You Have to be Brave to Raise Livestock

Two weeks ago was a tough week on the farm. We lost 3 animals in the span of 3 days, and that…. that was really hard.

I’ve been raising livestock for 13 years, and have had animals since the day I was born. And, throughout that time, there has been loss. It comes with the territory. Some of those losses have impacted me more than others, but no matter what animal it is, it never gets easier.

The other week we lost two goats- Tres and Nala, and our barn cat- Sassy. Tres was unexpected. She was fine one day, and gone the next.

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Nala, lost her battle to a raging infection, despite 3 visits to the vet, several antibiotics, and meds to control the fever.

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Sassy was 13 years old, and we knew his time was drawing near. He lived his last days as a house cat.

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Nala was the the third one to go, and at that point, I was ready to throw up my hands. It was entirely frustrating and emotional. You work so hard to keep these animals healthy. When they get sick, you do everything you can to make them better, and sometimes it isn’t good enough. When your best isn’t good enough, that can cut deep.

Nala went into premature labor. Not only that, but the baby was not in the proper position. After trying for 40 minutes to realign the baby, we decided that we couldn’t do it. We knew the baby was already dead, so we loaded Nala up to go to the vet. Those vets worked for more than an hour to deliver that fetus. Everyone was tired, especially Nala. She was registering a temperature of 105. The next few days was a series of banamine for the fever, antibiotics for the infection, oxytocin for a retained placenta, and more trips to the vet. We were hoping that it would clear up. We were hoping that we could try again for a baby next year, but it wasn’t meant to be. Nala was my best doe. I was the most excited for her baby. It would be her first and the first off our new buck. I put a lot of hopes and dreams into them, and it went up in smoke.

When you raise livestock, they have a purpose. It may be for breeding stock; it may be for showing; it may just be to go to market. Whatever the purpose, you put hopes into that animal. Sometimes you get your hopes up.

Losing an animal isn’t about the money spent at the vet. It isn’t about the money lost in the investment of the animal. It isn’t about having to dig a hole. It is about heart. I may not shed a tear for every animal that dies, but they all hit me. They all are a life, and that affects my heart. It doesn’t matter how many animals you have, or the scale of your farm.

I recently heard a story of a hog farm that had the PED virus. This virus caused 100% mortality in baby pigs. Although there are thousands of pigs in those barns, the farmers wept. Not because they were losing dollars, but because that life was gone, and that was devastating. The hope and potential of that animal was gone. Their best efforts weren’t always good enough.

After hearing that story and thinking of my week last week, one word came to mind-bravery. Raising animals takes bravery. You have to be brave to put hope and dreams into an animal that does not have a 100% guarantee. Even if it has a totally healthy life, the lifespan of animals is not the same as ours. You are choosing to love and care for a ticking time bomb. When that animal does pass away, it takes bravery to continue. You have to be brave to care for another animal.

When I was on the third day of losing an animal, I wanted to walk away. I didn’t want to put expectations or hopes into yet another animal that might not make it, but then… then I saw the other side of the spectrum. I saw little Pluto, only a week old, braving the cold weather to explore his world, and I smiled.

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Raising livestock is hard. It is frustrating. There are tears. There are also smiles, joy, and heart. Raising livestock takes bravery. In spite of loss, in spite of sadness, I choose bravery and to hope once more in an animal, because that is what it is all about.

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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

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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.

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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

 

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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

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Trey, second from left receiving his state degree.
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“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

 

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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

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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!

 

 

Life of a Farm Boy

As I was flipping through photos, I was struck by what a great life farming provides. Sure it is hard work and dirty, but there is no better place to grow up in my opinion.

I always knew that I enjoyed the farm life, but wasn’t sure if I was an anomaly. There is a 12 and 13 year age gap between my youngest brothers and myself. This has allowed me to really take in what it is like growing up on a farm. I’m thoroughly convinced  that we are incredibly blessed to live this life.

Recently, a woman visiting the farm mentioned that this was her daughter’s dream. I mulled that over. My reality was her dream. Wow! How lucky am I? How lucky are my brothers?

Living on a farm can be inconvenient, dirty, and hard. Going on vacation means finding someone to feed the stock. After a ball game on Saturday, we return to make fence repairs, medicate animals, or clean barns out. By a young age, we kids know and have experienced the miracle of life and the woes of death. Everyday is a go outside day (sometimes it is just a matter of how fast can we feed).

BUT, living on a farm is… well, just scroll through the photos. It is the life of my brothers. It is the life of farm boys.

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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

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  • 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!

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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

A Farm of the Future: Butler Farms

Most hog farms involve a few common key aspects. There is typically a dirt path that leads to hog houses aligned in a row. There are lagoons (waste pits), fields, pumping reels, employees, and of course, pigs! However, I recently visited a hog farm that was a little bit different. It had all the “normals” I would expect in a hog farm– the farmer, pigs, and poop– but there were a few additions too. It wasn’t typical, and yet again it was. The best adjective I could find is futuristic.

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My day started with a drive through my alma mater, Campbell University (always a good day to go through camel country) and then on  deeper into Harnett County. I came upon my destination–Butler Farms. Following a long dirt path, rows of hog houses came into view on top of a hill overlooking a field. I pulled in and was greeted by Mr. Tom Butler, the owner of the ten-barn finishing farm.

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Originally tobacco farmers, the Butlers decided to build a hog farm. Recognizing the potential for incorporating new technologies on the farm, the Butlers began to research the color green — a greener way of pork production, that is.

In 2008, the first lagoon cover was installed; a second one was added later. One of the biggest tasks for hog farmers is managing lagoons, especially during wet weather. Lagoon levels naturally increase with the occurrence of precipitation, but lagoon covers help reduce the amount of precipitation that ends up in the lagoons, allowing for more manageable levels. The water that falls on top of the covers can simply be pumped onto crops. Not only do the covers reduce the stress of high lagoon levels, they also reduce 85% of the farm odor. If that isn’t awesome enough, it can also double as a type of trampoline…well sort of. You can walk on top of the cover, which is pretty cool, and yes, I walked on it!

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A covered lagoon
A covered lagoon

Working in conjunction with the lagoon covers is a digester. The digester stirs waste from the lagoons and builds up bio-gas methane that is then converted into electricity! Pipes take the methane from the digester into a building that houses an engine that runs a 180 KW gen-set. This engine utilizes the methane as its fuel to power the gen-set which produces electricity  that is used to power the farm.

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In addition to the methane run gen-set, Mr. Butler has also installed solar panels to add to the electricity production. The farm produces enough electricity to not only run the farm, but to also provide excess electricity which can then be sold to South River Electric Membership Cooperation.

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A final section of the farm is the composter. On a farm, it is inevitable that death occurs. On the Butler farm, any mortality is sent to the composter to be turned into fertilizer. The compost is mixed with wood chips to make the fertilizer that is spread on the fields.

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edit9To keep the fertilizer as nutrient rich as possible, it must be kept at a specific temperature. Anything higher than 160 degrees, and the fertilizer will begin to lose nutrients, so keeping a steady temperature is imperative. This is accomplished with air that is circulated through pipes at the bottom of the pile of fertilizer. Not much goes to waste on the Butler farm.

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Part of the machinery that runs the air flow in the composter
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The control panel that manages the air flow in the composter

Of course, I couldn’t walk away from the farm without seeing some of the 7,800 pigs on the property. After all, they are my favorite farm animal, not to mention the money-makers. For the Butlers, they are not only the  bacon, but they are the “poopers” that make bio-energy.

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So, there you have  a virtual tour of Butler Farms. What you haven’t seen yet is the passion behind the technology.
I spoke with Mr. Butler about his farm and why he wanted to incorporate so much technology. He shared with me that his motto is “A green farm for a green future.” It doesn’t take long to identify Mr. Butler’s dedication to following his motto. To couple with his desire to be green is his passion for science and technology. I had to frequently stop a discussion to ask questions about some complicated concept , but Mr. Butler knew the ins and outs of it all.

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Mr. Butler was able to implement much of his technology through grants. He is a huge advocate of installing lagoon covers and other technological advances in other farms across the state. He hopes to see a day when his farm is not the future but the norm, and he never skips an opportunity to share his knowledge and ideas with others. Mr. Butler is very open to visitors and tours of his farm. University groups have spent a great deal of time at his farm running experiments, and he has spoken with and given farm tours to politicians, international persons, and various organizations.
The Butlers hope to one day see more farms across North Carolina and the nation implement similar technologies; however, it will take time. These new ideas are not perfect and are costly, but they hold much promise. Mr. Butler is dedicated to constantly improving. He researches a great deal and is already making plans for further improvements.
Butler Farms, in many ways, is a typical hog farm. The name of the game is pigs and poop, and doing that responsibly and well. However, Butler Farms is more than typical. They are innovative and, dare I say, futuristic.

