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Churchill 2015

 

 

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photo credit; Kea Narfason

 

In the past I have tried to keep my posts mostly focused on agriculture. A lot of the people who pop in to visit my page are involved in the industry and probably aren’t interested in family vacation photos and the like. This post is going to be a bit of an exception but hang in through the whole thing, I’ll get to the farming stuff eventually. I promise!

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I recently returned from a trip to Churchill, MB with the Wadena Composite School. The principal, Darin Faubert, does a fabulous job of organizing trips around Canada for the students to learn about this wonderful country we live in. My son Brayden was so excited about this one that I decided I better sign us up to go even though I knew it might be nip and tuck to finish harvest in time. The children were excited to see the polar bears and learn about the history of this northern community. Some of us farming parents were just as excited to see The Hudson Bay Port! But more on that later…….

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Rain, moons and sunsets. Beauty from the field.

With the early start to harvest this year, I had my heart set on finishing around (Canadian) Thanksgiving. With our harvesting time being stalled by over 14 days due to rain, things didn’t work out quite to my plan. In this industry you would think I would have learnt by now to never make plans!

I have numerous people that I need to say thank you to this fall. Without all the support received I would not have made it through. My Mother in Law came down to help a couple weekends with cooking and to hang with my boys, my friend Sara helped me in a pinch or two with my kids, as did my sisters Marsha and Melanie. Our neighbor, Lorraine, helped with meals for part of our harvest run. My kids who put up with a harried and stressed out Mother who seemed to forget almost everything. And of course all the guys that helped in the field. There is no way we could pull this off without you!

So again we are stopped because of rain. With only about 4 hours left on our last day that pesky rain cloud just wouldn’t wait for us to finish up. I am choosing to not let it bother me and popping onto my blog page to share some of the reasons I am convinced we live in the most beautiful place in the world. Here is a little piece of harvest 2015 on our farm. (Please excuse my new found love for prairie sunset pictures. You would think the effect would eventually wear off but I continue to be awed by the beauty of where I live)

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This sunset happened while harvesting our ‘home quarter’ which is the field around our house.

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Thanksgiving supper in the field, just as the rain started.

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One of my moose friends who hung out and watched us combine for a couple days. They were completely unbothered by all the activity.

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Moving to a new field. Stopping for a quick bite to eat while we wait for the rest of the crew.

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One of the many sets of rain clouds that rolled in.

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This was actually early on in the evening that the eclipse happened. I watched it all with my boys from the combine cab.

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Lots of rain this fall made harvest all around more difficult.

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My favorite picture from this fall. I waited for the combine (my hubby and my oldest were in this one) to keep traveling North until it was in front of the sun but the hopper got full and it turned around! This snapshot still gives you a good idea of the amazing sunsets we get to see from the field during harvest.

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Categories: Agvocacy, Family Farming, Farming, Harvest 2015, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Almighty Hobby Farm

The Almighty Hobby Farm.

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It Is Time To Stand Up For Agriculture

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Ahhhhh, Sunday morning.  The perfect time to sit down with a cup of coffee and actually open and read some of those links I’ve been eyeing up on twitter and facebook.  This week I started jotting down a few ideas for a couple blog posts and now I am searching social media to help with some thoughts to finish one.  I read through a few posts and news stories until I stumble upon a newly posted video of a TEDx talk by Robert Saik on GMOs.  Knowing Roberts company (AGRI-TREND) and his values, I figure that I should take the 20 minutes and listen, and I am really glad I did.

Our farm is not a customer of AGRI-TREND so there is no conflict of interest, this is not a paid post, and I am not ‘shilling’ in any way.  It is sad that these are statements that I feel I have to make when speaking up for biotechnology and agriculture, but the accusation of somehow being employed by “big Ag” (whatever ‘big Ag ‘means) is all too common.  Although we are not affiliated with AGRI-TREND in any way I really do admire what Robert has done with it.  A company that tackles the many different issues on a farm; finances, technology, and things like environmental responsibility.  It has seemingly endless resources to help a farmer balance the numerous consequences every decision on the farm can have while considering production costs and helping to ensure the land (and operation) is viable for years to come.  In this day and age of agriculture, farmers are not afraid to admit that sometimes we need help.  Depending on the day I know I would get good use out of a degree in commerce, agronomy, and human resources.  Not to mention a few courses in heavy duty mechanics, economics, marketing, and business.  But AGRI-TREND and balancing the decisions on a farm is another blog post for another day.

