Coming from a small town in Central Illinois, I have grown up around agriculture all my life and have a good understanding of how food, fiber and fuel is produced for our consumption. I was aware that some people did not understand what the farmers’ role is and how they produce food for our consumption. However, I did not fully understand how uninformed consumers were about the agriculture industry until I went to college.
I currently attend Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois, where I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Business with minors in Agronomy and Animal Science. I also work on campus as a Resident Assistant (RA) and as a student worker in the Agriculture/ Engineering & Technology advising office. Through both of my positions on campus, I have met many people from many walks of life and I find myself constantly hearing some funny and appalling claims about the agriculture industry.
For example: cow tipping is not a thing kids in the country do when they are bored.
Below I have made a list of a few things I have taught people during my time in college and some basic food labels that are misunderstood.
What are GMOs?
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism.
While this term carries a negative connotation by some consumers for a farmer it can be a very beneficial tool. GMOs allow us to produce more crops with less land, inputs and chemicals.
Misconception: GMO are not harmful or unhealthy. No scientific evidence has shown negative effects from eating GMOs. They contain the same if not more nutrients than conventional or organic products.
Non-GMO Project is not regulated by a government agency. It is a third party certification. That means it is not regulated or overseen by a government agency and they have their own set of rules to certify their products as “NON-GMO.”
What does “Organic” mean?
USDA Organic means that the crop was produced by following a list of guidelines that is regulated by the USDA. For products to be certified as USDA organic 95% of the product can not contain GMOs. If the product is a meat item it can not be fed GMO grain.
Misconception: Organic can use chemicals, but they must be natural chemicals. That means the chemical can not synthetically made or made in a laboratory.
For example using manure from an animal instead of a man made spray.
For more information on the USDA Organic guidelines click here.
What does Natural mean?
Natural: USDA defines natural products as those being free of artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemical preservatives and minimally processed. Products can be labeled as being made with all-natural ingredients provided a portion of the ingredients are natural, but not all ingredients have to be all-natural to earn that label.
This means that products can be labeled “made with all-natural ingredients” but they can contain artificial ingredients and chemical preservatives.
What does “Free Range” means?
The USDA states in order for an operation to be labeled Free Range:
“Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.”
This simply means that the chicken can go to an outside area at anytime. They are not always outside roaming around like the commercials show.
Why do we farm?
What some people do not understand is farming is a gamble. We plant crops hoping the weather cooperates, no natural disasters hit, pray for rain and a good price at the market. We do not negotiate our prices; we take what we can get and make it work. Many small farms experience tough times and ultimately some sell out.
“The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays freight both ways.” -John F. Kennedy
Our farm has been in our family for generations and farming is something you are born into. The passion, tradition and responsibility is instilled into you at a young age. I am a proud member of the agriculture industry and I love every part of agriculture. I was taught by my grandfather from a young age to love and care for all of God’s creatures and plants. It is our responsibility to watch over the land and take care of it. Our goal as farmers is to produce crops and livestock to the best of our abilities while taking care of the land as best we can. That is why my family farms.
Check out Beck’s Why I Farm campaign for testimonials from other farmer family.
We eat what we Grow
Everything we grow in our fields we eat fresh and preserve some to enjoy later. Farmers would not produce something that is unsafe because their kids and grand kids are consuming that very same product.
About the Author
My name is Stephanie Miller and I am currently a Junior Agriculture Business major with minors in agronomy and Animal Science at Western Illinois University. I am currently the President of Horticulture club, a member of Ag Council and I love my agriculture family! I am from Manito, IL and my family farms in Mason County. We raise Polled Hereford cattle, corn, soybeans, hay and specialty crops such as green beans and peas. My love for agriculture runs deep and I love sharing my passion.