The benefits of a Controlled Burn

Wildfires are a serious matter.  In our neck of the woods, a recent forest fire in Easpoint, FL destroyed hundreds of acres of land as well as almost 30 homes in the area.  Authorities are uncertain if it was due to a controlled burn or from a lightning strike.  While a controlled burn might be the culprit of this tragedy, 99% of the time, controlled burns can help prevent wildfires as well as promote a healthy forest, especially if that forest is a timber farm.  Let’s explain why.

Most controlled burns are done by trained foresters to help clear out the undergrowth in a forest.  This undergrowth not only takes away nutrients that the trees could use, they also block sunlight from young trees, and even harbor pests that could spread diseased to the local tree population.  Some species, like pine, prosper once a fire has occurred in their environment.  The high temperatures cause the pine cones to open and release seeds that spread onto the ground below.

wildfire-1160857_1280

However, most wildfires, like the ones you might see on TV, are not caused by controlled burns but are in fact wildfires.  These wildfires are located in natural forests, ones that are not controlled burned for the health of that ecosystem, and usually have large amounts of undergrowth.  If drought has been common for a while in that area, any small fire or even a lightning strike could cause a fire and lead to thousands if not millions of dollars in damage.  These should go to prove how necessary controlled burns are and how they can prevent devastating wildfires.

We will learn more in the fall when we visit a timber farm and learn first hand how these wildfires are done.  Until then, we wish the best for the people of Eastpoint, and we will see you next time.

 

Why the ‘NON-GMO Label’ is Wrong

 

 

You’ve probably seen the ‘NON-GMO Project Verified’ logo a few dozen times during your last trip to the grocery store.  This label is supposed to tell consumers that the item at hand is not a GMO or that it doesn’t have any ingredients that might be derived from GMO crops.  Well, news flash, the ‘NON-GMO Verified Project’ label is extremely misleading.  Here’s why.

 

GMO, or ‘Genetically Modified Organisms’ is a tad misleading for this label.  Essentially everything we now eat has been genetically modified in some way thanks to nature or farmers from back in the day.  Take carrots, for example, carrots started out yellow, purple, and white. It wasn’t until a new variety of carrots were developed that they actually resembled the orange carrots we know and love today.  This new variety of carrots was developed in the 1600s and done so by selective breeding, which is breeding select varieties of foods together until the new strain displays the desired characteristics. This genetic modification process is 100% natural and was the building blocks for today’s genetic engineering practices.  This same process has happened with numerous foods, like potatoes and even apples.  How else do you think we now have over 7,500 varieties of apples?

 

GMOs are not the issue at hand.  The issue consumers have are with plants that have had their genetic makeup altered through genetic engineering.  A better term to use for these crops would be ‘Genetically Engineered Organisms’, this term encompasses any and all crops that have been developed using modern-day genetic engineering practices.  The current list of Genetically Engineered crops isn’t nearly as long as you would think.

 

The current list of GE crops available in the U.S. includes apples, potatoes, field corn, sweet corn, canola, alfalfa, soybean, rainbow papaya, cotton, sugar beets and summer squash.  Here are some example products you may find from those items and why they have been genetically engineered:

Apples – non-browning variety.  NOT all apples.

Potatoes – blight resistant, reduced bruising

Field Corn – used for livestock feed, corn syrup, corn oil, alcohol, etc – insect resistance,                            herbicide and drought tolerance

Sweet Corn – food – insect resistance and herbicide tolerance

Canola – Cooking oil and animal feed – herbicide tolerance

Soybeans – livestock feed, vegetable oil, soy sauce, etc – insect resistance, herbicide                                  tolerance

Summer Squash – food – disease resistance

Rainbow Papaya – disease resistance

Cotton – Fiber, animal feed, cottonseed oil – insect resistance and herbicide tolerance

Sugar Beets – sugar and animal feed – herbicide tolerance

 

We will cover Genetically Engineered crops in a future episode, but here are just a few reasons why these crops are beneficial and completely safe to eat. GE crops are more efficient in using water and nutrients as compared to regular crops, some GE crops can produce natural pesticides to fend off pests and diseases, and GE crops are tested more than any crop in history and are proven to be just as safe and nutritious as NON-GE varieties.  The USDA, World Health Organization, and other agencies have all come to this consensus. Look at what the American Medical Association has to say on the matter.

 

The American Medical Association

“Foods derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 15 years, with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health), despite many of the consumers coming from the most litigious of countries, the USA.”

 

A large number of items that have the ‘NON-GMO verified’ label, don’t even have any genetically engineered varieties.  However, most if not all of them have been genetically modified by nature or by farmers generations ago.

