anyone else. Not only are they families like yours, but they have a passion for what they do. They work hard to create a quality product for you. The life of a farmer is unpredictable, with unforgiving weather, disease outbreaks, and property damages. Add to this unpredictability, the potential for groups to sue them. It is often a scary world for farmers.

By  signing this petition, you are not only showing your support of farmers, but you are helping families–moms and dads, kids, grandparents. You will also be helping your own family. Showing support for farmers and the job that they do, helps ensure an affordable product for you. What is that product, you ask?  Bacon, pork chops, sausage, and ham. It isn’t just the delicious products that complete your breakfast meal, it is also everyday products you may not realize are made possible by pigs. Do you like s’mores? Marshmallows are made possible by pigs. How about the Superbowl? They are throwing a pigskin football. If that doesn’t get you, there is also insulin, soap, crayons, just to name a few. The point is, that if you sign this petition you are helping to keep products like these affordable for your family. It is a win-win situation. More than one family wins. Signing this petition is important, and your voice matters. The goal is 10,000. Make sure you are among those marks.

I don’t support hog farming practices, so I shouldn’t sign this petition

While I would encourage you to do as much research as possible about hog farming practices, I understand that you may simply just not agree with them. By signing this petition, you are not really supporting those practices, but rather, you are supporting FAMILIES and their livelihood. I don’t know of many who would disagree with that cause. Not only are you supporting families, but you are joining a community. In this community, you can have conversations and learn. Please, do not get hung up on the fact that you may not support certain practices. Look at the larger scope and support your fellow human, join a conversation, and be willing to learn. Perhaps we may learn a thing or two from you. I would ask, that if your mind is closed, to please open your heart up to a family much like your own.

collage pigs

I don’t have the time

I promise you that you have time. It takes less than 5 minutes. Click on this link and SIGN! It is just that simple. It took you longer to read this post than it would to sign it.

I want to do more than sign!

Great! You can become a sponsor for the initiative. Your logo will be featured on the site. You can also do something as simple as sharing this petition as much as possible. Get your family and friends to sign. Tell your farming story. Tell your friend’s farming story. Share your support for NC farm families in any way you can, whether that is a bumper sticker, word of mouth, or through Facebook. Know that every little thing counts.

Whatever your stance is, wherever you are from, please be sure to sign the petition to support NC Farm Families. It takes less than 5 minutes and is a worthy cause. Farm families are already an endangered species with less than 2% of the population accounting for farm families. With recent attacks, some may not survive. If you like bacon and you like to dine on swine, then please SIGN! If you aren’t a bacon fan, that’s fine. Have a heart, take part and support local families. Thank you in advance! Your support means the world!

 

 

What You Aren’t Being Told About “Hog Farm Pollution”

If you drive down many Eastern North Carolina roads, you may see a billboard that looks like this:

Raise A Stink

They are doing just what they say–raising a stink, but it is a stench much worse than any pig poop could possibly smell. These billboards are part of a campaign started by the Waterkeeper Alliance organization to blame hog farmers for polluting local waterways. Although their aim is to make a positive difference in the community, this organization is causing harm, defaming an industry, and do not have their facts straight.

It is important that not just the other side of the story is told, but that facts are put out there, so that the public can be informed. Pollution is a serious issue that should not be taken lightly; however, there are a few things that the Waterkeeper Alliance isn’t telling you–things you should know to get the whole picture.

Who is the Waterkeeper Alliance?

The Waterkeeper Alliance organization is an international group represented by 240 local groups on 6 continents. They are environmentalists who focus on maintaining and promoting clean waterways. They have been active in campaigns against dairy farmers in New York and hog farmers in North Carolina along with various other campaigns. Last year (2014), they, along with their local subsidiary, The Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation filed an intent to sue against a NC farm, that gave the farm 90 days to complete a list of demands or else the organization would file suit against the farm. Although the farm worked with the organization to meet demands, the Waterkeeper Alliance has launched the billboard campaign against all NC hog farmers.

What claims have been made by the Waterkeper Alliance?

