Response to “Shame on Carney for GMO food vote”

In response to the Delaware State News article, “Shame on Carney for GMO food vote”on July 29, I would like to set the record straight regarding GMO food and labeling.

First of all, there are only eight crops commercially available from GMO seed in the United States. They are corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, and squash. I have seen many non-GMO labels in the grocery store already, such as on blueberries. This is unnecessary and confusing because blueberries have never been a GMO food. The same goes for canned pineapple and popcorn.

Furthermore, leading scientists and world health organization’s agree that GMO foods are safe to eat. Before GM crops can be released to the market, they are tested in ways that conventional and organic crops are not. If a study were ever to yield a result that raised any food safety concern, it is required by law that the information be presented to the FDA. Not a single case of ill health has originated from the consumption of these products for the past 20 years.

In reality, GMO labeling isn’t about a nutrition, health, or food safety issue. It’s about marketing. It’s a ploy where food companies try to capture your attention and separate their product from competitors on grocery shelves. It’s about capturing “fad” food preferences as well. For example, only 1% of the United States population suffers from celiac disease, which requires a gluten-free diet. However, gluten-free labels are everywhere. Food marketers have a history of taking advantage of consumer confusion.

Last but not least, it’s important to know for every dollar we spend on food, only about 16 cents goes to the farmer. Requiring labeling would pass a huge expense down to the farmer and even the consumer. So THANK YOU, Rep. Carney, for standing for science and Delaware’s #1 industry…….Agriculture.

For more information, please visit the links embedded in the article or go here and talk to a real farmer: http://findourcommonground.com/

Delaware’s Raw Milk Bill

In yesterday’s House Agriculture Committee meeting, HB 150-AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 3 OF THE DELAWARE CODE RELATING TO RAW MILK was introduced. Here’s the language from the DE General Assembly bill tracking:

This Bill legalizes the sale of unpasteurized, raw milk directly to a final consumer. The State of Delaware adopted, by Regulation, the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Grade “A” Pasteurized Milk Ordinance 2009 Revision, as amended, (the “2009 PMO”) in May 2011. Section 9 of the 2009 PMO prohibits the sale of unpasteurized milk and milk products to the final consumer. This Bill creates an exception to this prohibition that would allow the sale of unpasteurized milk and milk products by only those persons holding a validly issued “raw milk permit.”
Currently, thirty states allow consumers to purchase raw milk. Of those 30, 12 allow consumers to purchase raw milk at retail stores. This bill, however, similar to the situation in many other states, would limit raw milk sales to the farm or property where the raw milk is produced.
This Bill further tasks the Department of Health and Social Services, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, with establishing a raw milk permit program, as well as such rules, regulations, and standards as are necessary to further the objectives and provisions of this Bill and ensure the safety of the general public.

The main sponsor is Rep. Outten (R), the longtime legislator from Harrington. I’m pretty sure it’s his first bill. I wasn’t able to attend but I wish I could have to hear comments. From what I understand, DE Dept. of Ag and the DE Farm Bureau do not support this bill because of the FDA’s position that raw milk is unsafe. Currently the federal government does not allow interstate raw milk sales and has left the decision of local sales up to individual states. The way HB 150 is written now, it would not allow direct retail sales. In other words, only the farm or property where raw milk is produced could sell it to the final consumer. I’m not sure how much this will benefit DE dairy farmers if they don’t already have a roadside farm stand or market.

I’ve heard my grandmother say she drank milk straight from the cow her entire childhood. She also told me she always thought cereal was supposed to be hot because they used milk straight from the cow’s udder for breakfast. Groups like “A Campaign for Real Milk” and “Raw Milk USA” cite many benefits of raw milk which are diminished after it’s pasteurized. I’ve also heard of some specialty food shops wanting raw milk product. Opponents, such as the FDA and CDC, say raw milk can cause serious illness by transmitting harmful bacteria. So my question to you is……….would you purchase/consume raw milk bottled in Delaware?

From the Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit Blog- A New School Lunch

A blog featured by Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit: http://www.mafc.com/blog/a-new-school-lunch/

Have you heard about any changes to your child’s school lunch? I have and I don’t even have kids. My niece’s have filled me in and they aren’t happy. One says she’s still starving after eating her lunch. The other one says she would rather pack her lunch now. I’ve even heard teachers in Lake Forest School District comment about how terrible the lunches are this year.