This label is just a marketing ploy.  Companies use this label because it helps their items sell.  Consumers are afraid of what they don’t know; they think the ‘NON-GMO verified’ label means that item, in particular, is healthier than the item that doesn’t have it.  Don’t buy into that hype, literally.

 

The root problem with this communication breakdown is twofold. The first being that companies, mainly advertising firms, need to stop using false information to make you want their product more than the competitors.  Their marketing schemes might help sales go up, but it vastly misinforms the general public. The second problem is education. The agriculture community needs to do all it can to better inform consumers about their food and what goes into it.  In addition, consumers must do a better job of fact-checking where they are getting their information as well as not believing all the labeling or advertising they see in stores or on television. The first step is not believing this label.

 

After seeing this video what do you think?  Do you think the ‘NON-GMO verified’ label is misleading consumers?  Or do you think the label is still appropriate? I reeeealy hope you don’t.  Let us know in the comments below and we can keep this discussion going.

The future of Agriculture could be…shipping containers?

There must be something in the family genes of the Musk family.  Elon, the founder of Telsa, SpaceX and his brother, Kimbal, is making a name for himself in the food industry.

We won’t focus much on his revolutionary restaurant venture, but will instead focus on his plans for the future of farming.  Hydroponics, which is a topic we know and love.  Using old shipping container, Musk’s farm system is a self container farm that can grow crops year round, no matter it’s location nor the outside environment.  This has huge potential in urban areas where many restaurants are now looking to buy produce locally.

Check out the video below from Beme News and see what all the fuss is about.

 

Raw Meat vs Cooked Meat

 

Hello and welcome to Farm Traveler where we’re not at a farm again, this is obviously a kitchen, but we will get to a farm one day.  I promise!

Today I’ve got some beef with you…literally.  We have some beef, pork, chicken and fish…well fish in the form of sushi.  So maybe you’ve wondered by you can eat some meats, like fish and beef raw or even just under cooked while other meats like pork and chicken need to be cooked thoroughly.  A lot of this has to do with how the item has been processed, stored and even cooked, ensuring that all the bacteria has been killed so you don’t get sick. But, if by chance you do get sick, most food borne illnesses are due to improper cooking techniques and not bad meats.  

Fish is relatively healthy to eat raw, so long that it has been frozen at some point before being consumed.  The freezing process kills off most bacteria, leaving it safe to eat, much like when you cook fish. That means technically gas station sushi should be ok to eat as long as it was frozen after being processed, but who really wants to take that chance?

Chicken and Pork are very different in that they need to be cooked thoroughly in order to kill off any bacteria, like salmonella and e.coli, that might be on the surface of the meat.  Chicken also has a less dense flesh then pork and even beef, which allows bacteria to travel deep into the flesh, all the more reason to make sure your chicken isn’t pink on the inside.  Cooking chicken to its ideal temperature of 165 degree F ensures all bacteria, both inside and on the surface, have been killed off, just like Han Solo in the Force Awakens.

Beef is a very dense meat, which doesn’t allow bacteria to penetrate the flesh.  But any bacteria that might be found on the surface can be killed off with a quick sear.  That’s why it’s totally okay to eat a rare steak.

Now, if you’ve ever cooked beef or almost any red meat, you may have noticed a red liquid before and even after you cook it.  Most people say ‘Oh, it’s just blood’ which is incorrect. When an animal is processed, all the blood is removed as quickly as possible to help ensure the freshness of the meat.  That red liquid is actually a mixture of water and myoglobin, with myoglobin being a protein found in the muscle. When meat is frozen, the water inside expands and then turns into ice crystals, those ice crystals then rupture the muscle cells.  When thawed out, that water is released from the cell and carry’s some myoglobin with it. The same thing happens with chicken but the liquid is less red due to smaller amounts of myoglobin. So next time your Uncle Phil says he likes his steak still bloody, call him out!

Now you know why some meats can be eaten raw, while others need to be cooked thoroughly in order to avoid getting a food borne illness.  And remember that keeping your cooking surfaces and your hands clean also helps prevent spreading any bacteria.

Thanks for joining us and please be sure to share this video and check out farm traveler at the links below.  Now, you’ll excuse me, dinner isn’t going to cook itself!

Understanding Hydroponics and Aquaponics

 

 

Sustainable Agriculture – the production of food, fiber and other plant and animal products using farming techniques that protect the environment.  Things, like preventing soil erosion and conserving water, are great examples.

Aquaculture is the process of farming fish, crustaceans, or aquatic plants.  Using tanks, ponds, or even large pens in the ocean, farmers maintain a healthy environment for the fish to grow.  In this example, the fish are raised in a tank that filters out the water, much like a home aquarium but on a larger scale.  The fish are feed, the water is filtered through this filter, and when big enough, the fish are caught for processing.

