‘Tis the season for lists. I have the Christmas gift list and the dish-to-pass list. Santa is checking his naughty/nice list. Here is year four of another list – The 10 Most Fascinating People in Farms & Food. No research team or committee vetted the folks or situations listed below. Just me, my archived newsfeed and input from My Farmer, which always leads me to ask, “Who would make your list?” Please share! I’d love to hear!
10. Donald Trump Before you click away, let me explain. The #10 spot was saved for whomever emerged as president-elect this year. This individual and his/her cabinet has/had the ability to shape farm and food policy one way or another. We saw the attempted revolution of school lunches from First Lady Michelle Obama, and President Obama’s EPA push an over-reaching water quality policy. Trump’s round-about anti-trade (or is it anti?) talk concerns the agriculture community. Our business operates in a global marketplace. We know trade must be fair, but it also MUST be there . . . as an option. In the meantime, we wait for the announcement of Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture and for whatever comes next.
9. Girl Scouts I LOVE Girl Scout cookies, especially Thin Mints. My annual cookie purchase has become about more than feeding a craving though. Its my way to show support to a youth organization teaching leadership, citizenship and critical thinking. The last few years when cookie sales launch so does the onslaught of protests, petitions and scary claims from anti-GMO groups. Their mantra is to attack something familiar, safe and generally well-accepted by society. In doing so, they spread food fear, gain media attention and push their anti-science agenda. We’ve seen food companies cave to these tactics – Subway, Hershey’s, General Mills. But Girl Scouts have chosen to stand with science. In their FAQs, they plainly state the list of international organizations that have studied and approved ingredients derived from genetically modified crops. They also say this, “It is also important to note that in the future, GMO ingredients may offer new, cost-effective alternatives to feeding the world’s growing population.” Eat that cookie!
8. Marc Brazeau, Food And Farm Discussion Lab Marc is one of the fearless moderators of Food And Farm Discussion Lab, a public Facebook group just a few years old. He also leads the efforts behind the website baring the same name. More than 4,000 members strong, the group encompasses the grand international diversity that is food and farm discussion – from conventional to organic farmers, nutritionists, scientists, skeptics, and food lovers. Marc’s agenda in his own words “is to encourage rational skepticism, scientific literacy, and critical thinking. I promise to be as transparent as possible.” He is. He moderates discussions about the most divisive farm/food topics by reminding commenters to “Be awesome to each other.” This is one place where healthy debate and critical thinking about agriculture is alive and well online.
7. Hefty Brothers Most Sunday breakfast conversations between My Farmer and my dad include the latest news according to the Hefty Brothers. While there are many experts and news outlets to which farmers turn for information, Darren and Brian Hefty, South Dakota farmers, agronomists and seed dealers have been sharing farming basics with their audience since 1997 when AgPhD Radio began. The next year, Ag PhD TV launched with a new 30-minute show every week. The brothers stay away from talking farm policy, markets and Mother Nature because no farmer has much control on those factors. They can control however, seed, pesticide and fertilizer choices, improving soil and increasing yields. My Farmer likens these two to agriculture broadcasting giants Orion Samuelson and Max Armstrong. “They’re easy to listen to,” My Farmer said. “And give good advice.” From a farmer who has little to say, that’s saying something.
6. The Foodie Farmer I follow many farmer bloggers to feed my curiosity of the how and why of farming different crops in different regions. The Foodie Farmer has quickly become a favorite. Under the handle @DirtDietician, Jennie Schmidt, shares about her family’s diverse Maryland farm. From grapes to tofu soybeans, this registered dietitian and farmer explains the technology, science, environment and end-game of each crop and farming task. I admire her ability to snap a picture of a simple farming task and explain it in a manner that truly explains why farmers make the choices they make. She is one to follow.