Anyone that knows me and follows my blog, twitter or facebook page may find some of this a bit of an echo.  You will know that one of my biggest pet peeves is the fear that is used in marketing.  Food fear is a growing problem in our society and it is becoming more evident with the growth of products sporting labels such as GMO FREE, GLUTEN FREE, NATURAL, HORMONE FREE, ORGANIC, and the like.  Because I am a farmer all of these things cause a bit of a reaction with me, but none so much as GMOs.   I am not a science communicator.  I find it very difficult to get across why this should be important to the average person because in truth most people don’t really care.  Here I am making a simplified list of why I think everyone should pay at least a little attention to this issue.

1) In my mind GMOs are safe.

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  This is not just my opinion.  This is the opinion I have come to after talking to those much more knowledgeable than me on the subject and studying their work.  If we are going to grow something on our farm, sell it, and eat it ourselves –  I want to make sure it is safe.  But don’t take my opinion as fact, listen to the experts.  There are over 2000 studies proving that GMOs are safe.  Over half of them are independent.  GMOs are tested more than any other plant breeding method and on average it takes more than 13 years and 130 million dollars of research and development to bring a GMO to market (the numbers vary slightly from crop to crop but regardless it is 10 to 50 times the level of testing vs. crops bred with other methods).  There has been trillion meal studies done, and we have been consuming GMOs for 20 years with no proven ill effects. The scientific consensus is “Genetically engineered crops currently available to the public pose no greater health risks or environmental concerns than their non-engineered counterparts.” – this opinion is held by; The American Medical Association, U.S Food and Drug Administration, World Health Organization, Health Canada, The Royal Society of Medicine, Union of German Academies of Sciences and Humanities, International Council for Science – just to name a few.  You can see a more complete list of the organizations around the world that agree, here.

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Better Late Than Never! A Look at 2014.

It has been way to long since I made a blog post.  Not because I have forgotten about all of you but because this time of year is always fairly hectic for me and blogging and fun stuff often takes a back seat.  Every farm has different preparation methods for year end but regardless of your approach or farm size it takes considerable time and effort.  This year a late harvest (paired with a bit of burn out and procrastination) has found me working overtime in Nov/Dec to catch up.  My hubby counts on me to have our books up to date to help with things like grain and equipment inventories, monthly cash flow, cash requirements (especially at year end), and we use these numbers when considering what to purchase, what to trade, even our crop plan in the upcoming year.  In order to have a successful operation someone should be spending a good portion of time in the office, and I am happy to do what I can to help in that area.

With all of this hanging over my head I have neglected to take some time to blog about our 2014 harvest!  I will try not to bore you with too many details but here is a quick overview of what happened on our operation this year.

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The 2014 harvest was a challenging one.  Every season comes with its own hurdles but for us this one seemed to have a few extra.  It started in the spring with a cool wet beginning to the growing season which put our crops behind.  Excess rain stressed the crops and put them at risk for disease.  This carried through to the fall and gave us a late start to harvest.  We had some equipment changes on our operation which left us with an extra swather (aka windrower) and using one less combine than the year before.  This situation would have worked just fine if the weather would have cooperated but periodic rain and snow throughout the fall ended up causing us many issues.  As winter threatened, tensions rose and the importance of equipment performance rose along with them.  Breakdowns can’t be completely avoided but some days it is considerably less convenient than others if they do happen.  At one point, within 20 minutes of starting up, we had 2 combines down and one combine stuck (none of it was my fault!)  Because we were trying to beat the rain in the forecast, that day seemed to be a little higher up on the anxiety scale.  Luckily we had some great help this year and, as always, are thankful for those who work tirelessly beside us.  After many long stressful days (and nights) we made it through, as we do every year, with a few more lessons learned.

