Tuesday, March 29, 2011

CAST Goes on Spring Break

Like most college students, I began counting the days until Spring Break back at the beginning of the semester. However, when March 13th finally arrived I wasn’t headed to South Padre or even Panama City. I spent a majority of my Spring Break in our nation’s capital, Washington D.C., celebrating National Ag Day.

I was among the nearly ninety collegiate students from across the country who traveled to D.C. for the National Ag Day festivities. Among the organizations represented were 4-H, FFA, Agriculture Future of America, Alpha Tau Alpha, NAADA, Alpha Gama Rho, Farmhouse, Sigma Alpha, and my sponsor, the National Agri-Marketing Association.

After a full day of training and networking at the National 4-H Center on March 14th, we enjoyed an evening monument tour through the National Mall. The sites were breathtaking but unfortunately for me, I lost my brand new Nikon camera to a storm sewer just outside of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. While it wasn’t too funny at the time, I look back now and chuckle because that was literally money down the drain. It’s at this point that I thanked God for smart phones, as luckily I was able to capture the rest of my trip on my brand new Droid X.

After opening remarks from the voice of American agriculture, Orion Samuelson, the Ag Day festivities kicked off with comments from Deputy Secretary Merrigan in the USDA Headquarters. Following the morning coffee at the USDA, I visited the American Farm Bureau Federation and had the opportunity to meet with the Deputy Director of Public Relations, Mace Thornton. I then began my mad scramble around Capitol Hill, visiting three of the five offices of the Iowa delegation and the Capitol Building for a luncheon.

Due to the gracious support from CAST, I was able to attend the Celebration of Agriculture Dinner, held that evening in the USDA Whitten Building Patio. This event was by far my favorite part of National Ag Day, as I had the opportunity to meet more industry professionals than I could’ve ever imagined. We enjoyed a delicious pork dinner that looked like it was straight out of a magazine and heard from a number of outstanding speakers. Needless to say, it was a huge improvement from my typical college routine of Mac&Cheese and homework.

Even though I didn’t get a chance to work on my tan, I still very much enjoyed my Spring Break. I am honored that I had the opportunity to participate in National Ag Day and would like to thank both NAMA and CAST for helping make this experience possible.
Elizabeth Burns-Thompson (Editorial Administrative Assistant)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Connections with Japan

Images of Sendai Before the Tsunami  
     Many years ago while teaching in Japan, one of my duties at Yokohama International School was to lead annual field trips, so during four straight years, I organized week-long ventures for a group of 30 or so eighth graders to Miyagi Prefecture. We stayed at a youth hostel in the hills near Sendai, and along with hiking and outdoor activities, we would visit various businesses and tourist sites in the area.  All of those places have now been changed by the biggest earthquake the country has ever experienced, and I would imagine some of those locations have been forever altered by the catastrophic tsunami that followed.
     Students at the international school came from over twenty countries, and since their parents were usually business-oriented, few if any of the teenagers had ever been on a farm, so we always scheduled an afternoon visit to a dairy farm somewhere in the rural area west of Sendai. It was a mom-and-pop operation, and I remember the couple wearing rubber boots and feed-stained overalls as they explained how the old-fashioned milking machines worked.
     Their young children would lead the students to the pasture where they would cautiously walk up to the cows and sometimes not-so-cautiously step in cow pies. The farmer explained how the small grinder helped him produce the feed, and his wife explained how arduous and relentless a milking schedule could be.  The couple answered questions patiently, and their demeanor showed that they loved what they did. I don’t think the students realized what dedication went into the operation, but they boarded the bus with at least some knowledge of the source for the cartons of milk at the convenience stores in their metropolitan neighborhoods.
A "yaki-imo vendor" selling sweet potatoes.

