The return to school in fast approaching. If you are not planning to do so, seriously consider packing lunches for your children rather than purchasing school lunches. In so doing, you can insure that your children are receiving healthy food—and, of significant importance, you will reduce chance of the kids becoming overweight or obese. A study released earlier this month by researchers at the University of Michigan found that school lunches, right up there with excessive TV watching, carried an obesity risk.
To gain insight into how to prepare a healthy lunch for your kids, I spoke with Chris Chinn who together with her husband, parents, and brothers run a family farm in Clarence, Missouri. The farm has been in the family for five generations. I was of the opinion that family farms had been replaced by large conglomerates throughout the United States. Chris set me straight on that point: a startling 95% of crops in the nation are produced on family farms, such as the one managed by the Chinn family. She also noted that today’s farmers are connected—both to their farms and to social media such as Facebook; thus, their urban location is just a mouse click away from connecting with other farmers as well as city-folk. Farmers use social media to not only connect with other farmers but also to connect with individuals throughout the US who need information on health food products.
I found that Chris’ opinions regarding common food issues were similar to mine. One controversial topic is genetically modified organisms (GMOS). She is of the opinion that these foods are just as safe for consumption as non-GMOS. Ever since man ceased a hunter-gatherer existence and settled down in one location to raise crops and livestock, he has engaged in their improvement by selecting seeds from more productive plants and breeding livestock with superior characteristics. CMOS have simply accelerated that process.
Chris notes that organic fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious, they are merely grown without the aid of any harmful pesticides. Antibiotics given to farm animals are a major health concern. Chris notes that both meat and milk are rigorously monitored. Animals, like people, get sick and sometimes need antibiotics. These animals are not slaughtered until the antibiotics have cleared their system. All milk is strictly tested for antibiotics on the farm and at the processing plant. Any milk that tests positive cannot be sold to the public. Likewise, all livestock animals must wait before a treated animal may be slaughtered to assure any antibiotics have cleared the animal’s system. The industry is taking proactive steps to ensure that antibiotics are being judiciously used to minimize the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. For example, in accordance with FDA guidelines, within three to four years antibiotics will no longer be used to promote growth.
Pesticides are still used by farmers; however recent innovation have improved the efficiency of using herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers. Here are a few examples:
- Buffer strips and trees between crops and waterways can filter nitrogen and prevent it from seeping into groundwater or rivers and streams
- Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies allow farmers to vary the rate of fertilizer application across a given field precisely, tailoring the amount applied to a particular portion of a field to the amount needed by the plants growing there. Most growers involved have learned ways to reduce nitrogen use by 50 lbs. per acre or more without reducing profits.
- Dairy farmers in California’s Central Valley are using a new tool that helps them improve groundwater quality and reduce chemical fertilizer use. The project includes installing flow meters in dairy lagoons to allow the controlled application of nitrogen-rich wastewater at beneficial levels, and using an in-field nitrogen test that tells farmers how much of this key nutrient they are applying to avoid water quality impacts. They then time applications to maximize crop uptake of nitrogen and prevent nitrate and salt migration into surface water or groundwater.
- The use of seed treatments protects a plant during its germination and formative weeks from the damaging impact of pests and diseases without having to use pesticide sprays. (NCGA)
- Fertilizer application rates and timing, as well as conservation practices such as cover crops, are also utilized to allow farmers to conserve nitrogen
For more information about American farmers and how they are promoting healthy food production, click on this link to the US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance Web site.