5. Bill Nye, the Science Guy In his 2014 book “Undeniable”, Nye outlined his concerns about genetically modified organisms and their potential effect on the environment and food. The scientific community wasn’t happy with his lack of inquiry about the topic. A year later, Nye visited Monsanto where he did what scientists do. He inquired, he studied, and learned from the scientists who actually do the work of genetic engineering. Just as Mark Lynas did in 2013, Nye retracted his statements and actually rewrote his book to include his new outlook on biotechnology in agriculture. Nye’s continued support of exploring DNA and genes as it relates to agriculture proves again that a solid study of scientific fact and meeting the people who do the work is essential to truly understanding an unknown.
4. Natasha Nicholes, blogger, Houseful of Nichols Natasha was one of the original ‘field moms’ of the Illinois Farm Families, a project to bring moms who lived in Chicagoland out to Illinois farms to talk, learn and then write about their thoughts on food. I’ve met Natasha since, on a tour of Monsanto and most recently, of Cantigny, a golf course doing amazing things to promote bee health. Each time we meet I am taken with Natasha’s smile and authenticity. She is the no nonsense fellow mom who will let you know mac and cheese from a box is okay, but also encourage you to be adventurous with your cooking. This year her enthusiasm for learning about food took shape as a community garden in her ‘back’yard. Her humble efforts were rewarded with a visit from Harry Connick Jr., whose daytime talk show supplied more materials (and chickens!) to the cause as well as a day of relaxation for Natasha. She blogged all about this adventure here and included links to the episode featuring her, her family and garden.
3. Holly Spangler, editor, Prairie Farmer; blogger, My Generation Holly Spangler is a mother, gifted writer, intelligent editor, talented podcaster (check out Confessions of a Farm Wife with Holly and Emily Webel) and a passionate farmer. She eloquently captures country living through her blog, My Generation. Her finger is on the pulse of Illinois agriculture as she tackles the big topics – the dilapidated state fairgrounds, the lack of farmers in our state’s legislature, the stance (or lack there-of) presidential candidates took on agriculture issues. But even more so, Holly captures the essence of rural America spotlighting good people doing good things just because it is the right thing to do. Which is why she’s on my list . . . some people deserve a round of applause just because they are good. And Holly is good for agriculture.
2. Dairy Farmers Maybe I have too many dairy farmers in my newsfeed, but it was hard to ignore their plight with posts like this from Dairy Woman Strong “Dropping Milk Prices and Emotional Stress” or this meme from Dairy Mom:
Depressed prices have led to some families selling the herd and others contemplating how to hang on. With Walmart’s recent announcement of plans to build a milk processing plant and enter the dairy supply chain, it seems as if dairy farmers are in for even more challenging days ahead.
During my dairy lessons with elementary school students, the reality of dairying sets in. “What if the farmer is sick?” “What if its snowing really hard?” The cows still must be milked, the calves still need to be fed, the animals still need a caretaker, I say. Inevitably, a wide-eyed student will proclaim, “Farmers work really hard.” Amen!
1. Eleanor Zimmerlein Not many of you will know the name Eleanor Zimmerlein but trust me when I say she is one of the original farmHers. She and her late husband farmed and raised their family not too far from some of our fields. She remains involved in the farm today, but spends most of her time volunteering for the cause – agriculture. Just a few weeks ago, she was awarded the Eagle Award for Excellence, the highest award the Illinois Farm Bureau can bestow on its membership. Her resume is long . . . more than 30 years spent serving on Farm Bureau committees at the local and state level. She served in leadership roles with the Illinois Agri-Women and 20 years ago, received the LEAVEN Award from the American Agri-Women. She served in advisory roles on a number of state agriculture committees, organizations and associations. IFB put together this short video highlighting Eleanor’s contributions to agriculture. Eleanor is a true farmer. She understands problems aren’t solved with words but with work.
That attitude and these people . . . fascinating.
*Rankings were not determined by any official process. Photos were snagged from Facebook, blogs and websites. If you would prefer not to have your picture used, please let me know and I’ll remove it right away!
Who made The List in the past? Read my 10 Most Fascinating lists: