Tag Archives: Monsanto

Monsanto: Evil Empire or Sustainable Ag Company?

In certain circles it’s still trendy to attack or insinuate Monsanto is this giant, faceless, company hell bent on world destruction and/or take-over (take your pick).  This stance always puzzles me. My personal experience with them has been the complete opposite. (Also for the record, Monsanto is not that giant, Whole Foods and Monsanto are pretty close in size)

For the third time in so many years, I have been able to tour their facility in Woodland, California. Each time has been different, and quite frankly, eye opening. I have walked away from these tours with a whole new appreciation for what the company does and what it stands for.

I got to take peppers home. This pleased me to no end.

I got to take peppers home. This pleased me to no end.

Most people are under the misconception that all Monsanto produces are GMO crops. But in actuality they breed over 20 (non GMO) crops. There is much misunderstanding and fear when it comes to our food supply these days. More often than not, it seems like companies will use fear and our ignorance to sell us a product. I can’t stand that. I appreciate Monsanto opening their doors to me, multiple times. Despite the negative press and online movements that urges me to boycott them and sign petitions against them, they have been continually transparent and welcoming to me.

Monsanto has made it a point to urge bloggers, journalists, farmers, and even average consumers to engage with them! In fact the company’s chief technology officer, Dr. Robert T. Fraley has invited celebrity activists like Susan Sarandon to St. Louis! Since I love to stand on my soapbox and preach about transparency, this is something I appreciate!

My tour group learning about tomatoes.

My tour group learning about tomatoes.

This trip was my favorite. A small group that included bloggers, teachers, and scientists were all invited to spend the day learning about and touring the Woodland Monsanto Farm. We spent about half the day out in the field speaking with their growers and seeing beautiful produce! The next part was learning about how to set up a food tasting and participating in a melon tasting.

Janice Person was our host. I’ve known Janice for years now. We met on twitter and eventually met in real life -she has even been out to the ranch!

I loved this trip because, I love interacting with the plant growers and breeders. These experts were literally outstanding in their fields, ready to share their knowledge with us and answer our questions. My inner gardener was deeply pleased and I’m going to highlight my favorite things for you below!

 

The Field

So much fame in this picture! Terry the Pepper man! I was a whisper star-stuck!

So much fame in this picture! Terry the Pepper man! I was a whisper star-stuck!

We started with peppers. Terry Berke was our pepper expert. He also is the man that breed the Nacho Jalapeno plant, which is currently in my garden and my favorite. I had a huge fan girl moment. Terry taught me that peppers need lots of Nitrogen, something I have been neglecting. He also mentioned that peppers use the Scoville Scale to measure their heat. Peppers are my current garden obsession, I’ve been growing, canning, pickling and fermenting them all summer. I loved the pepper portion of our tour and was sad to move on. Since I was gifted with so many peppers, I had to can some! So look forward to that recipe being posted soon!

Monsanto had super efficient drip watering systems. Again, this made me so very happy.

Monsanto had super efficient drip watering systems. Again, this made me so very happy.

We moved on to Bill Johnson, the squash breeder. Bill changed my squash growing game. I learned that “if you don’t harvest, you don’t get to harvest” squash, meaning if you let your squash plants grow into baseball bat sized squash, it is going to affect the rest of your harvest. This is why my zucchini plants are all screwed up now! I wasn’t home and didn’t harvest!

Bill in his squash - he taught me my new favorite word, puduncle!

Bill in his squash – he taught me my new favorite word, peduncle!

Squash farmers have a short window for everything (remember this is coming from a cattle rancher), the female flowers only bloom once for four hours! That’s such a small window to be fertilized! They must be harvested quickly too (as we learned above).

We got lovely infusion water bottles, which we all promptly put watermelon in!

We got lovely infusion water bottles, which we all promptly put watermelon in!

Watermelons were next. Samples were given, my favorite, by far, was called Summer Breeze. We spoke at length about watermelon pollination, how they breed seedless melons, and how to pick a good one (look for a yellow spot or “belly”).

I loved learning about watermelon breeding! It was soooo very different from cattle breeding!

I loved learning about watermelon breeding! It was soooo very different from cattle breeding!

The one common theme that was constantly mentioned by all of the plant breeders was how different regions (or countries) demand different varieties of produce (check out this watermelon infographic for an excellent overview). Monsanto works very, very hard fulfilling consumer demand. For example, what American’s look for in a jalapeno is not the same as what Mexican’s look for and they breed accordingly. This totally makes so much sense to me, as food is such a major part of cultures, and every culture has it’s own tastes and preferences.

Just look at those beautiful peduncles! (The peduncle is a stem that connects the fruit to the plant)

Just look at those beautiful peduncles! (The peduncle is a stem that connects the fruit to the plant)

Allan Krivanek and fresh market tomatoes were next on our tour. Fresh market tomatoes are the kind you buy in a store. Processing tomatoes (we also have a lot of those in my area), are used to make ketchup and sauce. It was fascinating to learn how and taste the differences in tomatoes!