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When crops are just starting out they like moisture, but not this much!  Many farmers around our area had yield losses due to ‘drown out acres’ this year.

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We had the strange misfortune of breaking 3 windows, at 3 different times, in equipment very early on in the season.  This one was my job to clean up.

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Faster and Easier Meatballs Than Your Mom Made!

IMG_0844 And so it begins; the early mornings, late nights, running in circles, making breakfast lunches and supper all before 10 AM, laundry, dishes, after school activities, trying to get homework done after field work, and basically just chaos in general.  The leaves are turning and the dust is flying.  We took our first load of wheat off yesterday so harvest 2014 has officially started.  Many days during harvest I help out with the field work by delivering fuel, driving for parts or operating equipment.  Once the combines get rolling I often don’t have time to be in the kitchen so my supper has to be prepped (and sometimes cooked) early in the morning.  Cooking for 5 to 10 men (some with allergies) plus my kids is sometimes challenging especially when I have ground beef out, my kids won’t eat meatloaf, shepherd’s pie or lasagna!!  Meatballs used to be a favorite meal that I would only make when I had tons of time to shape 3 to 4 lbs of beef into tiny little balls (the way my kids liked them).  Now they are a common occurrence even when I am in a hurry thanks to this quick and easy recipe.

(the purpose of this post is to show you the method I use, not so much the recipe as any recipe can be used. The one I have included is my go to ‘all purpose’ recipe that I serve with many different sauces or gravies, although I do tend to cook like my grandma and add a little something different every time)

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4H and Raising the Next Generation

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As I write this, I am sitting in my vehicle while my oldest son Brayden is playing ball in the rain at a ball camp.  In this rare moment of silence I find myself reflecting on our busy week which included Brayden’s very first achievement day for grain 4H.  Being only one of 2 grain 4H clubs in Saskatchewan it really was a learning experience for everyone in the group.  In light of recent events where a farm family was investigated for having minors (their own children) working in the family’s farm processing business (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/saskatchewan-farmers-cry-foul-over-child-labour-investigation-1.2729781), I can’t help but wonder about the decisions we are making as parents and a society in raising the next generation.  This train of thought has led me to appreciate the valuable lessons that the 4H club teaches children from a very young age.

I spend a lot of time helping my father in law at his farm equipment dealership and quite honestly when a younger person applies for work, if they have been raised on a farm, it is almost a no brainer.  Children of agricultural families tend to have respect, appreciation, and a strong work ethic.  Why is this attitude so prominent in farm kids?  There are a lot of reasons.  They experience from a young age that a life in agriculture requires personal sacrifice to pay the bills.  You can’t always make that sporting event, community fundraiser, or social gathering if there is work to be done.  Another reason is the lessons they are taught if they choose to participate in a 4H club. 

4H is one of Canada’s longest running youth organizations and is almost 100 years old.  Although it originated in the United States, the program globally is essentially the same.  ‘4H operates with the mission of “engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development”.  Though typically thought of as an agriculturally focused organization as a result of history, 4H today focuses on citizenship, healthy living, science, engineering, and technology programs.  The foundations of 4-H began around the start of the 20th century with the desire to make public school education more connected to rural life.  Researchers saw that adults in the farming community did not readily accept new agricultural discoveries, but educators found that youth would experiment with these new ideas and then share their experiences and successes with the adults.  So rural youth programs became a way to introduce new agriculture technology to the adults”  – Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4-H#History)

4H is not a program for the faint of heart.  Our leaders; Nevin Morrow and Clint Sutter wisely decided to adapt the program to fit our very young club, making modifications to increase the level of learning for the members who were as young as 6.  Even with these adaptations Brayden spent hours planting, weeding, and checking his crop. While his younger brother (who did not participate this year in the program) watched TV or played video games –  Brayden was out in his plot pulling weeds by hand in the hot sun.  There were times when we would be away for a few days only to come back to many changes in the stages of the plants.  One time we were packing to leave and Brayden said ‘if we are gone how will I know what day my wheat heads out?’  My hubby just gave me a knowing smile.  The lessons that 4H have taught my son about farming were evident in his workbook answers.  When asked what he learnt he wrote ‘I learnt it is hard for farmers to go the lake’.  When asked if he would do this project again he wrote ‘maybe, I liked it but I didn’t like the paperwork.’  I know many farmers who would say the same thing! 