Fish are among the most efficient in terms of feed conversion.  This chart will represent how many pounds of feed an animal has to eat in order to gain 1 pound of body mass.  Fish only need 1.1 lbs of food to gain one pound of body mass. Chickens require 1.7 lbs of feed, pigs need 2.9 lbs and cows require almost 7 pounds of feed to gain only one pound of body mass.  One of the main reasons fish are super efficiency and feed conversion is because they are endothermic, meaning they do not have to produce their own body heat. Instead, they rely on their environment.  

The next process is hydroponics or the growing of plants in water without the use of soil.  Regular plants grow in the soil where the ground provides both structure and nutrients for the plant.  With hydroponics, plants are supported by varying types of growth media such as clay pebbles, sand or even just sponges.  These types of growth media allow water to flow freely around the plant’s roots to bring nutrients, while also creating a stable structure for the plant.  The nutrients are added to the water via fertilizers and the grower can have precise control of what the nutrients in the water. There is even an offshoot of hydroponics called aeroponics where plants and their roots are suspended in the air. This process provides plenty of oxygen for the plant and it receives the rest of its nutrients from a nutrient solution deliver from a mister.

With a hydroponic system, the water must maintain a steady pH level or a measure of acidity and alkalinity of the water that affects nutrient absorption.  If the pH is too high or too low, the plant won’t be able to absorb the nutrients it needs. If the pH is at a level of 10 for example, there are only small amounts of Nitrogen available, but at that level, there are high levels of sulfur or boron.  The ideal level, where all nutrients are available in good supply is around 7 on the scale.

Hydroponics is also much more efficient than typical row crops.  With a hydroponic system, the water is closed off from the outside environment and won’t be lost due to erosion and only small amounts will be lost due to evaporating.   A large percentage of water for row crops either evaporates or is lost due to erosion. Compared to typical row crops, hydroponics saves 70% more water over the life cycle of the plant.  

The culmination of aquaculture and hydroponics is aquaponics or the process of raising both fish and plants in one system.  The plants are grown in much the same manner as with a hydroponic system except that they receive their nutrients via the water from the fish tank that is full of waste that acts as a natural fertilizer for the plants.  As the fish are fed, they produce waste, that wastewater is then pumped towards the plants where the roots absorb the nutrients and act as a natural filter for the fish, filtering out all the waste and returning fresh, clean water to the tank.  

Most aquaponics systems cost a pretty penny.  But you can buy smaller systems are some stores or make your own for only a few bucks at home.  A simple tank with a Beta fish and a few net pots at the top of the tank can provide you with a great herb garden.

All of this can be of great use to us and the environment.  By the year 2050, the population of the plant will reach over 9 billion people and that’s a lot more mouths to feed.  Sustainable Agriculture, along with methods like aquaculture, hydroponics, and aquaponics, might just be the answer we need to produce enough food and keep the planet healthy.

Thanks so much for stopping by and see you next time!

 

 

Poultry Industry VS…..The Tellytubbies?

 

To research for this post, I had to do something I thought would never happen.  Google search the word “Tellytubbies”.  You remember Tellytubbies, right?  Those creepy looking and rather round characters that never stopped smiling?  Well believe it or not, but the Tellytubby gang is a part of the story for this week.  And yes, it does still relate to agriculture.

A few years ago, an image started circulating around the internet that claimed to show you what processed poultry looked like.  At first glance, it looked rather nasty.

pink slime

Yeah that does look nasty, doesn’t it?  Who in their right mind would want to eat this “Pink Slime” after seeing this image?

This post spread like wildfire and heaven knows just how many people actually believed it.  This was one of the first times the term “Pink Slime” was shared across social media and other parts of the internet.

People who only saw the first bit of that post were extremely misinformed.  Keep reading the post just a little and you see what this “Pink Slime” is actually from.

funny-custard-machine-teletubbies-chicken.jpg

Done laughing?  Me neither.  That machine is actually the Tubby Custard machine from “Tellytubbies!”

What is not a laughing matter is the negative image this post put on the agriculture industry, specifically poultry production.  Consumers started worrying about how their poultry produce was made and many assumed the worst just by looking at the image.