My friend Shannon (she lived on the ranch during college!) and I got to take melons home too!

My friend Shannon (she lived on the ranch during college!) and I got to take melons home too!

The Tasting

After we spent time in the field we headed back inside for lunch and Dr. Chow-Ming Lee. We got to have lunch with all of the employees of this location. Yes, that’s right, they turned me loose on everyone. This is when I got to visit with some of the other guests. I met Maria from Fitness Reloaded, Danyelle from The Cubicle Chick and Sarah from The House that Ag Built . I love these opportunities because I get exposed to blogs and writers that normally would not be on my radar.

A proper melon tasting!

A proper melon tasting!

After our lunch we got to meet Dr. Lee. Let me tell you, if he ever decides he doesn’t want to be a sensory and tasting expert, he could easily be a comedian. I have never been so entertained  during a powerpoint in my life.

Dr. Lee administered a taste test for us. We got to sample different types of melon and compare our results with the rest of our group. I’m pretty sure I could do that for a living, it was super fun. After that we learned how to perform a proper taste test. This is relevant to me because I am a big fan of taste tests and do them often with my pork and beef. Now I can perform tastes tests with better accuracy!

 

The End

In addition to all the amazing produce I got to take home, Monsanto did provide paid travel for this tour. And the most badass watermelon knife you've ever seen!

In addition to all the amazing produce I got to take home, Monsanto did provide paid travel for this tour. And the most badass watermelon knife you’ve ever seen!

Our day was almost complete after our melon experience. We had one more questions and answer session before we went home. We did cover more topics, and hopefully I will write a blog post about those too. Every time I have been able to tour this facility I leave in shock and awe. I learn so much, I get so excited about the future of my industry! Monsanto gets a bad rap from its critics, and that is unfortunate. If they could put the hearsay and fallacies aside and take the time to explore and learn for themselves, I know their world would be far less terrifying, mine has been.

After interacting with the employees of Monsanto all day, talking to them about their families (some have single sons!!!), and seeing their passion about their jobs and the plants they are breeding, I wanted to apply for a job! I enjoyed my time there immensely, my garden will certainly benefit from it and so will my readers. Again, if you are on the fence about this company, let’s chat about it. I feel like there are so many “unfacts” out there, it can be hard to cut through all the bullshit sometimes, and that is why I work so hard and spend so much time doing fields trips like this.

*I received a travel stipend for this tour (it covered my gas from Indian Valley to Woodland and back). I also received a crapton of veggies. However, may I just note that this did not sway my opinion in any way, that would take pigs!

2 Comments

Filed under Ag, agriculture, Field Trip, food, Garden, Know a California Farmer, photos, Ranch life, Uncategorized

Brian Scott: I Occupy Our Food Suppy Everyday

This is hands down one of my favorite blog posts done on the topic of GMO’s and Farmers. There is so much information that is given to us as “fact” by people that have never bought seed or farmed commercially. I love that Brian is so trasparent and so willing to share his thoughts with us! Thank you Brian!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ag, agriculture, Guest Post, photos, Ranch life, Uncategorized

Field Trip: Monsanto and Tomatoes

Tomatoes have a special place in my heart. I’m not a huge fan of the actual fruit anymore (the reason why is coming up), but I love all things derived from tomatoes – sauces, salsas, ketchup. And I love to grow the plant. I think I love them because one of my most cherished childhood memories is about garden fresh tomatoes. My grandfather, or Papa, had a pretty amazing green thumb; his garden remains legendary in my mind.

Pretty heirlooms!

When I was little, it was a big deal to spend the night at my town Grandparents. Grandma and Papa spoiled us with Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes in the morning and cable (we didn’t get more than four channels until I was in high school, country livin!). After dinner, it was a big deal for Papa and me to head out to his garden to water, harvest his vegetables and pick tomato worms.

As little five-year old me was searching for those awful tomato worms, I remember telling Papa that I didn’t like tomatoes because “they were gross”. At some point during my little life I must have eaten off-season, store tomatoes and decided all tomatoes were like that. Papa gently picked some ripe cherry tomatoes off his vines and told me to eat one. Surprisingly, I did. And it was glorious. I remember shoving those little jewels in my mouth as fast as I could, being totally surprised at the sweet, warm burst in my mouth, it was like candy. I did that until I threw up. What can I say; I’ve never been good with moderation.

Every time I see a tomato plant, I remember my Papa and his warm cherry tomatoes. It’s a very happy memory. I think that memory is why my favorite part of my Monsanto tour was learning about tomatoes.