During achievement day at the end of the project year, many stories of hardship and learning were shared by the kids.  Carter Novak had soil that was very compact and his crops didn’t grow very tall because of that and a lack of sunlight, Morgan Elmy had weeds that grew fast and large having full sunlight on her plot and she had an almost insurmountable task in weeding, Logan and Owen Robinson planted very close to the trees and lost some moisture due to tree roots, Brody and Danika Morrow had trouble with the spacing of their rows but also learnt how corn anchores itself for strong winds, Davin and Karissa Sutter learnt that even a slight drift in glyphosate can cause damage to nearby plants, and everyone learnt that if you try to hold the neighbor’s chickens on achievement day you might get pooped on! 

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The common theme throughout the day was learning especially with Evan Rorquist, local agronomist with Kenzie Seeds, acting as show judge.  Even the adults came away from the day a little smarter with demonstrations and discussions on blackleg, sclerotinia, fusarium, the differences between oat and barley stands, corn roots, among many other things!

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I have taken enough postsecondary education to know that learning is hard work, but I also grew up on a farm and I know that hard work is learning.  Every time our children get dirt under their fingernails they are gaining valuable lessons about life, and I am thankful for a wonderful program like 4H that encourages that type of learning.  I must add that I am also thankful to those who selflessly volunteer their time to teaching our kids within the program.  All the parents of course, but namely Clint Sutter and Nevin Morrow who took on the task of starting a brand new club, and Evan Rorquist our show judge.  On achievement day all 3 gave up time from their own farms and their own work to invest in the education of our children. 

Currently we are working on learning the 4H pledge at our house.  Hopefully my boys will be able to learn it, live it and will uphold the reputation of farm kids everywhere when they start applying for jobs of their own. 

“I pledge my head to clearer thinking,

My heart to greater loyalty,

My hands to larger service,

and my health to better living,

for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

 

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Learning How To Be a Good ‘In Law” On a Family Farm Or In a Family Business

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I have really struggled with how I want to represent this blog and myself on this blog.  Should I focus on parenting, technology, or giving voice to the 2% of us that feed the other 98%?  I follow so many wonderful Agriculture advocating blogs (aka agvocates).  Some write about new equipment, some about biotechnology, and others share wonderful recipes and stories about their toddlers.  While I love all of these posts my children are getting older (8 and 11), I do not have a degree in any science related field, my hubby and father in law (FIL) are the equipment experts on our operation and I am just not sure what my area of expertise is!  I have many blog posts started and because of this struggle I have not been able to decide which ones to finish.  So I have come to the conclusion that my blog needs to be about a little of everything because that is what the role of a farm wife requires, a little bit of everything every single day.  Although my passion lies in sharing stories about the positives and possibilities of biotechnology and the realities of modern day farming operations, today I am writing about another issue; how it feels to wear the hat of the ‘daughter in law’ in a family business.

Being the one to marry into a family business is a difficult task indeed.  Often work routines, beliefs, values, and pay structures have already been established.  Although the new ‘in law’ has often been raised by an entirely different set of values, this person is sometimes expected to abandon their previous experiences and ‘go with the flow’.  Opposition or voicing new ideas can be viewed by other members of the business as causing trouble.

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Blog Page Giveaway!