The changes are a result of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. For the first time in over 20 years, the USDA is implementing significant changes to the nutrition standards of National School Lunches and the School Breakfast Programs. Like it or not, this is mandatory for public schools across the country. What are some of the new requirements for 2012? Here are a few:

  • Offer fruit daily (lunch)
  • Offer vegetable subgroups weekly (lunch)
  • Half of grains must be whole grain-rich (lunch and breakfast)
  • Offer only fat-free and low-fat unflavored milk (lunch and breakfast)
  • Calorie counting (see a recent article from the News Journal here)

There are more to be phased in over a 3 year timeline such as sodium servings; however, most changes for school lunch happened this year.

But wait, there’s more! There are MANY optional movements targeting a new and improved school lunch and October was a popular month for their celebration. For example, October was National Farm to School Month. Delaware has been a part of this movement, and recently unveiled a new website for the program. School districts such as Colonial, Seaford, Smyrna, and Woodbridge embraced the idea of Farm to School early on and are dedicated to the movement. Recently WBOC and the Cape Gazette featured Smyrna School District for their revamping of school lunch by incorporating Farm to School. Farm to School allows cafeterias to offer fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers, while still implementing the new nutrition standards. It’s a win, win situation for schools and local farmers!

The National School Lunch Week (NSLW) is another celebration which was held October 15-19. Did your school district plan something special to celebrate? Seaford School District is a good example. With a “School Lunch: What’s Cooking” theme, students toured the kitchen facilities during the week-long celebration. I read this in a recent Sussex County Post article and just last year, I blogged about Seaford achieving silver level status from the Healthier U.S. School Challenge Award.

So, what do I say to my nieces? Well, I know their district has not embraced the Farm to School movement. I think this would help make some of the fruits and veggies they serve more appealing to students. One way to entice students to eat healthy food is to use creative marketing when it comes to menu writing and educational curriculum. Perhaps a way to approach the issue is to start asking questions of the cafeteria manager, nutrition supervisor, or superintendent of the district. Questions to ask could be:

  • What resources or equipment do our cafeterias need to serve a better tasting school lunch, especially with the new nutrition standards?
  • What did our district do to promote National School Lunch Week?
  • Does our district participate in Farm to School? If not, why?

Perhaps you could even send your superintendent or PTA leaders the articles or videos featured in this blog. Show them that a healthy school lunch doesn’t have to taste bad!

Memories Made at the 2012 DE State Fair

Well, another DE State Fair has passed. Some of us are sad. Some of us are glad. Some of us are just flat-out exhausted. But the “memories made” and lessons learned, especially for the youth, are priceless. My family has always been involved and even though we don’t take many dairy cows anymore, it was fun to try to keep up with my nieces and nephew as they begin their 4-H and DE State Fair careers. Here are a few highlights:

My sister and I helped Mom lay out a lot of vegetables for her entries in the Garden Vegetable Department in the Dover Building the Wednesday before the fair starts. It’s a long stressful morning but for some reason, we keep doing it. Farmer Dan hates it mainly because it’s very challenging to find multiple kinds of one vegetable that are perfect and match.  Most of the veggies are thrown out on Tuesday night of the fair and we do it all over again on Wednesday morning.

We start by laying all the veggies out on tarp and wiping them down. This allows us to compare them and pick the most uniform ones.

Then we pick the best ones and lay them in a yellow try with a towel, so they don’t get bruised. Many classes differ on the number required (i.e. best 4 green tomatoes, best 12 snap beans, best 3 yellow squash).

And our sweet corn won a blue!

Mom received the Superintendent’s Award for the most blue ribbons in this department. She’s only won it 2 times. She was recognized here by the Governor on Governor’s day.

On Sunday, my cousin Bethany Killmon was named “Sheep & Wool Queen”. She spent the rest of the week dressed up and hanging out with important people, such as the Governor on Thursday. What a nice way to end her summer as she gets ready to start her senior year at Sussex Tech High School this fall. My Aunt Vi also came up from Georgia. She loves the fair and catches up with all of her Harrington High School classmates. My grandmother even came up one night with her. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Mom-Mom Ann strolling in the barn.

Our cousin, Bethany Killmon (on right), crowned Sheep & Wool Queen. She had to apply and give a public speech on what her sheep project has meant to her.

Hangin’ out in the sheep barn!
From Left to Right:
Bethany, Mom-Mom Ann, Uncle Charles, Aunt Vi, Wendee, Christy, Aunt Carla

I could barely keep up with all of my nieces and nephews activities. Maci and Brielle were in the 4-H talent show. Bethany & Alanna presented their 4-H demonstration on raised gardens. Maci & her friend gave their demo on recycling. All four of them won their divisions. Maci showed her Boer goat. Brielle showed her two market hogs. And the list goes on and on. I could barely keep up with Scott either. He loves the fair and spends as much time there as possible. He helps his Mom with her Suffolk sheep.

Maci showing her Boer goat, Patches, and speaking to the judge.