The tomato rows at Monsanto's farm. I wanted to frolic through them. But I restrained myself. Barely

The tomato rows at Monsanto’s farm. I wanted to frolic through them. But I restrained myself. Barely.

My field trip to Monsanto left me overwhelmed, I think I caught a really bad case of agnerditis while I was there. Monsanto was fascinating, it was like taking a plant science, a sociology, and a economics class all in one day. I loved it! Unfortunately, I have a mild case of writer’s block when it comes to writing about our day there, I learned so much! However, I am fighting it! Because I think it is important to talk about GMO’s, technology and Monsanto with an open mind.

Talking plant breeding with the actual plant breeders. No big deal or anything. Nope, not at all.

Learning about tomato breeding from actual tomato breeders! Nope, not a big deal. Not at all. (OMG IT WAS SO COOL)

Doug the Tomato Dude was our tour guide for the tomato portion of our tour. He was passionate about his tomatoes! By the time he left us, I wanted to start researching tomatoes too. He made it sound so interesting, and it is! He told us his passion for growing things came early (something I totally identify with), he grew garden peas as a kid. His fresh garden peas tasted nothing like canned peas – and there you go – inspiration comes from the simplest things!

Learning from the master....

Learning from the expert!

Doug is working on a breeding project where he is using various naturally-occurring genes to improve heirloom tomatoes! He explained that there are three natural color mutations in the heirloom realm, tiger stripe, purple and a bi-color (like Rainbow). Working with these three mutations he can breed tomatoes with different levels of acidity, sugars, and volatiles (what you smell) . Something for everyone!

Doug’s goal is to make tomatoes that taste as good or better than existing heirlooms while having the level of fruit setting and disease resistance of modern tomatoes. And he wants to find ways so we can have heirloom quality taste much longer than the current seasonal window. In addition to making tomatoes taste better for us consumers he is also using tools from his genetic toolbox to help the farmer by eliminating cracking in the fruit (less waste!) and increased setting of the fruit (more product with less resources!). Doug is using genetic material that is over 60 years old along with some of the new great things he’s found! I think it is amazing that Doug and Monsanto are keeping these old genes alive and in production. Notice that is something you never hear about from the media. This germplasm dates back many decades and is responsible for long-time home garden favorites such as Better Boy, Big Boy, and Early Girl. By combining the past and the present some great things can happen that both preserve flavor for the consumer and add value to the grower.

Grow babies, grow!

Grow babies, grow!

Doug’s tomatoes are fresh market tomatoes, you know, the tomatoes you buy at the store. As I mentioned above, I think many of us are scarred from the tasteless, pretty tomatoes that dominated the store shelves for years. But Doug is changing that! Doug wants to see more heirlooms on the shelves; he wants more variety, more diversity so consumers can have a choice. (Isn’t that just music to your foodie ears? It was to mine!)

Doug mentioned that he loves to eat his own tomatoes, and his family does too. In fact he said he was making his family BLT’s with seedless tomatoes that very night for dinner doesn’t that sound fabulous?

Look at the pretty heirlooms!

More heirlooms, so pretty!!!

The most exciting thing I learned during this portion of my tour was about the seedless tomatoes that have been developed, the Sweet Seedless. My Grandma has diverticulitis, so foods with little seeds, (like tomatoes), hurt her, she actually cannot eat them. This is unfortunate for people like my Grandma, because it can affect her nutrition. I plan on going to over to my Grandma’s house next spring and planting some Sweet Seedless in Papa’s old garden plot, so my Grandma can eat something she loves again. I think my Papa would be super proud of me.

Meeting Doug the Tomato Dude and learning about his work in tomatoes was marvelous. Being an animal science person, it is wonderful for me to learn more about plant science. I was able to make the connection in my head that like cattle, plants often benefit from different breeding techniques. These techniques and technologies are changing agriculture for us farmers and ranchers in the best possible way – we can produce more with less, we can increase the nutritional content of some foods, we can increase diversity, and we can give our consumers more choice! What an amazing time to be involved in agriculture!

If you want to learn more about this I highly recommend checking this blog out http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=7076455123022001652&postID=5115683617599271132. Dr. Folta is one of my favorite experts.

*Also thank you to Janice Person for a couple of the photos in this post!

11 Comments

Filed under Ag, Field Trip, food, photos, Ranch life, Rants, Uncategorized

Field Trip: Welcome to Monsanto

Yesterday I was able to tour the Monsanto Woodland/Davis vegetable research station. This was exciting to me for a couple of reasons. Number one, I’m an ag nerd, I love to learn about all different kinds of ag, especially about plants! The second reason is I wanted some truth. So much of what I see on the internet about Monsanto is perpetuated by people who learned what they “know” from a movie they saw or book, blog or wiki article they read. Second hand knowledge can have a tendency to be less than factual. I wanted facts.

Right after I signed in and got my name tag (they also gave me a Monsanto pen) I was very excited!

Many friends asked me how I ended up getting to be able to tour Monsanto, some acted like I had to sell my soul or my unborn children. Well, it wasn’t that hard, in fact they couldn’t have been any nicer about arranging this tour. What actually was hard was finding people that wanted to come with me! I asked several non agricultural friends if they wanted to come. Not one accepted. Finally Daniel Taylor stepped up, thanks Daniel!

This tour came about through several friends, one being Janice Person – she is director of Monsanto’s Public Affairs. Janice was kind enough to fly all the way out here to California, so we could meet (we’ve been friends on social media for at least 4 years now). Needless to say I felt pretty special. George Gough and Mark Oppenhuizen were also our tour guides, talk about a smart group of people, I was almost intimidated (I was, but don’t tell)!

So much safety!

The number one first thing that struck me as I walked into the station was safety. There were safety signs, what to do in an emergency sign, number to call if you needed help, I felt very safe and protected. The second thing that I noticed right off was how happy and pleasant all the employees were. These people enjoyed their jobs, they were passionate about them, I had a really hard time keeping myself calm, their joy was contagious! Mark shared with us that scientist come to work for Monsanto because they know Monsanto is on the cutting edge with science and Monsanto works hard to provide them with a creative and supportive working environment. I could see that.

During the course of our tour yesterday, we asked our hosts about their tour policy. I was shocked to find out they will give tours to those who ask. They mentioned giving tours to master gardener clubs, farmers and other organizations. To be honest with you, I was shocked how open everyone was with us. We looked at field trials, greenhouses, laboratories, seed banks and we even got to taste test melon. We asked any question we wanted to, AND I took pictures!!! It was nothing like I imagined.

I have a lot to say and share with you about the tour. But I don’t want to overwhelm you with one huge post, so I’ve decided to write several posts about my tour. Each post will cover something I thought was important, neat or relevant and if you guys have any questions or comments, please ask them and I will try and cover those too.

I learned so much yesterday. It was such a positive and educational experience. I want to thank Janice, George, Mark and all of the other speakers that blew my mind yesterday. I walked away from the tour with a level of excitement toward agriculture that I haven’t felt in a very long time. Science is amazing.

9 Comments

Filed under Ag, Field Trip, food, Media, photos, Ranch life, Rants, Uncategorized

Field Trip: UC Davis Organic Student Farm

Have I mentioned how much I love social media? It’s opened so many doors for me, especially within the last year. For example, a month or so ago I was buying everything and anything at OSH’s spring plant sale. My obsession with my garden had hit a new high, I could not be stopped. When the plant buying frenzy finally ceased, I had some herbs that, well, I didn’t know what they were or what to do with them. To Twitter I went!

I have found between twitter and pinterest almost all of my problems and questions can be solved. Like I said, it’s amazing. I follow around 1,500 people on twitter. All kinds of people – from vegans environmentalists to loggers in Canada to meat scientists to plant science PhD’s. I learn a lot and get exposed to some points of views that I normally wouldn’t. It definitely gets me out of my comfort zone – a good thing!

The plant in front is borage! Dr. Ronald told me to plant it next to a tomato plant for pest control.

I asked my twitter followers who knew about a herb called borage. I’d purchased 3 or 4 of them, because they were 99 cents at the OSH sale! But I had no clue how or where to plant them. I totally scored when Dr. Pamela Ronald tweeted me back! Yeah, you should go ahead a check her out, go here and here. Yeah, she is badass. Guess what? She invited me down to meet her and her husband and see the UC Davis Student Organic Farm!!!! To an ag nerd like me, this was very exciting.

Dr. Ronald also told me the flowers of borage are edible! Perfect for summer salads. Yum!

As I’ve been trying to explain to some of my facebook friends that accuse me of being “pro chemy” or “in Monsanto’s pocket” – agriculture isn’t like that for me. I am a supporter of agriculture – organic, natural or conventional. I want to use the best practices on my ranch that has been in my family for 6 generations. I want that ranch there for another 6! I’m trying to have a dialogue with as many people as I can, to learn as much as I can.

My next field trip will be in July. I’m going to Monsanto’s test plot in Woodland. I’m excited to contrast the organic farm and Mosanto’s test plots – I’m willing to bet they are not that different.

artichokes!

The was about half of the farm…..it was really cool.

Daniel went with me. He got dandelion greens to take home!

I met Dr. Ronald!

This strawberry had catfacing from insects.

If you plant alyssum with your berries it is a natural pest control! I learned something!

I loved the cabbages! They are neat.

Fennel!

I would like to thank Dr. Ronald for taking time out of her very busy schedule to visit with us and teach us about the organic farm. It was wonderful to learn more about a different type of agriculture. Thank you!

5 Comments

Filed under Ag, Field Trip, food, photos, Uncategorized