     During other days, we visited traditional sites in and around Sendai: a kokeshi doll “factory” that was really just a small building with family members who crafted beautiful wooden figures; an ancient washi paper “farm” where an old master of his trade made paper in the manner used during samurai days; a tonkatsu restaurant in downtown Sendai where the students enjoyed the popular pork on rice dish.
     We spent one afternoon at a Sendai junior high school. Our students listened to musical performances and toured the facilities, but it took a session of fun competitive games in the gym to really loosen everyone up.
     A disaster anywhere in the world brings horror and hardship, but when the vivid images on news networks and YouTube come from a place that holds special memories, it becomes that much more painful to learn of the suffering the people are going through.  Walls of water and fears of radiation dominate the news, but behind the headlines, the faces on television remind me of a middle-aged man meticulously painting lines on a wooden kokeshi figurine, a bent old man stirring the fibrous plant material that he would form into sheets of paper, teenage students sliding around and laughing in a cold gym, and a rosy-cheeked mother leading a milk cow by a rope with her child running alongside her.  My thoughts are with them and their neighbors.  
Dan Gogerty, CAST communications editor

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Probiotics the Old Fashioned Way

Probiotics are live microorganisms that confer a health benefit on the host. In other words, they are good microbes that get in your body to render some positive effects. Today, scientists are studying them and the health food market is trying to cash in. Companies promote yogurts, teas, pills, soups, cultured butter, and sauerkraut among many other items. According to some ads, these products aid digestion, ease constipation, lessen inflammation, and possibly even cure avian flu. A New York Times article stated that colicky babies might get some relief from probiotics. The possibilities seem wide open, but it’s obvious that more research is needed.
In some ways, those of us who grew up on old-fashioned dirt farms were early test cases for these beneficial microbes. During the summertime, we were barefoot germ factories, and maybe we have probiotics to thank for the fact that we survived at all.  Many of the farm’s natural probiotics were commonplace food ingredients. Mom washed the beans, onions, and tomatoes from the garden, but before making it to the house, we might just rub the dirt off a radish or carrot knowing that the fresh taste would overshadow the gritty residue. We didn’t worry about popping dew-laden raspberries or strawberries straight into our mouths, and if a small insect or partially bird-pecked portion came with the bites, so be it. And any farm kid who gorged on juicy, purple mulberries knew that the research was conclusive: probiotics could definitely solve constipation.
No health officials inspected the eggs or chicken meat that we harvested from the small flock in the shed. I’m not sure their diets were “probiotic,” but in addition to the corn we gave them, the chickens ate any bugs and seeds they could scrounge in the grassy pen. Unless the insects had died from DDT ingestion, we must have been eating organic eggs and fried chicken.
Some modern probiotics include milk or butter based items. When we hand-milked Bossie twice a day, I didn’t know what “lactose” or “cultured” meant, but every time my brother aimed upward and squirted me in the face, I experienced the taste of fresh, warm milk straight from the cow.
At times, our good germ policy probably went too far. I remember a summer day on the front step, three of us enjoying tootsie roll pops, and my two younger brothers taking a lick, then letting our farm dog Smoky take a lick. I was just old enough to decide not to join in the sharing, but not old enough to stop the fun.
Probiotics, or whatever they want to call it, just seems to make sense. Why not get healthy from the food we eat? But it’s not always that simple. Some of the crab apples that looked the best when we reached up to pick them ended up having a brown, bug-infested backside to them.  As more credible research surfaces, consumers will be better able to understand how probiotics do (and can) play a part in their diets. CAST recently released a new video (click HERE) to explain the issue from a scientific viewpoint, and CAST’s Issue Paper, Probiotics: Their Potential to Impact Human Health is also available for free download HERE.
We all eat probiotics of some type, but the key is how to consume the best food products for our health. I’m sure we’ll find out more from solid scientific research, but from my childhood research, I recommend that you pull the bigger corn borers out of the sweet corn, you cut off the edges of lettuce leaves that have rabbit teeth marks, and you don’t share sweets with your dog no matter how much it pleads and grovels.  Dan Gogerty