Alanna helping Mom with her big vegetable display.

Oh and by the way, I had a few reasons to be there, too. The DE 4-H Foundation sponsored their Donor Appreciation Brunch on the first Sunday. With the help of a fellow board member, Marian Harvey, we coordinated and moderated the event. Nemours sponsored Healthy Kids Day, which was all day Tuesday. I worked the free health fair, which was in the entertainment tent all day. I also gave a little demonstration in the Ag Commodities Building on Wednesday. I teamed up with Cara Sylvester (see her blog, …story worth telling) for CommonGround to educate fair go’ers on food safety tips for summer. More to come on this later! And on Saturday night I enjoyed the end of it all by going to see Miranda Lambert with some friends. It was a really good show-her voice sounded great and she looked awesome! I loved her skirt and boots!

Miranda Lambert in concert.
July 28, 2012

So, we will all try to catch up on sleep this week and wait another 355 days for next year’s fair come around. Can’t wait to see what is to come and look forward to the memories made next year!

Today Made Me Smile

Today was just one of those days I had to smile. One of the core reasons I began writing this blog is to share the connection I see between agriculture and health while in my full-time work for Nemours Health & Prevention Services (NHPS).  While promoting children’s health in Kent County, I have utilized many of my previous connections with partners and businesses within the area. I have also been fortunate to embrace new ones along the way.  I smiled today because I witnessed all of these connections come together. Let me explain.

The previous long time connection is with my neighbor and colleague, Dave Marvel. He and his family grow field crops and watermelon near me, just west of Harrington. He is also the President of the Fruit & Vegetables Growers Association of Delaware (FVGAD) but the true passion I share with him is the DE Farm to School program. Dave initiated this program in the Woodbridge School District (with help from others) and is currently serving as co-chair of the DE Farm to School Advisory Board (we just spent all day Tuesday working on by-laws for the board). Furthermore, he was recently asked to serve on the National Farm to School Network Advisory Board .

The new colleague I met this past winter is Charita Olabiyi and the Outreach Manager for the Dover branch of Westside Family Healthcare. I remember calling Charita and asking her if she wanted to go to lunch one day. I asked where she preferred and she said “the sale”. She said, “Do you know what “the sale” means?” and I said, “Of course-it means Spence’s Bizarre and I love to go there”! We hit off and I soon learned that she has invaluable experience as a community health worker, including with the migrant farm laborers in Delaware.  Working with this population has sparked her interest in agriculture and she asked me to share with her ag related events in Delaware. Since it was winter, I invited her to DE Ag Week this past January. And the rest is history, as I connected her with Dave and the networking began.

Since then, a new advisory board for migrant farm workers in DE has formed, which Dave and Charita are serving on together (along with others).  Along with today’s launch of Westside’s new mobile health unit, which is a customized motor home with all the medical equipment needed for primary care. It’s a doctor’s office on wheels and it will travel to the migrant farm workers of Kent & Sussex counties this summer. See this related article from the Delmarva Farmer for more info. Today was the ribbon cutting for the brand new mobile unit and, of course, both Charita and Dave were in audience. It was no surprise to me when both were recognized, since I know the great work these individuals do everyday. I had to smile, just thinking about the endless strides these two can make for both agriculture and healthcare in Delaware.

Westside Mobile Health Unit Ribbon Cutting
July 12, 2012
Fourth from right, Dave Marvel
First from right, Charita Olabiyi

*** See below for more info on Westside’s services and it’s campaign in Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good program. This video is awesome!

Celebrating Family, Farmer Dan, & Independence

Happy 4th of July from Little Wagon Produce and the Vanderwende Family! Where did May and June go? The spring months have been extremely busy on the farm. Farmer Dan laid out his vegetable plots, planted sweet corn as well as field corn and soybeans, and then fertilized everything. My brother, Breck, has been maintaining 2 greenhouses with 3 plantings of annual flowers, herbs, and vegetable transplants which will produce the squash, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant for the summer business. Mom cleaned and opened our retail stand and is already in the regular flow of selling at 3 farmers’ markets close by. Almost all the summer vegetables came on 2 weeks early. We are still waiting for peppers and eggplant to ripen. And as usual, we are in desperate need of rain fall so monitoring irrigation systems is the current priority.

My family has also been busy, as we have celebrated many milestones recently. My grandmother healed from a broken leg, made it through physical therapy, and came home to the farm just in time for her 77th birthday on May 17. Farmer Dan turned 60 soon after on May 22! We combined his birthday celebration with Father’s Day and celebrated in the backyard at the farm. We threw up some tents, had a softball toss, played corn hole, and put his candles on a strawberry shortcake. As it turned dark, mom started a little bonfire for the grandkids to roast marshmallows. They loved it and even Farmer Dan brought out his old softball glove to have a catch!