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I truly enjoyed my time at Butler Farms learning about the technology, walking on a lagoon, and talking pigs in the farm office. A huge thank you to Mr. Butler, his son Will, and the rest of the crew at the farm for sharing their time with me.

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Tom Butler is left and Will Butler is right

As I drove back down the dirt path to leave the farm, it started to rain. I couldn’t help but think of the technology that would provide a barrier between the rain and those lagoons.

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NC Purebred Swine Family Reunion

On August 22, the North Carolina Purebred Swine Family Reunion took place where I was able to catch a glimpse of decades of work that not only made North Carolina’s hog industry better, but forged lifetime friendships, created lasting memories, and instilled a great sense of pride and accomplishment in those involved.

DSC_0074The Family Reunion is a time for those involved in the purebred industry to come together and reminisce. Many of those in attendance were a part of the North Carolina Swine Evaluation Station that operated from 1973-1994, and was headed up by Dr. Bob Jones. It was here that performance testing was conducted that has had a lasting impact on today’s hog industry.

Dr. Bob Jones
Dr. Bob Jones

Many stories were told about the “good old days” at the evaluation station–stories of record breaking boars, stories of camaraderie, and stories filled with good humor. The pride of those who had played a part in the station was evident as they spoke. Over 7,000 boars were evaluated during the 21 years with a percentage of those boars selling for a revenue of over $1.8 million. 120 breeders participated in the program during its lifespan.

The afternoon also consisted of a moment of silence for those who had passed away since the last reunion and a catered meal. North Carolina Pork Council CEO, Deborah Johnson, and NCSU Animal Science Department Head, Dr. Todd See, spoke on the industry and recent trips to China that gave insight into international pork production. Dr. Bob Jones, former NCSU Extension animal husbandry specialist also spoke about the research station and all of his fond memories. Ron Hughes, former NC Swine Evaluation Station manager wrapped up the reunion.

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Ron Hughes

It was a wonderful afternoon filled with heritage, friendships, and of course, pigs!

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Wanted: The Perfect Watermelon

It makes sense that one of the hottest months of the year would be recognized as National Watermelon Month. July has been designated as an entire month just to celebrate the wonders of watermelon since 2008, and I must say, it was a brilliant call.

Watermelon is my very favorite fruit. I’m not really a huge fruit person (I know not very healthy) unless it is in dessert or smoothie form. However, I must say that watermelon is something I get terribly excited for. I don’t recommend freezing one, though. We accidentally did that and had a sort of watermelon sorbet. It was super weird. I suggest making sure your mini fridge isn’t cranked to Antarctica standards.

Anyways, here are facts and interesting information about watermelons, and of course, pictures. 🙂


History

Watermelons came from the Kalahari Desert of Africa, and has been seen on Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was thought to have come over to America by African slaves.

Variety

There are over 200-300 varieties of watermelon grown in the USA and Mexico, with 50 of those being the most popular. Seedless watermelons are sterile. They were developed roughly 50 years ago by crossing male pollen that has 22 chromosomes per cell with a female watermelon flower that has 44 chromosomes per cell. Voila! You have the mule of the watermelon world.

Factual Stuff

  • USA ranks 6th in watermelon production. China is number one.
  • The scientific name for a watermelon is citrullus lanatus and are cousins to squash.
  • Leading watermelon states are Florida, Texas, Georgia, Indiana, and California.
  • Explorers used watermelon as canteens.
  • Watermelon is the most consumed melon in the USA
  • Watermelon is 92% water, making it a great source of hydration for many.

The Perfect Melon

Worse than a whole frozen watermelon is probably a bad watermelon. Picking the perfect watermelon is crucial, and can sometimes seem illusive. Follow these tips for the perfect melon:

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Now that you know what the perfect melon looks like, go forth and find it. We sure found a good one! Happy hunting!

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Sources:

Watermelon.org

FAO

What About Watermelon?