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With lots of precipitation in the past couple weeks and more rain in the forecast we called in some custom seeding help to finish up those last few acres.  We are getting lined up so we can make it to the Canadian Farm Progress Show in Regina next week! Interested in attending Canada’s Largest Agriculture Tradeshow spanning 1.8 million square feet of exhibit space?  Take part in my FPS giveaway sponsored by Seedmaster (https://www.facebook.com/SeedMaster or https://twitter.com/leader_bydesign ) and RJ Sales and Service in Wadena, SK (http://www.agdealer.com/display.cfm?path=/rjsales).  Here’s how to enter;

Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agtodayblog);

1 like on my post = 1 entry

1 share directly from my page = 2 entries(if someone who is not on my ‘friend’ list or hasn’t ‘liked’ Agriculture Today facebook page – shares this photo I can not see the likes on their post so those people will not be eligible for entry)

Twitter (https://twitter.com/AGtodayblog);

Favorite this link = 1 entry

Re-Tweet this link = 2 entries

Agriculture Today Blog Page;

Sign up to receive my blog posts by email = 2 entries

Notification of the winner will be sent via the method you used to enter the contest so enter fast and check back Thursday June 12th.  See you in Regina!

 

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Why “Better Beef” Is Not Any Better

I know I am a little slow with this post.  There have been blog posts and news stories floating around the internet for months criticizing A & W and their new better beef campaign and I may be echoing some of what they say.  My motivation to write this came from a recent trip away with friends.  Although most of them know of my stance towards A & W, we ended up stopping there for burgers to bring home for one of the husbands.  The silence regarding my choice to eat a cookie from my purse instead of a burger made me reflect on how much the general population understands, or even cares about the ‘fear marketing’ that is going on around us at an increasing rate every day.

I come from a small town in the middle of Saskatchewan, a good 2 hour drive to the nearest Walmart and 100km away from the nearest Tim Horton’s.  Here, the ever increasing in your face marketing from organic food companies and fast food chains isn’t as much of an issue as it is in bigger centers.  A large part of the local population farms, and if you don’t farm you know a farmer and have been to their house, talked about their work and have waved to them in their tractor.  The general consensus locally is that our food is sustainably grown and safe.  This also makes the majority of us oblivious to the food hysteria that is going on in other parts of the country.  I am a farmer.  I read all the emails, magazines, newsletters, newspapers, attend the informational days, agriculture tradeshows, and generally do whatever I can to educate myself about our industry.  Even I only recently became aware of the growing disconnect with the people who grow our food (2%) and the rest of the population (98%).  Sitting smack dab in the middle of our food production chain are companies like A & W with their scare tactic campaigns.  They don’t care what long term effect they have on our food production or public perception of agriculture, as long as they can sell you a burger today.

I am not a cattle farmer but I do know a marketing campaign full of BS when I see it.  The cattle farmers really get the short end of the stick when it comes to people understanding the reasons for using hormones in the industry.  So since my ‘BEEF’ is with A & W, let’s take a look at a few of the facts surrounding this campaign.  When you go to their website the first thing you see is;

 

100% pure beef raised without any added hormones or steroids.

 

Notice it doesn’t say 100% Canadian beef?  That’s because they import beef from Montana and Australia.  I know lots of local cattle farmers who don’t use hormones.  As an industry, agriculture is adaptive, tell us you want something and we will grow it – A & W doesn’t care about ‘supporting local’.  Next look at the wording ‘raised without any added’.  They have to use this wording because all beef has hormones in it.  There is no such thing as ‘hormone free beef’.  And lastly ‘hormones or steroids’, this is redundant term and the ‘or’ is put in there to make it look like A & W went to extra work to keep BOTH things out of their better beef.   Every single word is a marketing tactic to make you buy their seemingly healthier burgers.

So why the hype about hormones?  In Canada and the US cattle can be given something called growth promotant early on in their life.  Using growth promotant means less crops are needed to grow the animal and less animal waste is produced because it helps the animal to process the food they eat into muscle tissue.  An implant is given when the animal is young so the hormone has passed through its system long before it goes to market.  Here are some stats from a blog post by Sarah Schultz http://www.nurselovesfarmer.com/2013/09/fear-marketing/;   (she sourced the Beef Cattle Research Council at http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/qa-on-conventional-production-of-canadian-beef/)

If we did not use growth promotants we would need;

-12% more cattle

-10% more land

-11% more feed

-4% more water

-7% more fuel and fertilizer

to produce the same amount of beef that we do today.  Also the cattle would produce 10% more manure and 10% more greenhouse gasses.  As Sarah points out it is likely that prices would increase and become unaffordable for many people, and our beef would be uncompetitive in the world market.

This is my favorite part though, because this is where A & W’s marketing really starts to look pointless and unreasonable.  All this work to go hormone free, what levels of hormones are we talking about?  Let’s look at some comparisons I borrowed from Andrew Campbell at; http://www.realagriculture.com/2013/10/im-done-with-fearing-food-and-done-with-aw-andrew-campbell/ , and Wikipedia.

 

Levels of hormones (estrogen)

5 nanograms (ng) – 500g (1.10231 LBS) of ‘hormone free’ beef (like A & W better beef)

7 (ng) – 500g (1.10231 LBS) of beef given the hormone implant

136,000.00 (ng) – produced daily by a man

513,000.00 (ng) – produced daily by a woman

20,000,000.00 (ng) – produced daily by a pregnant woman

300,000.00 (ng) – 500g white bread (so yes the bun has more hormones than the beef, a lot more)

20,000.00 to 50,000.00 (ng) – birth control pill

11,905.00 (ng) – 500g of cabbage

28,773.00 (ng) – 15 ml (1 TBSP) soyabean oil.

555.00 (ng) – eggs (500g)

Shall I keep going?

 

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Picture; (http://nefb.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/whats-the-beef-mms-and-hormones/)

 

If we want to focus on those 2 extra (ng) of hormones we only have to look as far as Health Canada.  “Generally speaking, in Canada there is zero tolerance for hormone, steroid or antibiotic remnants in beef destined for hungry, human stomachs. Those that can have trace amounts  – known as maximum residue limits – are strictly regulated by Health Canada and are “considered to pose no adverse health effects if ingested daily by humans over a lifetime,” the department website says.” (http://www.ipolitics.ca/2013/09/26/canadian-cattle-groups-respond-to-aw-better-beef-campaign/)  There are reasons we have organizations like the FDA, CFIA, Health Canada, WHO, FAO, and many others.  Marketing campaigns that use fear to sell food undermine the real research and actual science that goes into making policy.  Not only does it weaken trust in these organizations but it is an insult to the hard working farmers who labour to grow safe food in a sustainable way.  Companies like A & W want you to believe that the farmers who grow around 95% of the food in Canada are not ethical or sustainable.  Quite the opposite is true and if you look at the statistics, beef with hormone implants are actually more environmentally sustainable then the better beef cattle, especially the ones shipped from other countries.

So Yes, I realise that my family driving past A & W and going to a different restaurant that sells 100% Canadian beef isn’t going to make the marketing team lose any sleep.  But my hope is if enough people understand how these companies are trying to target us, then maybe they will lose a few customers.  If they lose as many customers as they gain slowly the trend of using fear to market food might stop.  This is exactly what happened with General Mills.  Not long ago they switched some of their cereal brands to Non-GMO.  Cheerios, which is made with oats, was one of them.  There are no GMO oats on the market anywhere in the world so all they were changing was the source of some of the trace ingredients like vitamins, and the marketing.   The new Non-GMO Cheerios ended up being less nutritious with only 2% RDV of riboflavin (vitamin B2) where the original Cheerios had 25% RDV.  It was the same story with Grape Nuts with the Non-GMO version having no vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12 or vitamin B2 (original Grape Nuts had all of these vitamins).  “The company revealed the effort failed to improve the brands performance and it has no plans to reformulate additional products without GMOs”   http://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/news_home/Business_News/2014/04/General_Mills_defends_GMOs_in.aspx?ID=%7B8EBE8C7A-FA78-4323-BB7F-0AD0D4EE99D7%7D&cck=1.  People didn’t buy it, so they stopped advertising with fear.

In the end A & W’s better beef is not any better.  I don’t care if you eat it, I don’t care if you don’t eat it.  I just want people to understand that this is not about making better food, it is about manipulating people and unfortunately that is at the expense of a very hardworking industry.  Those of us that try to stand up to marketing bullies with our words and our wallets don’t want to fight, but this time A & W took the first swing.  Hey Canadian cattle farmers I support you and want to buy some beef – I am making homemade teen burgers from now on!

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