Poultry production is a topic we hope to cover in-depth one day.  Until then let’s learn the difference between “Pink Slime” and “Mechanically Separated Chicken”, which is another word people associate with “Pink Slime.” These two definitions couldn’t be any more different.  Mechanically Separated Chicken is the extra bit after the more popular cuts (breasts, legs, wings, thighs) have been removed.  Poultry breasts, wings, and the like are very popular items and easy to sell to consumers.  However, there is a good amount of poultry muscle fibers left once those cuts have been removed.  That extra bit is collected and then made into popular items such as nuggets or patties,  It’s totally safe to eat and isn’t packed with any harmful chemicals like the original image claimed.  Your poultry is safely handled and processed, just do a little research from some reliable sources and you will see for yourself.

Moral of the story: never believe anything you see on the internet and be sure to do your research before you share something.  What you think is a joke could actually have a huge negative impact on an industry.

Thanks so much for stopping by Farm Traveler this week.  Hope to see you next week, stay tuned for more.

 

 

Farm Traveler 2.0

Hello there!  Long time no see.

You’ve probably heard of the saying, “Great things come to those who wait.”  It’s true for a lot of things in life and is about to be true for our followers.  Farm Traveler 2.0 is about to kick off this year and we could not be more excited.  During our brief, kinda super long hiatus, we realized our content was few and far between, without much meat on the bones.  Well that all changes now.

Thanks to some new management (a wife with some serious motivational skills) this year we plan to amp up our production and release a steady stream of content that will better educate you and your family on food production.

In the meantime, be sure to follow us on Facebook and our new Instagram.

Stay tuned for more thanks for sticking by us.  See you next week!

– T

Hurricane Harvey’s effect on Texas Agriculture

If you’ve been seen any bit of news this week, you are most likely aware that parts of Southeastern Texas are being hit by Hurricane Harvey.  Over the past few days, Houston has received more rainfall that Seatle has all year.  And Seattle, the rain capital of the United States, has set a record this year with the most rain on record.  With the flood, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced due to evacuations and flood damage to their homes.  As the storm slowly passes, aid from across the country has started to come in like that of the Cajun Navy, Lousiana Fish and Wildlife and what seems like everyone in the South that owns a boat.  But one aspect of Texas that some people have forgotten about that is being greatly affected by the hurricane is the agriculture industry.

Texas is the agricultural backbone of the United States leading the country in farmland, beef cattle and just the all around “Ag vibe”.  You might have seen on Facebook or other news sites, but farmers and ranchers have been evacuating their livestock since before the storm made landfall.  One video even displayed a cattle drive taking place on city streets complete with police escorts.  Thousands of animals have been displaced from their homes and been relocated to farms or ranches out of the dangerous storm zones.  These animals are the livelihood of the farmers and ranchers in Texas who not only have to worry about their livestock but also the safety of their families.  We can’t even begin to imagine the pressure they are facing.

But like the great state of Texas, these people are strong and resilient.  They will recover from this storm albeit a few scratches and some broken fences.  Below we have listed some links in case you would like to donate.  The links are for the American Red Cross and the Texas Star Fund, which was created to assist farmers in natural disasters such as this.

American Red Cross

Texas STAR Fund

Also, check out Agriculture.com’s coverage of some social media images and videos of farmers and ranchers doing their best to keep their livestock and farms safe during the storm.

Agricultre.com Covers Hurricane Harvey’s effect on livestock

A Pro GMO documentary?

Podcasts are a new addiction of mine.  Driving to work or going on a long road trip can be much more entertaining while listening to Mike Rowe’s “The way I heard it” or even The Nerdist Podcasts.  One such podcast that came with a pleasant surprise was an episode of StarTalk Radio with Neil deGrasse Tyson (your personal astrophysicist) and his take on a documentary called, Food Evolution.  In the podcast, Neil chats with the documentary director as well as a food scientist on many issues surrounding GMOs.  And surprisingly, they all spoke very highly of the science behind GMOs.  I will be sure to drop a link to the podcast below, be sure to give it a listen the next time you run errands around town.

Some key points made by the podcast:

  • The term “Genetically Modified Organism” encompasses much more than plant varieties developed in a laboratory.
  • Scientific consensus is that GMOs pose no threat to health – instead focus should be on sustainable agriculture practices.
  • GMO’s have helped save populations in lower developed countries whose food supply is their main source of income.  An example being Uganda and their banana blight.
  • Technically Organic Produce can include GMO varieties.

Be sure to check out the StarTalk Radio Podcast mentioned above  – StarTalk Radio Podcast – https://www.startalkradio.net/show/understanding-gmos-future-food/

 

The documentary seems to cover many issues surrounding GMOs: Are GMOs harmful? Are they ruining the planet? Is organic produce healthier than GMOs?  Check out a trailer below!