National Watermelon Association

 

A World Without Ag Wednesdays: Tapioca

Today is National Tapioca Pudding Day (who knew!). That I’m aware of, I have never tried tapioca pudding. I’m not a pudding person to begin with, and when you throw texture in pudding–I’ll pass. What I do think of every time I hear tapioca is the movie New in Town. I had to watch it in one of my communication classes to write a paper on it. Although, it was an assignment for class, it was a good movie. Blanche, a character in the movie has a killer Minnesota accent and is obsessed with tapioca, so I always hear her saying it when it it is mentioned.

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/6429506

Anyway, since it is National Tapioca Pudding Day, I was curious as to what tapioca really is. I found some pretty interesting stuff.

Tapioca Roots

Tapioca’s roots literally come from roots–the cassava root to be exact. This root originated in Brazil and is mostly grown in Africa and South America.

Photo Source: Permaculture Research Institute

The cassava root, like a potato, is a tuber. It is also called a yuca root. The root is heavily relied on in communities that are impoverished and is a staple food item for them. Interestingly, the cassava root can also cause harm to those who eat them in many of these countries. If the root is not prepared correctly, it can produce cyanide. Yikes! They are working on creating a version of the plant that does not produce the cyanide. I wouldn’t worry too much about your tapioca, though. It is processed in a specific way to avoid any hazards.The issues typically happen in very rural areas in Africa where processing happens at home. It should never be eaten raw, so when it has not been given enough time, bad things happen. After boiling the root, it is safe to eat.

From Root to Tapioca

To turn the root into tapioca, the root is ground to a pulp. It is then squeezed to get it dry. This makes a sort of flour from which we get the various types of tapioca from.

Tapioca Pudding

Everything I could say about tapioca pudding is written on my face:

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I don’t know what to do with this stuff. Perhaps I’ll start with tasting it–bucket list status. Happy Tapioca Pudding Day!!


Sources:

Permaculture Research Institute

Specialty Produce

Ohio State University Research

Nutrition and You

A World Without Ag Wednesdays: Sorghum

Today’s feature is a neat little crop that is attracting some attention of late–sorghum. If you are gluten intolerant, then chances are you know about this upcoming grain. More on that later.

Sorghum is often confused with corn, especially early on. It looks very much like young corn. So, if you’ve ever wondered why that field of corn is missing its tassels and isn’t tall, it’s because it is probably sorghum, and you may be seeing more of it in the future.

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Rising Stardom

The name sorghum comes from the Latin word “Syricum (granum)” and the Italian word “sorgo” which all means grain of Syria. Sorghum ranks fifth in the cereal grain line up of the world, falling behind wheat, rice, corn, and barley. Of the 66 countries that sorghum is grown in, the United States is the largest producer! That is pretty major when it was just introduced in 1757 to America. Sorghum originated in Egypt over 4,000 years ago, so it took a while to get to the USA. It is now finding loads of uses.

Jack of All Trades

Sorghum comes in three main types–grain, forage, and sweet. Grain sorghum is of a shorter variety (5ft) and is used for livestock feeds, human consumption, biofuels, and pet food. Forage sorghum is taller (6-12ft). Because it has more to it, it is primarily used for silage (fodder that is preserved in a silo through anaerobic acid fermentation and fed to livestock). Sweet sorghum is harvested before it seeds and is pressed to get the juices to make biofuels.

Biofuels and Ethanol

30 to 35 percent of sorghum is used for ethanol production. One bushel of the grain produces 2.7 gallons of ethanol. Sweet sorghum is more hardy than crops like corn (it only requires 7 inches of water to produce the first bushel), making it a more ideal source of renewal fuel. In 2012, the USA produced 15 billion gallons of ethanol from plants. The federally mandated Renewable Fuels Standard will double that production to 30 billion with 8 years. Sweet sorghum is one of the crops that will be responsible for this increase in ethanol production. A big job for the crop.

Livestock Feeds

46 percent of American sorghum is used for livestock feed. Sorghum can take the place of corn in feeding operations. Because it is more hardy than corn, it is often more attainable and cheaper (maybe that is why it is often called poor man’s corn). It is fed to beef and dairy cattle, swine, and poultry as a source of protein and energy. Most of sorghum is used for grain (7 million acres), but there is a decent portion used for silage (350,000 acres).

