Tag Archives: sustainable

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!

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Guestpost: Help Save the Wild Salmon

In June, I was able to attend part of UC Davis’ 1st Annual IFAL (Institute for Food and Agriculture Literacy) Symposium.  For me, it was the equivalent of walking into the Academy Awards or other famous award show. People that are celebrities in my world were everywhere!!! I was star stuck the whole time, I mean check out a sample of the speakers: Dr. Pamela Ronald, Dr. Kevin Folta, Yvette d’Entremont, Dr. Cami Ryan, Dr. Anastasia Bodnar, Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam.

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Watching these experts in their fields talk about our food and the technology that they are developing to better our food and fiber was a game changer for me. I mean, I’ve always been interested in the science and technology that surrounds agriculture, but to see and learn from professionals that are doing it was inspiring. When Dr. Folta got emotional talking about meeting starving people, and when Dr. Van Eenennaam reminded us we can’t save wild fish by eating them, I was inspired to use my media platforms in a way that will help the general public understand how important this work is. 

When I heard there is going to be an orchestrated attack on this technology that will benefit our lives, I wanted to help! Since I’m not a scientist, Dr.Anastasia Bodnar* was kind enough to write a guest post for The Beef Jar. Dr. Bodnar has been one of my biggest mentors for years. I finally met her “in real life” at UC Davis, it was glorious. Please friends, take some time to learn about this issue and the benefits this fish will offer us. I know we all want safe, sustainable food and this is one tool to help us get that. Please support it. Thank you.


On Thursday July 9, an anti-biotechnology group is orchestrating calls to Costco asking that they never carry fast-growing genetically engineered salmon. They’re trying to bully Costco into making a decision on selling GE salmon before it’s even on the market. See below for Costco’s contact information and a sample script.

GE fast-growing salmon can be an environmentally friendly way to meet increasing demand for seafood. These salmon are a healthy, safe source of protein and omega 3s, and will potentially be available at lower cost than non-GE salmon. There simply aren’t enough wild fish stocks to meet demand so we must farm fish. The way these GE salmon will be raised has a lot of advantages over farming fish in ocean pens – namely they won’t spread disease to native fish populations. They’ll also take less feed to get to the same size. If you want to learn more, check out my article Risk assessment and mitigation of AquAdvantage salmon (the article is a few years old but as far as I know, little if anything has changed) or visit the AquaBounty website.

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If you have a moment, you could contact Costco (especially if you’re a member) to let them know you support genetically engineered foods and specifically that you would choose this salmon if Costco had it available. While you’re on the phone, you could also express concern that so many Costco-brand foods are only available in organic, increasing costs with little or no benefit to the consumer.

Costco’s Customer Service phone number is 1-800-774-2678 (press “0” to speak with a representative).

Here is a sample script:

I have been a Costco member for __ years and I support biotechnology. I would like Costco to base their decision on fast-growing GMO salmon on the best science, not activist demands. Land-raised, fast-growing GMO salmon is an environmentally friendly way to make healthy, safe fish available for more people. Please consider selling GMO salmon when it becomes available.”

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*Dr. Anastasia Bodnar is Director of Policy for Biology Fortified, Inc., an independent non-profit devoted to providing science-based information about biotechnology and other topics in agriculture. Learn more about Anastasia at https://about.me/geneticmaize. Disclaimer: Anastasia’s words are her own and views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of her employer(s).

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I’ve Gone Hog Wild

My dream of being a real pig farmer is slowly coming true. Tomorrow I get to pick up my second load of hogs to finish, for a grand total of 18. As many of my longtime readers know, raising hogs has been quite the journey.

My new pig pen is two pens like this.

My new pig pen is two pens like this.

I had to ease my Parents into the idea of raising hogs again. I did it as a child in 4-H for many, many years. I was too petite to raise steer, I wouldn’t be caught dead with a lamb or goat, so hogs it was! I have many fond memories of raising and showing my hogs and the sense of pride I had providing meat for my family, still makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

I built these pens by throwing brunch! I invited my friends to come build fence as I plied them with booze. If you look on the right you'll notice our measuring is just a WHISPER off after brunch. LOL

I built these pens by throwing brunch! I invited my friends to come build fence as I plied them with booze. If you look on the right you’ll notice our measuring is just a WHISPER off after brunch. LOL

As a child, my Dad raised hogs. Back then, the ranch was more of a farm, complete with dairy cows and grain crops. The leftover milk from the dairy would be combined with the grain from the fields for the hog feed. My Dad swears the pork was different back then, and I believed him. I knew the key to raising hogs again would be producing a pork product that was like Dad remembered.

See the deer in the pipe? Know what else these old, junked pipes would be good for? Yep! A pig house!

See the deer in the pipe? Know what else these old, junked pipes would be good for? Yep! A pig house!

I knew that if I raised heritage hogs, and tweaked their diet just a whisper, I could create some pork like my Dad remembered. I managed to convince my Parents into letting me get a couple heritage hogs, just to see. Well, that turned into five hogs and Adult 4-H. And that turned into me quitting my full-time job in town and ten hogs. Now we are here.

