Oh, GMO.

The debate over GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, is one that I find maddening. According to the USDA, a GMO is an organism produced through genetic modification. Somehow, somewhere along the way, GMO has become a four letter word that insprires visions of mad scientists in evil lairs, stirring boiling pots of fuzzy puppies to create monster corn and wheat seed. I like fuzzy puppies as much as the next guy but I also like sweet corn. I really like the sweet corn that has more than one or two kernels per ear. You know the kind, it’s genetically modified over the years to have a filled ear. I like mine grilled with butter if you’re cooking.

This year has been one of the driest on record in our part of the state. Our corn stored in the ground for 10 weeks before it mustered enough moisture to sprout. The insurance adjuster zeroed all of our corn last week and it looks pretty dismal. If we were planting the same varieties of seeds that grandpa had available to him, the fields would be even more desolate.

With GMO seed, farmers are able to choose varieties that will do well where they farm. For example, everything we plant is proven drought resistant. Unfortunately, our drought is even more than any seed can overcome.

I saw sweet corn advertised for sale the other day and someone had inquired whether it was GMO. My knee jerk reaction was, and remains, yes. Even the weeds that grow in my garden have modified so the ones most suited to my flowerbed flourish.

We sell a great deal of pork and we do sell all natural pork, meaning that we don’t administer additional growth hormones, though hormones will be a great topic for another blog soon. Many people ask whether our pork is GMO and I’m unsure how to even answer that because the GMO term is used so far out of context.

If you wish to eat organic or non-GMO, that is a personal choice and one I won’t question. I maintain that there are no non-GMOs. All plants and animals have genetically modified through time in one way or another. Triticale is half wheat, half rye and is one of the most popular livestock feeds because it grows well here.

Some people use the term GMO and the trait making plants chemical resistant interchangeably. RoundUp Ready corn is an example but it’s not necessarily GMO but contains a certain trait. If you’ve spent any time in eastern Colorado, you’ve seen Kosha weed, a plant that has grown to become chemically resistant. I always enjoyed the story, be it rural legend or not, about the ingenious marijuana cultivators who grew their plants in between rows of corn. This plan worked well until RoundUp Ready corn came about. RoundUp is hard on marijuana, I’m told.

Peaches and Cream Sweet Corn is one of those cursed GMOs that combines yellow and white sweet corn. You won’t find me protesting that variety, mostly because my mouth will be full.

Foods have evolved over the years to feed the minions efficiently. All these years in agriculture and I have yet to see a mad scientist.

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Of Turkey Legs and Vegetarians

My husband and I raise hogs and a variety of crops on his fifth generation family farm. We’ve learned that in some circles, identifying yourself as a hog farmer is invitation for questions about farrowing crates, gestation stalls, and PETA videos. Frankly, sometimes people just don’t want to sit near us and risk finding out whether we worked hogs that day or not.

I recently had the opportunity to join the other members of the Colorado Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee in Denver in the shadow of the capitol for the Taste of Colorado. We decided last year to have a booth there so we could visit with festival-goers about agriculture as they gnawed on their turkey legs, gyros, and rattlesnake brats.

The booth has provided us the opportunity to discuss with mostly non-agriculturists the ins and outs of everything from GMOs to Monsanto and water rights to CRP. I was pleasantly surprised to hear how many people fondly remembered Grandpa’s farm and the hard work ethic they learned there while on summertime visits. Many people thanked us for growing their food and fiber and, since I was wearing the obligatory pig necklace, earrings and visor, shared their love of bacon with me with great enthusiasm.

One family passed by and I asked if he wanted to take a stab at our trivia question. Many people had tried and were shocked to learn that agriculture contributes $20 billion to the Colorado economy annually. This gentleman shook his head and told me, “Agriculture doesn’t matter to me. I’m a vegetarian.”

Never one to miss an opportunity like this, I walked toward him. “I understand that being a vegetarian is your personal choice but you should know that agriculture grows the cotton for that shirt you’re wearing. And the produce you enjoy? We grow that, too.”

I would love to tell you that I changed the man’s life that day and he left Denver with a renewed appreciation for agriculture. He didn’t. He walked away from me and I let him go at the risk of him telling his own stories about the lunatic hog farmer who escaped to Denver. However, I can tell you that there was another young man listening to the conversation. He had gauge earrings, a number of tattoos and was holding in his hand a half-eaten turkey leg. As the vegetarian walked away, he turned to me and said, “Dude, that guy doesn’t know what he’s missing,” and he took another bite of greasy, delicious turkey. “Yep,” I thought, “Agriculture rocks.”