Human Consumption

Sorghum has become the go-to cereal grain for those who are gluten intolerant. It can take the place of wheat flour in many baking goods. There is good news for beer lovers too. New Grist is a beer made from sorghum and rice. Brewed in Wisconsin, this was one of the first gluten-free beers back in 2006. Interestingly, it also got the government to change its definition of what beer is. Under the government’s policy, the starting recipe for all beer had to be 25% malted barley. With this new sorghum beer, things had to be redefined, and so it was.

Besides helping out those with gluten intolerance, sorghum is also a whole wheat that is super nutritious and has antioxidants similar to blueberries. So, basically you cant go wrong.

sorghum

From Field to Food, Feed, and Fuel

Sorghum is harvested in different ways depending on its purpose. If it is going to be used for grain, a combine is used to pick the seed heads. If being used for silage, than it will be cut with either a chopper or a hay cutter. After this, it then goes to its various destinations, ready to be enjoyed!

grasshopper


Sources:

National Sorghum Producers

Whole Grains Council 1

Whole Grains Council 2

Sorghum Checkoff

Sweet Sorghum Association

Kansas State Fair

 

A World Without Ag Wednesdays: Tomatoes

With 4th of July approaching, I thought it appropriate to highlight a piece of ag that one of our founding fathers helped promote–tomatoes.

I absolutely love tomatoes. Sadly, our garden tomatoes are not doing well, and I have yet to have a tomato sandwich with homegrown produce. Sad days, I know; however, I can find comfort in the fact that tomatoes are a popular food and no longer thought to be poisonous. How in the world such a wonderful food could be feared is beyond me, but thanks to a few individuals, especially Thomas Jefferson, tomatoes are now celebrated and devoured.

During Colonial times, folks related tomato plants with the poisonous nightshade plant, and only grew tomatoes for ornamental purposes. Not everyone was so paranoid about the plant, though. In South and Central America, where tomatoes originated, people had no qualms eating them. In France, tomatoes were called pomme d’amore, or “apple of love,” suggesting that they were also loved, but some experts say that this name was mistaken for the Spanish words “apple of the Moors.” It is thought that the first tomato came from Peru. Interestingly, all parts of the tomato plant are poisonous except for the fruit.

It took the efforts of Thomas Jefferson and his family to make the tomato go from feared to celebrated…well supposedly the Jefferson family is responsible for the tomatoes popularity. It is up for debate, but is generally accepted. Jefferson grew tomatoes in his garden where his daughters and granddaughters used them in all sorts of recipes like gumbo and pickling. When a prominent family like the Jeffersons use tomatoes (and don’t die of poison), you can well imagine that its popularity quickly rose.

Source:http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=1470

Identity Crisis

To set the record straight, tomatoes are fruits, but if you ask the Supreme Court of 1893, they were to be considered a vegetable. You see, there was a tariff on vegetables, but not on fruits. A tomato importer sued a tax collector on the basis that tomatoes were fruits and did not need to be taxed. Ultimately, the Supreme Court got involved and ruled that botanically speaking, tomatoes were fruits, but in layman terms they were vegetables. In addition tomatoes were eaten at dinner with other vegetables, unlike fruit that was typically eaten for dessert. So now, tomatoes have an identity crisis.

American Pride and Production

The United States is one of the leading producers of tomatoes, only coming behind China. They contribute $2 billion in annual farm cash receipts according to the USDA. Tomatoes are grown for either fresh-market or processed. Those that are used for processed are machine picked while fresh-market tomatoes are hand picked. There are also several thousand varieties of tomatoes, and some are better for processing, while others are better for fresh-market. Fresh-market tomatoes are grown in all 50 states, and California grows the most tomatoes overall. It is definitely a far cry from the feared fruit of Colonial days.

Tomato Basil Sandwich…Summertime Favorite

tomatoWhile I love tomatoes in everything and are one of my favorite snacks, one of my favorite ways to use them in the summer is to make a tomato basil sandwich. It is the simplest thing to go out to the garden (when it will actually grow tomatoes), grab a tomato and make a sandwich. All it takes is two slices of bread, spread with mayonnaise, salt and pepper, sliced tomato, and a few basil leaves. Bam! Quick, yummy, and definitely not poisonous! Thanks Jefferson!


Sources:

http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/vegetables-pulses/tomatoes.aspx

History of Tomatoes

http://www.tomatodirt.com/tomato-facts.html