Heritage red wattle hogs eating cookies out of the new feeder my family built.

Heritage red wattle hogs eating cookies out of the new feeder my family built.

When I started pestering my Parents about getting hogs again, I never thought I would get to where I am now and where I am thinking of going. I didn’t plan on enjoying hogs so much. I didn’t plan on the meat being so very different and very good. I have quickly accepted the fact that there is no going back now, I like pigs too much!

Yes, I stole the rats with horn's house to make an upcycled pig house! Ingenious and 'sustainable'.

Yes, I stole the rats with horn’s house to make an upcycled pig house! Ingenious and ‘sustainable’.

Since I have doubled in size every year (and don’t plan on stopping!), I needed a new pig pen. The old pen I was using was older than I am by several decades and was not doing a good job of keeping the pigs where they needed to be. This caused several problems when the pigs ate my Dad’s cable to his TV, and my Mom’s flower bed. However, moving my pen meant drilling a well since I did not have a dependable water source and that was just not something I could afford. But then something magical happened. 

In an effort to be 'sustainable' this pig feeder is made out of old boards from out barn that blew down!

In an effort to be ‘sustainable’ we made this pig feeder out of old boards from our barn that blew down!

The most important thing to me, as I grow, is to be “sustainable”. Yes, I know that is an ag buzz word, but for, me it means doing this project in a way that meets my needs the best way it can. It means, not getting a loan from the bank (I learned from my student loan!), it means recycling materials when I can (but not super old materials that break all the time, so I waste all my time fixing them), it means doing things just a whisper different (outside the box is good!).

Part of thinking outside the box is getting free labor from my friend's kids.

Part of thinking outside the box is getting free labor from my friend’s kids (Just kidding, kinda!).

I am so excited to have this opportunity to do my own thing. I love working and being with the cattle, but I love having some independence on the ranch. My Mom made sure to instill in me growing up two “rules”: 1) always have financial independence and 2) develop as many marketable skills as you can. I feel like my pig operation is fulfilling both those “rules” and providing food for my family and friends – it feels so good!

If you get a moment please check out these awesome “real pig farmers”. Remember every farmer does what they think is best for their land and pigs. I urge you to ask them questions – the why’s and how’s are so important!

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The Future of the Farm: The Aftermath

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to take “The Megan Show” to my alma mater, CSU, Chico and participate in a discussion. The discussion was about “The Future of the Farm”. I was lucky to have David Robinson Simon the Author of Meatonomics as a discussion partner. I felt that Mr. Simon and I contrasted nicely and it made for an interesting conversation.

It always makes for a fun and lively conversation when two polar opposites sit down to discuss an issue both are passionate about. Being a cattle rancher, obviously I feel very strongly about what I do. Mr. Simon is a vegan and based on my own experiences and others I know, one must feel very strongly to maintain that lifestyle (it was really hard for me and I failed).

Mr. Simon spoke first. He had a powerpoint that basically outlined his book. Some of the slides had pictures that painted animal agriculture in a poor light. They say pictures are worth a thousand words, but unfortunately they often only tell part of a story. Because agriculture has typically kept our barn doors shut, we have left ourselves open to misunderstandings like this.

While I did disagree with Mr. Simon about several issues, Ag Gag, factory farming, and ag terrorism being a few. I was surprised about how many issues we held similar views on. For example eating “local” might not always be the most efficient and grass-finished beef is not always the most sustainable method in beef production.

It's always a win when I get to share this!

It’s always a win when I get to share this!

I felt like this discussion was time well spent. Being able to sit down and have a conversation with people that don’t always agree with me helps me become a better communicator and helps agriculture open our barn doors. Getting to interact with an audience enhances the experience for everyone; personal connections are made, passions shared. If agriculture wants to engage with our public we simply must take every opportunity, that is why I was disappointed in the College of Agriculture.

It's rare that I remember to take pictures before I speak. I kinda did it this time! Thanks to my friends that came!

It’s rare that I remember to take pictures before I speak. I kinda did it this time! Thanks to my friends that came!

There were only two agriculture students (thanks guys!) in attendance and no staff or faculty. Our industry leaders need to make sure our students and future ag leaders are being exposed to and urged to have conversations with our public. Our leaders are the ones that need to set that example. A huge part of why I am able to speak and engage the public is because I saw my professors do that.

Although I was excited to have the opportunity to participate in this discussion and give back to the University that helped shape who I am (and I’d do it again in a hot second), it worried me that there was a low ag turn-out and Dr. Jones had no success finding someone from the College of Ag to participate. If agriculture is serious about transparency and engaging our public our local leaders must do a better job of setting that example or they run the risk of “The Megan Show” doing for them – scary thought, huh?

 

At least The Megan Show has pretty boots! Thanks Jenny over at http://prairiecalifornian.com/ for coming!

At least The Megan Show has pretty boots! Thanks Jenny over at http://prairiecalifornian.com/ for coming!

 

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The Future of the Farm

Last month I got a rather interesting email from a Professor at Chico State. Dave Simon, who is the author of “Meatonomics” is going to be at Chico State and Dr. Jones (the Prof), is interested in putting together a discussion like The Commonwealth Club did here. Dr. Jones wanted to know if I’d like to be apart of this discussion.