The Waterkeeper Alliance makes many claims that can be found on their website. Here are a few to note:

  • Waterkeeper Alliance seeks to expose the fact that foreign-owned corporations are reaping the profits made possible by the antiquated lagoon and sprayfield system of hog waste disposal, while placing an unfair burden on local contract growers.
  • Many people “are unaware of how much environmental damage and human pain and suffering these industrial swine operations are inflicting on people and their environment,” Rick Dove, North Carolina CAFO manager for Waterkeeper Alliance
  • “For too long, factory farms in North Carolina have been disproportionately located in minority communities where residents are forced to endure the smell, water quality impacts and the embarrassment associated with the facilities operating near their homes. Through this campaign and multiple other fronts, we’re working toward the day when people living near these operations are granted their right to swimmable, drinkable and fishable waterways,” Marc Yaggi, executive director at Waterkeeper Alliance
  • “Using so-called lagoons and sprayfields to dispose of hog waste is an outhouse method that must be replaced. A number of systems that will do away with lagoons and sprayfields have been tested and approved for implementation. It is time to put an end to this problem and the best place to start is by educating the public about what is happening to their water, air and communities.” Rick Dove,North Carolina CAFO manager for Waterkeeper Alliance

There is a lot packed into these claims, so let’s dissect them and look at what the hog farm scene looks like.

Hog Farm Fast Facts:

  • First, let’s make sure we don’t call large hog farms factories. Even though they are on a much larger scale, they are still a farm, and should be called as such. The majority of these farms are still family operated too.
  • The hog farming chain can be a little confusing with its many parts. Here is a chart that will hopefully help.pig integrator
  • North Carolina is the second largest producer of hogs in the U.S. and contributes $2.9 billion to the economy
  • Large hog farms keep pig waste in large pits called lagoons.
  • No new lagoons are allowed to be built
  • Hog waste is used as fertilizer for crops.

What are the Waterkeeper Alliance not telling you?

The Waterkeeper Alliance makes it sound like pig farmers have absolutely no concern for the environment, and they are irresponsible with the waste from the farms. This is the farthest from the truth. Farmers are some of the most avid hunters and fishermen out there. Why would they want to pollute the very waters that provide that recreation? In addition, many of their families live within the vicinity of these farms. Would farmers purposely pollute and cause damage to their own family? I don’t think so.

Even if farmers didn’t care (which they most certainly do) they are required by law to adhere to strict regulations as to when, where, and how they can deposit and manage the waste in the hog lagoons. These regulations are put in place by the Department of Water Quality and are monitored throughout the year. Hog waste is never allowed to be dumped into waterways; however, human waste is permitted to be dumped in the rivers once it has been treated. Although the majority of pollutants have been removed from the waste, the volume put in streams is still high and the pollutant mass can still be high in streams (NCSU).

The Waterkeeper Alliance demands a waste water treatment facility to deal with the hog waste in a more environmentally friendly way; however, human waste water treatment facilities are not perfect either. According to the EPA, there are over 22,000- 75,000 sanitary sewer overflows (SSO’s) that occur each year due to blockages, line breaks, sewer defects that allow storm water and groundwater to overload the system, lapses in sewer system operation and maintenance, power failures, inadequate sewer design and vandalism. The only thing a hog waste water treatment facility is going to do is cost the pork industry millions of dollars, driving the cost of bacon and porkchops through the roof. According to Feeding America, North Carolina is ranked in the top 10 states for food insecurity, and higher pork prices will only drive food insecurity up.

The Waterkeeper Alliance draws on various studies that show the effect of hog farms and hog waste on the surrounding community; however, these studies often show inconclusive data and rely on speculation. Yet, the Waterkeeper Alliance states them as fact. Beyond any of this, though, are the facts that they are hiding about the regulations that hog farmers have to abide by:

  • Lagoons are required to have substantial grass planted around its banks to prevent erosion.
  • Crops meant for direct human consumption, are not allowed to have hog waste sprayed on them as fertilizer.
  • Lagoons must be kept under a certain level at all times to prevent overflows into waterways.
  • Rain is stressful to a hog farmer as it increases the levels of the lagoons and soaks the fields to where they cannot be sprayed on. With no where for the rising lagoon water to be sprayed, hog farmers often times have to hire tanks to haul it away. They have even flown men in from other states to help in the effort of managing the lagoons during a heavy rain season.
  • Hog farmers have to take lagoon samples of the waste to make sure the nitrogen and phosphorus levels are appropriate within 30 days of spraying on fields.
  • If hog farmers know a neighbor is having a party or an outdoor function, they try not to spray as to disturb them.
  • The majority of farms are off of a dirt path away from most homes. By law, they must be 1,500 feet from a residence and 2,500 feet from a school, church, hospital, or park.
  • Farms are inspected twice a year by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). According to the NC Pork Council, during 2000, 98% of the 6,000 inspections of NC’s 2,500 hog farms were found to have no direct discharges of organic waste water to the surface waters of the state and 94% found no signs of over-application to fields.
  • If there happens to be a hog waste spill in the rivers, the farm is required to report it and could be fined.
  • Spills are typically caused by equipment malfunctions.

The organization claims that there are better innovative ways to deal with hog waste out there, but hog farms are stuck on the antiquated ways of spraying on fields. Many hog farms are collaborating with scientists and innovators on various ways to improve hog waste management. Many of these innovations are in a trial period or are so expensive that the cost outweighs any benefit. The goal is to provide affordable pork to the public and  do so in an ethical manner. Farmers are being ethical and careful in how they manage hog waste.

The Waterkeeper Alliance may also tell you that the Neuse is one of the most polluted rivers and fish are at an all time low; however, the Neuse River basin does not boast the most amount of hog farms. The Caper Fear River Basin has the most hog farms. If hog farms were the cause of the river pollution, then why is the river basin with the most concentrated hog farms, not the most polluted? It doesn’t add up.

Cape Fear
http://scorecard.goodguide.com/env-releases/aw/nc-riverbasin.tcl?image_id=030300&huc6=030300

What Now?

While the Waterkeeper Alliance is not calling for an end to large pig farms, they are saying some nasty things that does not tell the whole story by any means. It is ok for them or anyone to ask questions and even challenge certain practices. It is important that hog farmers look at ways to constantly improve, but the current billboard campaign does not ask questions and challenges in an unhealthy manner. The Waterkeepr Alliance is suggesting that hog farmers are unethical in their environmental practices, but the Waterkeepr Alliance is not being ethical in their efforts by defaming an industry, causing the potential for increased pork prices, and not telling the whole story.

If you see these billboards remember that there is another side to those signs. They look something like this:

billboars

Bringing Palm Sunday to Life– Taking a Donkey Inside the Church

When they brought the colt [donkey] to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.  Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Mark 11:7-10


Today, for this Palm Sunday, I was able to witness and take part in making these words come alive.

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by First Presbyterian Church for a special request. They wanted to know if I would be willing to bring my donkey to the Palm Sunday service. I had done this once before for another church several years ago, and really enjoyed it, so of course, I said yes! We worked out the details, and April and I were set to go to church.

Yesterday, I caught April and washed her. She was none too pleased at being wet. I must admit, it was a little nippy. aprilShe did enjoy the scrubbing part, though. I made sure to hit all of her itchy spots.  After getting all of the hay and dirt out of her coat, I tied her up to dry. Her friends, (Mirage, her grown daughter, and Firefly, our little rescue pony) lined the fence to watch what all was going on. Every now and again, April would stomp her feet in protest at the indignity she was enduring. Don’t let her fool you completely; she got treats galore. I locked her up in a stall for the night, so she wouldn’t get dirty.

wash

The next morning was showtime. Garrett graciously agreed to drive down to be my chauffeur and assistant (he’s a great boyfriend). I was a bit nervous for the day, to be honest. I didn’t doubt that April would behave, but at the same time, she is an animal, and they have a mind of their own. I was just praying she wouldn’t relieve herself inside the church. Yes, April would be going inside the church–in the sanctuary. Now you see why I was a bit nervous (even though, the last time she held her bowels).

Upon arriving, Garrett and I met with various members of the church. They made us feel right at ease and were incredibly enthusiastic about us being there. That made me even more excited and definitely less nervous. They handed me a Biblical costume and asked Garrett if he wanted to dress up too. Garrett, being Garrett, is always up for anything. Amazingly, they found a costume that went below his knees (he is 6’7″ tall). After getting dressed, we walked through the route that we would be leading April down. She would walk up a ramp, through some doors, into the sanctuary, down the aisle and back out. Simple enough.

Garrett and I went outside to take April for a walk to get the jitters out of her. She let out one bray to announce her presence, but was very quiet otherwise. We slipped her carrots here and there for reassurance. I think she thought it was worth it for the orange sticks.

donkey and g and m

Soon, it was time for her grand entrance. I walked her in the doors to a foyer area. Inside were a lot of excited children dressed up, holding palm branches. April took it all in. She wasn’t entirely sure about the slick marble flooring, but didn’t make a big deal out of it, especially with carrots on her mind. Garrett stood behind her and slipped me carrots to give her. Music began to play, and our cue for entering began. We followed Rev. Leigh down the aisle as she laid palm branches as she went. April made me tug a little bit to get her in the large room filled with people, but soon pranced on. She cracked me up in regards to the palm branches. She dodged every single one, weaving in out of them, avoiding stepping on them. Who knew she would prefer red carpet over green leafy stuff.

The children filed in behind us and went to their places at the front of the church. April and I stood in front of them so parents could get a few pictures. One little girl came over to love on April while everyone was singing. When the song ended, Garrett, April and I walked back out the way we came. I breathed out a sigh of relief that I hadn’t needed to use the shovel in the trailer. No poop today. Hurrah!! We put April back in the trailer and slipped back in the church to hear the lovely sermon and the kids sing. It was really nice, and the sermon went perfectly with the presence of the donkey and it being Palm Sunday.

After the service, we took April back out so everyone could meet her. I could not ask for a more patient donkey. She was surrounded on all sides by people and a multitude of hands touching her at one time. She just stood there, looking left and looking right. Even when her tail got grabbed, she only took one step forward. She really was perfect.

palm

kids and donkey

I was so glad the day turned out to be such a success. I had faith in April (otherwise I wouldn’t have brought her) but she being an animal, you never know. I was most worried about stinky accidents. All went well, and she smelled nice from her bath. She made a lot of people smile, and made a timeless and poignant story come to life. She even got a few carrots out of the deal.

palm sun

I think one of the things that resound with people most is the presence of the cross on April’s back. Legend says that the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday, loved him so much that the little donkey followed Jesus to Calvary. Filled with grief at the suffering of his Lord on the cross, the donkey turned to leave, but could not. It was in that moment that the shadow of the cross fell upon the donkey’s back. Ever since then, donkeys have borne the mark of the cross as a reminder to us all what Jesus did for us on that day–died so that we may go to heaven. April, like many other donkeys, share this same symbol of love.

I hope you all had a wonderful Palm Sunday; however, I’m not sure it could get much better than mine. I am so grateful for the folks at First Presbyterian for making us feel welcome and exhibiting such excitement. I am glad I got to be a part of such a special day.

pa

I hope you remember the legend of the donkey, especially as Easter approaches.

Best,

Marisa

 

 

We shouldn’t have to have Ag Awareness Weeks–Living in an ag illiterate society

This week was Ag Awareness Week at school (NC State University). In the common area of the brickyard, where a lot of students congregate, were booths and displays set up spreading awareness about agriculture. There were live animals, tractors, and ag students available to answer questions. It thrills me that this event takes place. What a great way to educate and advocate for agriculture!

Photo by Terri Leith http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/agcomm/news-center/perspectives/panelists-talk-sustainable-agriculture-at-ag-awareness-week-forum/

 

But, I have an issue with Ag Awareness Week. There shouldn’t be a need for awareness about ag. Let me say that again. There should NOT be a need for ag awareness. Sure, less than 2 % of the population are farmers, but those are not the only ones who should know about ag.