Food Evolution Trailer

The trailer looks great, right?  Besides the person who stated, “I trust social media before I do doctors, the FDA, ….”  Please, never be as naive as her.  Do your research and only trust credible sources, aka NOT your social media feed.  If you are trusting your “followers” more than you trust a doctor, you may need to log off for a while and reevaluate your life choices.   

I haven’t had a chance to watch the documentary yet but certainly plan to.  Be on the look out for an article on it in the coming weeks.  It looks like a well developed film!

 

Still not convinced?  Agree or disagree with anything you heard?  Let us know, we look forward to continuing this discussion with you!

 

Thanks for stopping by!  See you next time.

-T

With a little help from our friends

Thinking of The Beatles hit “With a little help from my friends”?  Then you have great taste in music.  This lyric rings true for us here at Farm Traveler because we are looking for a little help from our friends, which just happen to be you!

While our team is hard at work scouting out locations and building relationships with people in the agriculture industry across Florida, we need your help in broadening our horizons.

If you or someone you know works in the agriculture industry as a farmer, rancher, scientist, etc., please feel free to contact us or share our story so we can get in touch with anyone and everyone that might me willing to work with us.  We plan to visit and learn from as many people as possible so we can better inform consumers about their food.

Thank you so much for your help and we can’t wait to show you what we have planned!

You may contact us at farmtravelerseries@gmail.com or on our Facebook page.

 

See you soon!

-The Farm Traveler Team

Growth Hormones in Chicken?

You know that feeling of ordering chicken nuggets from McDonald’s?  You place your order, drive up to pay, and drive to the second window to receive your nugget goodness.  It’s a good day.

Well almost any TV commercial or Facebook post you see about chicken is saying “Stay away form chickens with antibiotics!” or “Our chicken is always growth hormone free!”  Needless to say, we have a thing or two to say about that.

The Poultry Industry is basically any bird raised for consumption: chickens, turkey, duck, etc.  Your meat birds are called Broilers/Fryers and birds used for egg laying are called Laying birds (duh).  Today we will focus on Broiler birds and if they are raised with growth hormones.  We will save antibiotics, free-range and cage-free chickens for another time.

Image result for are chickens raised with hormones

Now you may have seen the above picture before that shows how chickens have grown over the last few decades.  Some people automatically associate this with growth hormones even though the FDA made growth hormones illegal on U.S. poultry in 1960.  The growth in these chickens is a result of selective breeding, where we can take chickens with the best traits (feed conversion, weight, growth rate) and use those as parents to produce offspring with the same desired traits.  This is what has been done to produce the broilers we use today.

Now lets say we did use growth hormones on chickens, how would they be administered?  Check out what The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research and Extension has to say on this:

2. Growth hormones must be injected to work.
They do not work when added in the feed or
water. If fed, hormones are digested into their
basic amino acids which destroy their function as
hormones. The only way to maintain their action
as a growth­stimulating steroid is to inject them
into each bird almost daily.

So growth hormones can’t be added to feed, therefore must be given by injection.  One of my old professors from the University of Florida, who was a Poultry Scientist (so he pretty much was THE expert on all things poultry) told us how inefficient it would be to give chickens shots, yet alone shots of growth hormones.  He stated that to give all the chickens in the U.S. a shot, assuming it took a skilled vet 1 second to administer it, would take 9 years.  9 years to give shots to just the chickens we have today.  9 whole years.  Seems pretty inefficient, right?  Yet another reason poultry are never given growth hormones.

Ever see a label for chicken that says “Raise without antibiotics/growth hormones”?  Labels that have this are required by law to have an additional section that states that no hormones are used in the production of any poultry.

Hopefully, this post will help ease your fear about growth hormones in your chicken, because there is none.  If you would like to know more please feel free to check out our sources below.

Wanna learn more?  Disagree with something we said?  Leave us a comment.  We would love to hear from you!

Sources

https://www.bestfoodfacts.org/farm-raised-chickens-hormones-antibiotics/

https://thetruthaboutag.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/the-truth-about-hormone-free-chickens/

Chickopedia: What Consumers Need to Know

Click to access FSA-8007.pdf

Click to access nass-poultry-stats-factsheet.pdf

The one about our beginnings…

Hello and welcome to the first Farm Traveler blog post.

Our ultimate plan, besides world domination, is to show you exactly how your food is produced, in an unbiased fashion that is free of “fake news”.  On our website, Facebook, and YouTube channel, we will bring you content that will better inform you and your family about the food you eat.  Is organic food actually healthier for you?  Are GMOs bad?  Are there high levels of hormones in dairy milk?  Is gluten actually unhealthy?  These are some examples of the questions we plan on answering.  If you have any suggestions on topics we should cover let us know in the comments section!  We look forward to starting this journey with you.

See you soon!