I’ll admit, I was hesitant. My experience with some vegans and vegetarians have been less than stellar. Putting myself in the line of fire, away from my computer, is scary and outside of my comfort zone. But, part of the reason this blog exists is because of a vegan that went out of her way to attack my way of life, despite having never met me or seen my ranch. That experience did have a profound affect on me – I flung my barn doors wide open and never looked back.

When I flung my barn doors open, several leaders in my industry made it clear to me that they did not approve. While I certainly understand the repercussions of being so honest (I’m still feeling them), I think our industry needs to be as transparent as we can. We have nothing to hide.

 

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It’s no secret that my biggest criticism of the beef industry is we don’t engage with our consumers in serious matters. We should be using every opportunity, every forum, every event as a platform to tell our stories. For too long, our stories have been told by others, and it’s gotten us no where.

When Dr. Jones mentioned he was having trouble finding someone from the cattle industry to participate, I knew, right then I would love to be apart of this discussion. I met with Dr. Jones to get a copy of the book and talk about this event. I was very much surprised to find Dr. Jones agreed with me about telling our story. He assured me that this event would be positive and informative and not your typical “meat bad, cattle rancher bad” event.

I’m excited. This is me, practicing what I preach.

If you are in the area Monday, October 20th, won’t you think about attending? Word on the playground is there is going to be some Q and A, and I know I could use some support. Plus, I think it is just great that our University is hosting events where we all can learn from different points of view, that is the whole point of education, right?

 

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Culling Cows

Drought. Dry, sparse grass and lots of blue supplement tubs.

Drought. Dry, sparse grass and lots of blue supplement tubs.

The drought we are currently suffering through is showing no signs of improving. Despite our positive attitudes and all the thoughts and prayers for water that we can muster, things continue to get worse. All agriculture related conversations inevitably circle around to water. When will it rain? Will it be a wet year? El Nino? Do you know anyone with extra feed? How are we going to survive? Needless to say, our whole family, actually the whole community, is suffering from a great deal of anxiety.

This is a common picture these days.

This is a common picture these days.

Let me tell you, the worst thing you can say to someone in agriculture right now is anything along the lines of “it’s not going to rain” or “it’s going to be another dry year”. It’s almost like a slap in the face. Staying focused on the now, making it day to day, convincing ourselves it’s going to be okay, are the only things keeping most of us motivated. This is very real to us.

Our hay field.

Our hay field.

Every rancher I know is making every effort to conserve water, to become more efficient and, well, survive. Some ranchers are buying and making all the hay they can. They need feed for their cattle and know that is the only way to get it right now. Other ranchers are culling their herds. We are doing both.

Our beautiful cull cows.

Our beautiful cull cows.

In addition to selling our calf crop, where we earn the majority of our income, about two months early, we made the decision to cull or sell, more cattle than we normally would. Selling your mother cows is almost like selling your future and past. These are cows whose genetics were planned years before they were ever born. We watched their births, we watched them grow up, we cared for them their whole lives, we watched them, in turn, give birth. Now we must sell them.

The auction ring.

The auction ring.

Granted, culling cows is a necessity for a healthy herd. Removing genetics that are not efficient makes your herd more sustainable. And, ranching is a business. If a cow is not making you money, she is costing you money. Most of us operate within such tight margins, we simply can’t afford to have the deadweight, even in a good year.

Some of our girls.

Some of our girls.

It’s different when you are forced to cull cows before they are ready. The drought has forced such action. Cows that had calves that weren’t “perfect”, older cows, cows that simply looked at us the wrong way at the wrong time, all were sold. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to some of these good cows.

We sent a full truck to the sale.

We sent a full truck to the sale.

This is our reality. If we want to continue to ranch despite this drought, tough choices need to be made. Having healthy cattle and ground is our only option and that means doing whatever we must to sustain those things. Running less cattle on our dry ground will cause less stress to everything, therefore when it does rain again (and it will!!), we will be able to bounce back faster and better.

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Some Food for Thought

I thought it was time to share this, since my blog has become popular with the not nice, extreme vegans (let this be a lesson folks, no one likes extremism, it just polarizes people).

I wonder if they make something like this for pigs too?

 

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Wordless Wednesday: Ranchie and Her Buck

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Shorty Awards

The Shorty Awards honor the best of social media, recognizing the people and organizations producing real-time short form content on across Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Foursquare, and the rest of the social Web.”

http://shortyawards.com/MegRaeB

Oh, the Carly Simon song “You’re So Vain” is playing in my head right now. But I can’t help but notice the Shorty Award’s Food category doesn’t have a lot of multi-generational Cattle Ranchers nominated. Want to change that? I do! I can’t help it, but I DO! Here we have yet another, shameless attempt to promote myself. It’s hard!!!! I’m doing it anyway (I might have had a glass of wine in order to write this post, maybe, probably, maybe). Anyway vote for ME! http://shortyawards.com/MegRaeB

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Wordless Wednesday: Jacob the House Eagle

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