Why is it that in today’s society, school systems require kids to take mandatory classes in English, math, science, art, and history, but not agriculture when they partake in it 3 times a day at the table? Elementary and beyond, even in universities, agriculture is not among the forefront subjects of education. This is truly bizarre to me if you consider the prevalence that agriculture plays in our day to day lives, community, and economy. Think about this:

  • Food, regardless of type, is needed for human survival. That food comes from some type of agriculture (large or small).
  • America’s net farm income for last year, 2014, was $108 billion. (source)
  • 22 million people work in agriculture related fields. (source)
  • There are over 200 available careers in the agriculture industry. (source)

Aside from the fact that food comes into play in our day to day lives, the influence that agriculture has on our economy and the job market is pretty astounding, and yet, we are not doing a sufficient job in our education system of educating our kids about these opportunities nor its impact. We are failing our kids in the ag literacy front. They may be able to read, but they can’t read ag.

Yeah, sure, schools have classes available for students to take about agriculture. We have ag teachers in schools and whole ag degrees in college, but it is optional for kids. English, math, history, art, and science all have special teachers for their respective subjects, and you can major in them in college, but they are also mandatory at some level in our kids’ education. The previous subjects like math and English are so valuable to a child’s proper education because they will utilize most of it on a day to day basis. So, why, if agriculture is enjoyed at least 3 times a day, is it not mandatory for a child to learn about where their food comes from and how it is made? In my opinion, this is a serious oversight and tragedy that our society is experiencing.

kids

Because so many students go through elementary school, middle school, high school, and even college without gaining much of an understanding about the agriculture industry, they are missing out on valuable job opportunities, career paths, and the foundations of making educated decisions about what they eat. They never go through life appreciating what farmers do to feed a growing population. People grow up either not thinking about where the food they are consuming comes from, or developing misconceptions about farming in their heads. If and when they are finally exposed to real agriculture and farming, they are often shocked, and this has led to a lot of controversy.

Even worse, is that it is a cycle. Adults are ag illiterate and do not understand it, and then go and pass that on to their children a lot of the time. I have helped with Farm Animal Days in the past and observed mothers tell their kids to look at the puppy I was holding. In reality, I was holding a baby goat. The sad truth was they didn’t know the difference even with a college degree. Potentially more heartbreaking, was watching parents snatch their children’s hands from touching some animals or even dirt, to prevent germs. Animals can get pretty gross sometimes, but they aren’t toxic. I have had an individual in a restaurant ask what I had in the trailer in the parking lot. When we told her it was a pig, she wanted to know if it was big or small. We said it was a smaller pig, weighing around 230 pounds or so. This was a shock to her. People don’t realize pigs get twice that size.

My point in all this is that our society is generally illiterate. I’m not talking about the kind where you can’t read. I’m talking about the kind where you can’t read an anti-farming article and be able to pick out some of the discrepancies. I’m talking about the kind of illiterate that cannot distinguish a goat from a puppy or know how big a pig can get. An illiteracy that does not realize what contributions agriculture makes on the economy and the job market, and that there are opportunities besides being a farmer that are available in the agriculture industry. Beyond even that, many kids are missing out on valuable character building that farming provides such as responsibility, hard work, and ethics. This isn’t to say they don’t receive these character building traits from other places, but farming provides another avenue for it.

Because of this illiteracy, we are forced to hold Ag Awareness Week and recognize Ag Day that promotes more ag literacy. Guys, we shouldn’t have to have these special weeks and days to create awareness. It should already be there. Education should recognize agriculture as a subject that holds equal importance to art, math, science, and English. After all, everyone needs food. Until that happens, though, I say rock on to Ag Awareness Week. Keep up the good fight in educating, and maybe one day, we will live in an ag literate society.

ag literacy

My Agriculture (Throwback to Ag Day 2013)

This is a post from my old blog I wrote 2 years ago. I hope you celebrate agriculture today and everyday.