Farmer Dan celebrating his 60th birthday and Father’s Day with strawberry shortcake and all four grandkids: Maci, Alanna, Aydan, and Brielle (Mom is in the background)

In June, my brother, Breck and his son, Aydan, celebrated birthdays. Breck turned 39 and Aydan turned 8! We celebrated at Cafe Tamburelli’s with pizza, spaghetti, and a chocolate chip cookie cake. We will have to start planning for Breck’s big 40th next year! 

Happy Birthday, Aydan!

And here it is July already. Several family birthdays are this month including my Uncle Garry, Jimmy, Donnie and even my own. But today was my brother-in-law’s, Shane, who turned 41. He is an “Independence Day Baby” so we combined the two occasions by celebrating at my sister, Danna, and his home tonight. We enjoyed their beautiful new pool and it was nice to relax in the middle of the week. 

Happy Birthday, Shane! Swimming with his girls, Maci and Brielle and his nieces, Savannah and Annabella.

But I can’t help but go back to Farmer Dan’s big milestone. He doesn’t like to talk about it but 60 years is a lifetime of knowledge, experience, and skills, especially in agriculture! I have been wanting to sit down and talk with him to pull some of these details out. Tonight was perfect because Shane’s family likes to talk history and reminisce, too, so I think they enjoyed joining the conversation. I prepared some short questions to highlight the past and the present. Here is what Farmer Dan had to say:

-If you weren’t a farmer, what do you think you would have done career-wise? I’ve really never thought about it but probably something with athletics, perhaps coaching or physical education. I also think I would’ve liked working in Cooperative Extension.

-What do you miss most about the days of agriculture when you grew up? It was less stressful. There were less financial pressures. It seemed like you could enjoy the work more.

-What is the biggest threat to ag in your opinion? Government regulations.

-What is the best part of being a farmer? Independence. Being your own boss. (Very fitting for the current holiday!)

-What is the most frustrating part of being a farmer today? Technology. All this new machinery has technology that none of us know how to work.

-What do you think future generations will need to succeed in agriculture? Computer skills, most certainly. More knowledge of the global market including global marketing.

-What do you think about women in ag today? Women have always been involved in ag-just more behind the scenes. They are coming to the forefront now because they are good at speaking up for ag rights, educating the public, and marketing products.

The conversation then went on to cover a little of everything. He likes to talk about how his grandfather grew a garden with strawberries and string beans. This is how he became interested in vegetable production. I also asked  him what he would do differently. He didn’t answer. Dad has never been one to talk much unless he’s talking about sweet corn, of course. But I’ll take his silence as he wouldn’t do a lot differently. He is an independent, successful farmer and gets to do what he loves everyday. He has a happy, healthy family (who likes to celebrate birthdays!).  On a day where we celebrate this great nation’s independence, I would also like to celebrate Farmer Dan’s. So here’s to you, Farmer Dan, and thanks for teaching me how to be independent, too.

“Smart Growth” in Delaware

It was so refreshing to attend the 4th annual DE HEAL summit today in Dover. HEAL stands for Healthy Eating & Active Living and is a coalition of 200 individuals who want to improve the health of Delaware. The theme of today’s summit was “Impacting Obesity through Environmental & Policy Changes”. Words I heard throughout the day were: land use planning, complete communities, walkable, bikeable, smart growth, open space, built environment, healthy living and more.

How does this topic relate to agriculture? Obviously, farmers are the key to providing the fresh food necessary to decrease obesity rates. But also because the idea of farmland preservation fits in perfectly with the idea of “smart growth“. There are individuals  and groups who are currently advocating to make communities more livable, INSTEAD of creating more developments on more land (also known as sprawl); leaving more space open and family farms intact. One such group is DE Greenways.  I sat in on their breakout session today and learned more about the work they’re doing in the Rehoboth Beach area. They are essentially helping to “retrofit” the land already developed at the beach to make the area more livable. How? By connecting existing roads and trails, creating bike and pedestrian friendly areas, and communicating these areas to the public. Ever heard of the Breakwater Junction Trail? DE Greenways advocated for this 6 mile trail, which connects Rehoboth and Lewes.

There is definitely a cost savings associated with improving current infrastructures. The further we sprawl, the further we must provide transportation, emergency, and medical services to residents. Along the same line of thinking, to ensure the future of Delaware agriculture, the preservation of farm land is essential. We are lucky to have a state preservation program, which was initiated in 1991. Twenty years later, Delaware has preserved almost 130,000 acres.  Smart growth ideals and farmland preservation principles go hand in hand.  We should advocate together!!!