Today is National Agriculture Day. It is a time to celebrate agriculture all over the nation and bring attention to its many great qualities. Agriculture benefits all of us and is such an important entity in our country and world. Here are a few quick facts that show how beneficial it is and how astounding the industry is:

  • On average, every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, around $6 million in U.S. agricultural products–grains, oilseeds, cotton, meats, vegetables, snack foods, etc., will be consigned for shipment for export to foreign markets.
  • It all means more jobs and higher wages across the nation. U.S. agricultural exports generate more than $100 billion annually in business activity throughout the U.S. economy and provide jobs for nearly 1 million workers.
  • Twenty two million American workers produce, process, sell and trade the nation’s food and fiber. But only 4.6 million of those people live on the farms– slightly less than 2 percent of the total U.S. Population.
  • Consumers spend $547 billion for food originating on U.S. farms and ranches. Of each dollar spent on food, the farmer’s share is approximately 23 cents. The rest are for costs beyond the farm gate: wages and materials for production, processing, marketing, transportation and distribution.

These are astounding facts. Most of us have seen the Super Bowl commercial “And God Made a Farmer”, which gives insight into the world of those who work in the industry. For me, though, agriculture is much more personal than having food on my table. It has been a part of my entire life and has instilled in me so many qualities. You see, for me, it is not just about the product and the benefits for the country, but about how agriculture has shaped my life.

I can say that agriculture has been in the family for generations. My grandpa and great grandpa were crop farmers, and we now live on the same land they farmed. Mom helped with tobacco and had livestock growing up, and Daddy worked on a turkey farm. When I was little, I can remember Daddy bringing home an orphan calf for a day just so I could see it. I would go to work with him and bottle feed a calf or slide down the piles of cotton. Poor him didn’t know what to do with a 3 year old little girl who needed to use the bathroom on the dirt roads of the middle of no where, though. Anyways, this was images of my early years; however, we lived in city limits and couldn’t have any livestock and only had a vegetable garden and dogs. In my 4th grade year, though, my life would change for the amazing.

We moved out to the family land that was across the road from my grandparents. Within the first year, we had gotten 4 goats and started showing them. That was a start of a passion and journey. Those 4 goats grew into a herd of 30 that I learned to manage myself, eventually. I learned how to trim hooves, give shots, birth babies, feed, recognize disease, and so much more. At 9 years old, I learned what it was to get my hands dirty and developed a passion for agriculture. I was always trying to increase my knowledge and animal count (let’s be honest).  Goats were not the only thing I got into. I was soon showing pigs, turkeys, and horses from local to state. It was always a family affair going to fairs and shows. Agriculture has created a closer bond with my family. There have been countless dinner conversations about when to wean goats, how much weight the pigs can gain, and if we need more feed (we are always needing feed). My little brothers have started an egg business, now, and I have gotten into sheep and using their fiber. Make It With Wool allowed me to travel nationally and share my love of part of the agriculture world– sheep and wool.

It wasn’t just good things on the farm. Having livestock is hard. Goats getting out, fixing fences, mucking stalls, and feeding in the rain and mud were the less glamorous part of it all. It was also, though, seeing animals get sick, babies not make it till morning, and the disappointment in all your efforts, still not being enough. It isn’t all glitz and glam. It can be hard, but it so worth it. Walking into the show ring, seeing babies being born, or watching the animals get frisky in good weather makes you smile.

Agriculture has gone beyond the farm for me, though; it is also been in contests such as livestock judging, skillathon, and quiz bowl. Doing these contests through 4-H has increased my knowledge, allowed me to meet people, travel, become a good sport, and public speak.

That all being said, and there is so much more that could be said, agriculture has been a huge part of my life. It has taught me hard work, responsibility, public speaking skills, good sportsmanship, and so very much more. I have become closer to my family and met some wonderful friends. Agriculture puts food on the table, helps the economy, and provides jobs, but it has also benefited me in more ways than I can count. It is a part of me and will be in the future. Hopefully I will be able to find a career in agriculture, promoting it and being a communication person for it. So, here is to agriculture. Let’s celebrate this unique and amazing industry.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


 

Facts retrieved from NCSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences