Oakridge Dairy Overcomes Industry Challenges

Oakridge cow

This fall, I visited 2,700 Olympic ladies. It wasn’t at the Tokyo Olympics, but here in New England. Oakridge Dairy is a fifth-generation farm located in Ellington, Connecticut. Established in 1890, the Adolph-Bahler family started growing tobacco, potatoes, and dairy cows. Now, they have a powerhouse of 2,700 Holsteins that produce over 21 thousand gallons of milk per day – an Olympic-sized feat, for sure!

While other dairy farms in the nearby area closed over the years, Oakridge expanded by adhering to the motto:

Quality does not happen by chance; it’s done on purpose.

Through the generations, this family has endured and responded to changing consumer preferences, new technology, increased regulation, and a host or other challenges. They currently have three family members who actively maintain their families’ passion for all things dairy.

Challenges in the Dairy Industry 

We wondered how they, and the dairy industry overall, are faring in today’s tough environment. Dairy has been mistakenly blamed for causing cardiovascular disease, cancer, and lactose intolerance, pushing consumers over to nut ‘milks’ such as almond, coconut, and cashew. And climate change has turned the spotlight on agriculture, specifically methane-producing cattle and dairy cows. In addition, the regulatory environment is much stricter on manure run-off and smell pollution in the surrounding neighborhoods.

But the truth about dairy farms and their products is not all doom-and-gloom. In fact, it’s the opposite. Let’s start with what these bovine athletes give us. Many of the necessary nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy are found in just one 8-ounce glass of milk. It helps us make muscle, blood, bone, skin, hair, and hemoglobin which carries oxygen throughout our blood. It regulates the nerves, muscles, and heart while also being a building block of our genes.

Milk nutrients help protect against cell damage and infection. It helps with brain functions of memory and thinking, as well as food for our microbiome. Finally, there is research that shows dairy can protect from both heart disease and colorectal cancer.

To combat the demand for alternative products, the dairy industry is becoming more creative in addressing consumer concerns. A recent McKinsey study on consumer behavior toward dairy shows that 42% of consumers perceived alternative milks as health and wellness solutions, a 14% increase from 2019.

Dairy farmers around the world are using data-driven insights to create new varieties of dairy to meet customer needs and preferences. Some choices are flavored milk, lactose-free milk, reduced sugar milk, and high-protein yogurt, milks and other products.

Some cheeses such as Swiss, provolone, gouda, cheddar, Edam, Greyere, and cottage cheese have been shown to be beneficial for our gut microbiome. And don’t forget Kefir as a fermented source of about 30 species of probiotics that aid gut health.

So, how is Oakridge handling these challenges?

The Milkman is Back

The Adolph-Bahler family is conscious that not everyone understands how a dairy farm operates. They have a delivery service called The Modern Milkman that delivers fresh milk, local eggs, butter, yogurt, and cheese within a 50-mile radius of their farm.

To further this community offering, Oakridge Dairy want their neighbors to see where milk comes from. They host field trips, educational events, and farm fairs over the course of the year to enhance transparency for all customers. Quite literally inviting them in to see exactly where the milk comes from and how it ends up in their carton or cheese.

Oakridge Dairy strives to be the farm of the future in a world where people know their farmer.

Feeding People with the Environment in Mind

There is no denying the environmental impact of feeding 7.9 billion people, 1.7 billion cattle and pigs, and 34 billion chickens around the world. However, each year, sustainability across the ag sector improves. Farmers around the world, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, are giving humans, animals, and birds the nutrition needed while minimizing the impact on land, water, and air.

This is also true of dairy, where farmers have made significant strides over the decades to produce more milk using less land and fewer cows emitting less methane. The average cow in the U.S. produces about 7.8 gallons of milk per day, an increase from 5.7 gallons in 1999.

For the cows to produce that much volume, they eat about 100 pounds of food and drink 50 gallons of water each day, equating to an acre to feed one cow and calf for a year!

While the number of dairy herds has dropped from approximately 46,000 in 2013 to 36,000 in 2023, the number of dairy cows has remained the same due to dairy farm consolidation.

Yet milk production has increased by an extra two gallons a day per cow than more than 20 years ago. This is due to the science around animal feed.

Animal feed science for dairy has increased cow digestibility and decreased methane. Cows eat plants for their diet, but they lack the ability to efficiently digest their food. Hence the methane burps we’ve heard about in the news the last few years.

To digest the food most efficiently, the cows need a strong set of microflorae such as bacteria, protozoa, fungi, archaea, and bacteriophages. Data science has allowed feed companies to match the perfect microbiome and feed combination for a specific farm to enhance yield production.

Oakridge Dairy’s ‘Cow Power’

Methane, or anaerobic digesters are an environmental solution for all that manure and urine. Each day, the waste is cleaned out of the barn and placed in a big lagoon covered with a rubber dome.

The gases, which otherwise would go into the atmosphere, are captured inside the dome and used for a variety of purposes. The farm can use the gas to generate their own electricity, thus eliminating the need traditional coal-powered electricity. If the farm generates excess energy, it can be sold back onto the grid as an alternative energy source for the surrounding area.

Additionally, the captured gas can be injected into natural gas pipelines and used to power renewable natural gas vehicles. It is fun to think that the electricity used to charge electric vehicles could be run on cow power. These digesters are not cheap and can be cost prohibitive for farms with dairy herds of less than 500 cows. Another reason for dairy consolidation.

Oakridge Dairy implemented a digester at its farm. Not only does the digester give them enough energy to power the electricity needed on their farm but depending on the time of year and energy prices, they also can sell it back on the grid.

Another great benefit is that Oakridge Dairy uses the solid waste for the cow’s bedding. It sounds a little unsanitary, but when we visited the farm, we saw that the digestor heats up the manure and kills all the bacteria.

The heated manure goes through another heating and drying process which makes it fluffy and clean for the cows to use when they lay down.

Cows lay down for about 14 hours a day, so it is critical that their bedding is clean and bacteria free.

Artificial Intelligence & Dairy

Data management and artificial intelligence definitely have its place on a dairy farm. It gives predictive dairy and cow information to the herd manager to monitor cow health and milk production.

At D2D, we have talked about sensors that dairy cows wear – like collecting your data on your Apple Watch. The herd manager can look at the data on any cow and see if she is eating enough, has a fever, milk production is consistent, and if she is socializing with her friends. The data is endless. This has helped reduce sick cows by at least 15% because it lets the herd manager see and treat a cow before she is in distress. This has a tremendous impact on animal welfare.

Furthermore, dairy farmers can now put all this information together and find trends. What does the overall fertility rate look like for the herd? Is the animal feed just the right balance for the cows’ health? How well are they chewing their cud? Should the beds be changed more often? Do the cows like classical music or rock and roll when they milk? The farm can then adjust feed rations, milking schedules, and labor for optimal financial results.

A contented cow is a productive cow.

Farmers do everything to ensure their cows are comfortable, well fed and stress free.

At Oakridge Dairy, automated milking uses the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence as an on-going innovation in the milking parlor. The data can show the best time of day to milk, optimizing cow traffic which affects milk quality. The cows are automatically sorted into a moving carousel which helps reduce lameness and decreases costs.

Each cow’s udder needs to be cleaned before the milking apparatus is placed on the teats. Otherwise, bacteria would get into the milk. Generally, this is done manually by one or two farm laborers. However, this is time consuming and always fraught with human error.

Oakridge Dairy invested in two robots that go underneath the cow and prep them for milking. The fascinating part is that even though most cows are Holsteins and should have a similar teat anatomy, all cows are unique, just like us. The robot goes underneath the cow and because of AI, it remembers each teat placement of each cow.


After the milking, there is another robot that also has the same AI-type memory bank that sprays the teats, so they are clean before entering the barn.

Recycle and Reuse

If it were not for cows, a lot of food byproducts would just go to landfills.

For instance, the world eats a lot of almonds. The United States alone produced the most at 1.3 million tons of almonds. Did you know that almonds grow in a shell? What happens to those shells? As the almonds are processed, the shells get crunched up and sent to use as animal feed for dairy farms, like the hulls that are fed to the cows.

The world also drinks a lot of beer. The United States is 20th, with each of us drinking about 73 liters a year. FYI, Czech Republic is the global winner, drinking 140 liters a year. Beer comes from barley malt or other grains. After fermentation, there is something called brewers’ grains which is used for animal feed. If cows didn’t eat it, it would end up in a landfill.

Bread has been a staple in the human diet for over 30,000 years. So, it is no surprise that the left-over product of making wheat is used for animal feed. Wheat middlings are a great source of protein, fiber, phosphorus and other nutrients for animals.

Visiting Oakridge Dairy to witness reusing & recycling, AI, and biodigesters in action was an insightful experience into the future of ag, where technology helps to meet the needs of the cows and our global health.

The farm’s concern for their ‘Olympic ladies’ is self-serving because cow comfort means more milk for their customers. And as seen first-hand, these cows are clean, comfortable, and very happy, indeed.


Cork & Cow: FFA Spotlight on Emily Matzke

The Future Farmers of America (FFA) is the premier youth organization preparing members for leadership and careers in the science, business, and technology of agriculture. In an effort to spread the word about the inspiring efforts of leading FFA members, Dirt to Dinner will be highlighting some participant stories.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we would like to introduce Emily Matzke. Her passion for ag was rediscovered in FFA and now she’s developing a business plan to tie her love of ag and local food products together to make a unique frozen treat! Here is her story told from her unique point of view.

I am Emily Matzke, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I am studying Animal Science and Life Sciences Communication with a business emphasis. I became interested in these areas of study due to my interest in agriculture from a young age.

I got my start in agriculture on my grandparents’ dairy farm in southwest Wisconsin, where I learned to find value in working the land. When I was in third grade, my grandpa passed away and my family made the ultimate decision to sell our herd of cows. At that point, my one true connection to production agriculture was lost.

Reconnecting with the farm

As I grew up, I found other ways to become involved in agriculture. I joined 4-H to participate in projects such as veterinary science, photography and showing dairy cattle. Through this, I was able to spend time on a family friend’s farm, which helped return me to my roots. Once I was old enough, I joined my local FFA chapter, which is where I like to say that I had a “light bulb” moment.

My experience in FFA made me realize that the agriculture community was where I was meant to be and where I would build a life and career.

In FFA, I participated in speaking contests, equine and poultry judging, attended numerous leadership conferences, planned field trips and much more. I felt the greatest joy when I had the opportunity to share my agriculture story with younger students. While in high school, I also began working on a farm, where I fed calves and assisted with field work.

A fine idea with wine

My experience in FFA and working on this farm is what truly sparked my idea for a future business. My goal is to produce wine ice cream from a small herd of cows using local Wisconsin wine. This business venture would allow me to stay true to my roots of involvement in the dairy industry, while also finding a unique way to stay afloat in this tough agricultural economy. I am hoping that my studies in college will provide me the necessary knowledge to be successful in this business opportunity.

Additionally, I would like to have a “side hustle”, as they call it, where I work with elementary students to educate them about agriculture, as well as blogging and speaking about agriculture with consumers.

Evaluating the specialty dairy market

I have always known that I had an interest in production agriculture, but knew that it was going to be next to impossible to find my place considering today’s economy. I have been fortunate enough to grow up in a town that has one of Wisconsin’s largest and most successful vineyards and wineries, which is where I drew my inspiration from. I knew that the wine industry was growing in Wisconsin, and with our proud dairy heritage, I decided to pursue this opportunity.

I began my research and learned that there is alcoholic ice cream on the market, but not much that is specifically made from wine. My goal is to market this product towards young millennials “foodies”, as market trends indicate this group is most interested in trying new food products. I plan to sell my products in the southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois markets, specifically in larger metropolitan areas.

My current biggest challenge is figuring out the supply chain that will help me reach my ultimate goal of bringing my product to market. I am hoping that my experience at the FFA New Century Farmer will help guide me down the right path for accomplishing these goals.

Stay tuned for more Future Farmers of America stories like this. If you would like to get involved with FFA, visit www.ffa.org. If you’re a fellow FFA and want to share your story, or tell us more about an inspiring FFA member, please email us at info@dirt-to-dinner.com – we’d love to hear your stories!

Ag in the Classroom: FFA Spotlight on Lauren LaGrande

ffa lauren lagrande

The Future Farmers of America (FFA) is the premier youth organization preparing members for leadership and careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture. In an effort to spread the word about the inspiring efforts of leading FFA members, Dirt to Dinner will be highlighting some participant stories.

We would like to introduce Lauren LaGrande. Her education in ag started on her family farm and has taken her back to the classroom. Her mission is to educate future generations on something that connects all of us – where our food comes from. Here is her story told from her unique point of view.

My name is Lauren LaGrande and I am a proud fourth-generation farmer from Northern California. My family grows mostly rice, almonds, and walnuts, along with a few row crops we keep on rotation. My younger brother and I also manage a small herd of cattle between us, which has helped fund us through college.

A passion for agriculture was instilled in me at a young age and was ignited further throughout my college years. My earliest memories stem back to sitting on my dad’s lap in the harvester, watching the tines on the reel gobble up rice.  I grew up participating in 4-H and the FFA, which are two experiences I will always be grateful for. In high school for FFA, I showed livestock, competed in agricultural communications proficiency contests, job interview contests, and project competitions.

A new lens on the industry

While all this was going on, I was asked to blog for a commodity group, as they wanted a younger generation’s take on agriculture, which was where my passion for connecting people with their food sprouted. This passion took deeper roots during my time at Oregon State University, where I majored in agricultural sciences with minors in leadership, writing, and communications. I interned with commodity groups, animal agriculture alliances, conservation groups, and spent some time lobbying in Washington D.C. with a cooperative we are involved in, all of which expanded my views and perspectives on agriculture. My once narrow “production” lens of agriculture was now broadened to see the industry from a societal, regulatory, cultural, and legislative lens.

This new “ag lens” continued to expand through my college courses where I learned to appreciate agriculture beyond a production standpoint and appreciate its societal, economic, and environmental contributions. And today, I feel the same passion when I am able to help a student develop or deepen their appreciation and respect for an industry that not only feeds and clothes their hometown, their state, their country, but also the world.

I continued on to graduate school where I received my master’s degree in agricultural communications from Texas Tech University (Wreck ‘Em Tech!) and conducted research on consumer trust in the agriculture industry. I now teach agricultural communications courses at Oregon State University and am currently helping to develop a program in this concentration..

I remember getting my undergraduate degree here at Oregon State and wishing they had an agricultural communications program. I wished I knew how to talk about an industry I was so deeply rooted in to those who knew nothing about it. I am so ecstatic that Oregon State is in the works of developing an agricultural communications program. This will serve as a curriculum that I hope all students, whether within the agriculture, forestry, and natural resources fields or not, can benefit from. No matter your diet, food production preferences, or lifestyle choices, we all eat. Therefore we are all connected by agriculture.

Challenges in the education space

Many personal and professional experiences have revealed to me how little the public knows about where their food comes from, how it’s managed, and who is producing it. This lack of understanding fuels my burning desire to connect people with their food. I am very humbled and blessed to be back at my alma mater and to have the chance to help students find their agricultural voice and to help those without an agriculture background understand some of our practices.

I think one of the most significant challenges I face as a teacher and as an agriculturalist is the public’s mistrust in agriculture. Consumers not only vote on production regulations in the voting booths, but with their dollars every time they visit a grocery store, without really knowing what they are standing behind.  My master’s thesis research revealed to me that agriculture doesn’t have a “reputation issue” per se, but it has a trust issue.

Today’s consumers do not trust the agriculture industry. They are constantly bombarded with news stories and articles saying how “big ag” is pumping their foods with chemicals and destroying the environment, which are misconceptions we as an industry need to address and debunk. Agriculture has a great story to tell and we, as its  authors,  need to use our voices to help educate.

Overcoming obstacles through teaching

One of my biggest successes in this role thus far came from an email I received from a student who didn’t come from an agriculture background. She explained she took my class not knowing what agriculture really consisted of and wanted to learn more behind the “scary” articles that get blasted all over the internet. She thanked me for helping her understand agriculture, a subject that affects all of us every day.

In one of the classes I teach, students are required to do a feature story regarding an aspect of the industry of their choice. They’re also required to conduct two interviews that would add depth and credibility to the story. This assignment allowed this particular student to talk with farmers about her concerns and research her agricultural topic from both sides of the issue to come to an informed opinion. She fell so in love with her topic that she decided to pursue an internship in that same agriculture area. Although this was just one instance and just one student, I am so proud that I was able to play a small part in allowing someone who knew nothing about agriculture become passionate and informed.

Agriculture is more than just an industry; it is a lifestyle and way of life for so many. One that stems from hard work, passion, humility, craft, science, and community. It is my hope that down the road in the future, agriculture is known and trusted for all of these components and more.

A few tips on getting involved in ag

Want to know more about ag? Ask questions and make connections! Reach out to your county’s co-op extension office if you have a question about something you saw on your drive home, like an airplane flying on seed or if you want to know how to plant cherry tomatoes in your backyard.

Farmers are some of the friendliest and most passionate people I know. Talk to your local grower at your farmer’s market and ask questions about how they are growing the food you are taking home. Can’t get your “boots on the ground”? That is okay! Luckily, today’s world allows us to make connections online and globally. Reach out to agricultural professionals and organizations through their websites and social media pages.

Interested in learning directly more about agriculture? Sign up for an agricultural course or class, whether it’s at the high school or college level or joining a program such as Master Gardeners through a local co-op.

Have a giving heart? Volunteer with your local Community Supported Agriculture project, FFA chapter, community garden, extension office, etc. Get your hands in the soil and work with those who cherish the land and you’ll harvest more than just vegetables.

There are so many ways to get involved in the ag space; simply reach out and you’ll have roots planted in agriculture in no time!

Stay tuned for more Future Farmers of America stories like this. If you would like to get involved with FFA, visit www.ffa.org. If you’re a fellow FFA and want to share your story, or tell us more about an inspiring FFA member, please email us at info@dirt-to-dinner.com – we’d love to hear your stories!


On the Farm & In the Books: FFA Spotlight on Katherine Smith

ffa katherine smith

The Future Farmers of America (FFA) is the premier youth organization preparing members for leadership and careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture. In an effort to spread the word about the inspiring efforts of leading FFA members, Dirt to Dinner will be highlighting some participant stories.

Our first featured story is about Katherine Smith. Through her extensive work on the farm and in the books, Katherine sees the biggest challenge in modern agriculture is helping smallholder farmers achieve profitability through financial stability and process improvement, and her mission is to make that happen.

Here is Katherine’s story told from her unique point of view. She details how she found her special niche in ag and what she is doing to further her career in the industry.

I grew up in Lynden, Washington, an agricultural community known for our dairies and berries. 90% of North America’s red raspberries are grown within a 50-mile radius of Lynden. My grandparents live on the south coast of Oregon and are organic cranberry farmers. Growing up, I always got to skip at least a week of school during October so that my family could go down to help with the harvest. Perhaps one of my fondest memories was my grandma teaching me how to do long division on a cardboard box so that I could calculate something for the farm. From a young age, I knew I wanted to work in agriculture. I loved how there was always a new challenge to solve, whether that was machinery breaking or trying to figure out a better way to complete our work.

I first joined FFA during my freshman year of high school because I wanted to show pigs at the local fair. I’d been involved in poultry 4-H, but my mom thought FFA was a better fit. I joined the Livestock Judging team because I figured that would be a good way to make me a better and more knowledgeable showman. However, I wasn’t that committed to FFA until after my judging team went to state and ended up placing second. This meant that I was now going to the state convention the following week for the awards on stage.

At the first State dinner, one of the advisors asked me if I was good at math. I said sure, and he asked if I wanted to join the Farm Business Management team since they had an extra spot. The Farm Business Management competition is a three-hour agricultural economics, accounting, and finance test.

That was a pivotal moment for me; from then on, FFA became my passion. I ended up raising hogs, competing in Livestock Judging, Horse Judging, Farm Business Management, Parliamentary Procedures, and Extemporaneous Public Speaking. I served as a chapter and district officer and ran for state office.

The summer following my senior year of high school, I began working as a Quality Control Lab tech at Enfield Farms, Inc. in Lynden, WA. Enfields grows, processes, and packages individually quick-frozen raspberries and blueberries, in addition to puree and juice stock products. Having grown up working on my grandparent’s organic fresh fruit cranberry farm, I had experience with processing fruit and thoroughly enjoyed my work at Enfield’s.

The following summer I was offered an internship with the Quality Control department. Through that internship, I continued my work in the lab, but also performed a study on storage temperatures and the formation of ice crystals. I then assisted in the development of a process to allocate pallets of finished product to different product codes based on quality.

My third summer at Enfield’s, my internship changed a bit to focus on Food Safety and Inventory Control. During that summer, we implemented a new warehouse management system and I worked with the inventory tracking personnel to take raw fruit weight measurements and label-finished product according to the product codes given by the process I had worked on the previous year. I also worked with production employees to ensure food safety protocols were followed.

Last summer, my job title was Production Quality Coordinator. I was responsible for ensuring the correct operation of our inventory tracking process within the processing plant, the product disposition process, and shipping finished pallets to the various cold storage facilities.

While in college, my hope had been to work with my grandparents to expand their cranberry operation and to eventually move into farming full-time. As a result, I began majoring in biochemistry since the university with the best scholarship didn’t have an agricultural program. I started taking some business classes, as well, and eventually realized my passion for accounting.

Perhaps I should have figured this out a little sooner because as soon as I graduated high school, I began coaching my chapter’s Farm Business Management team and have always been passionate about bringing business and agriculture together. I ended up changing my major to Accounting during my junior year and miraculously still managed to graduate on time.

In college, I realized that while my grandparent’s farm is great for them in their retirement, the amount of capital required to expand it to the point where it would be profitable for a family is extensive. At the moment, I am studying for my Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exams and this fall will begin working for a local public accounting firm with a lot of agricultural clients. While at the moment I’m not pursuing agriculture full-time, my plan is to save my money and slowly work into farming for myself.

Over the last few years, I’ve learned that I love educating people about agriculture, working to develop new processes, and the challenges provided by agriculture. My hope is that I will be able to use my business education and agricultural experience to help farmers do business better so that they can continue to do what they love. Whether that means that I continue in accounting or end up with my own farm, I think I can achieve those objectives either way.

Stay tuned for more Future Farmers of America stories like this. If you would like to get involved with FFA, visit www.ffa.org. If you’re a fellow FFA and want to share your story, or tell us more about an inspiring FFA member, please email us at info@dirt-to-dinner.com – we’d love to hear your stories!



The Farm Babe: An Ag Love Story

michelle miller, farm babe, doug sass

L.A. Girl Meets Iowa Farmer

Recently, the D2D team took a trip to Iowa to meet Michelle Miller and learn about her life on the farm. Did you know the Farm Babe once worked on the famed Rodeo Drive at Gucci? Hard to believe, right?! Not only that, but she ascribed to the “healthy” lifestyle of many Los Angelenos: was against GMOs; consumed lots of organic products; had a fear of hormones and antibiotics in her food and believed many other misconceptions about the U.S. food supply system.

Though her roots were in the Midwest, Michelle Miller’s love for travel has taken her near and far. After LA, she moved to Florida, where her fate as The Farm Babe began. While serving drinks one day in a local Pensacola beach tavern, her eyes connected with a handsome guy across the bar.

That guy’s name was Doug Sass, a 6th generation Iowa farm boy. While Doug loves the farm life and all that it brings, Iowan winters can be harsh! So Doug dodged the north winds and headed to his sister’s place in Florida for a few weeks. It was on that trip where Michelle met her “Prince Farming” and Doug his “Farm Babe”, and their lives haven’t been the same since.

After that chance encounter, there was no looking back. Michelle packed up her things and moved to Doug’s farm, where her real education in modern-day agriculture began. It started with a few blog posts about what she was seeing, smelling, caring for and living with on a real farm. Her early posts went viral, and the seeds for The Farm Babe were planted. Today, she is the voice behind the Farm Babe and works tirelessly as an “agvocate” for farmers and ranchers by tackling controversial issues and the facts behind our food.

“I just want consumers to be informed,” Miller says. “Nothing makes me happier than knowing I eased food fears for people about hot topics like GMOs, pesticides or ‘factory’ farming. If you want to talk about GMOs, talk to genetic scientists. If you want to talk about food production, talk to farmers. If you want to know about hormones, talk to a veterinarian. There’s this amazing science that happens in our industry that is something to be proud of. It kills me to know it’s drowned out by misinformation.”

New Life Experiences On The Farm

Case in point for fleeing Iowa for the winter: imagine it’s the early hours of dawn on a -50°F February morning. To make sure the newborn lambs stayed alive, Michelle brought them into her kitchen to keep them from freezing to death. Going the extra mile for her ‘babies’ is just one of many new joys of farming life.

And on another day, Michelle watched in jaw-dropping disbelief as a TV warned of a local tornado, which then ripped through their farm and decimated 50% of the buildings on the property. This is considered a normal weather hazard in this part of the country, but not something Michelle thought would ever happen to them.

But there are also the blessings of the 16th hour of the day in a combine during harvest, exhausted and proud of the long day’s work. Michelle and Doug bask in the spectacular light of a full moon in a perfectly clear sky. A take-your-breath away view that neither of them would trade for the world.

Doug’s philosophy: “A bad day on the farm is better than a good day in any other job.”

The Business of Farming

Doug and Michelle manage about 250 head of cattle every year. That means that they purchase weaned ”feeder” calves in the fall, care for them through the winter and following spring, and sell them at market late in the summer.

In addition to their cattle and row crop operations, they run BuckingLamb Palace, which is comprised of approximately 100 ewes that birth lambs every year. Michelle considers the sheep her “queens”, as they deserve a “palace” for being such gentle and kind animals that help feed us so well. Keeping the sheep business all in the family, Doug’s uncle mentored Michelle in the raising of sheep…lessons that she will always cherish. She was able to purchase her first few ewes from him and, thus, BuckingLamb Palace was born.

The ewes are impregnated by the on-site rams in late summer, and after a 5-month gestation period during the coldest part of the year, twins and even triplet lambs are born around Valentine’s Day. They are sold to market later in the summer, when they reach about 160 pounds.

The sheep are rotated through barns depending on their age, gradually introducing the lambs to a larger crowd. By the time warm spring air starts to reach the farm, the ewes are anxious to wean their young and get back out to the fields to graze until their next cycle.

Michelle took us to the barns for the fun experience of bottle-feeding the eight “orphan” lambs, as their mothers didn’t properly care for them. As sad as that might sound, taking care of these lambs is Michelle’s favorite part of the job! She has been the orphan mother for dozens of sweet baby lambs over the years.  She and Doug feed the lambs cow colostrum when they are first born, then move them to milk replacer, and then gradually to a diet of oats and grass.

Farming Through Volatility 

Though farming is a tough job with many economic ups and downs, Doug and Michelle believe their farm’s diverse operations of livestock and staple crops help them stay afloat during difficult times. For instance, while today’s price of soy and corn is down, sheep prices are up, offsetting the loss. He also mentioned that among most farmers he knows, at least one of the spouses has a job in town for additional income and health care insurance.

Furthermore, they maintain a small farm operation and haven’t over-invested in expensive technologies with no real potential for return on investment. Doug and Michelle are very hands-on with their labor, diligently adding to their workforce only during peak weeks in harvest season.  An impressive task that only dedicated farmers can achieve!

They also reduce expenses and increase yields through cover-cropping. Doug’s brother, Neil, is a soil scientist for the USDA, and twenty years ago started working with Doug and his parents to adopt this method. By rotating his cropping schedule and utilizing this method, Doug runs a no-till system wherein he plants the cash crop directly into the cover crop. This reduces emissions and leads to healthy soil, less erosion, reduces the need for expensive fertilizers, and ultimately increases yield.

Managing 2,200 acres and 400+ head of livestock as a single operator is quite a task. But by keeping the operations efficient, it is manageable, although at times even he wonders why there aren’t more hours in the day!

As for Michelle, if she isn’t tending to her flock of sheep one day, she may be off to Los Angeles to be a guest on the Dr. Drew Show or to Australia to talk about farming techniques to farmer groups.

As an advocate for farmers and ranchers, Michelle believes that our collective voice is stronger than our individual voices, which motivates her to work with blogs like Dirt-to-Dinner, whose missions are to educate consumers about myths surround our food!

From the Farm Babe: Who is Dirt-to-Dinner?

dirt-to-dinner team with Michelle Miller, Farm Babe

Recently Dirt-to-Dinner had the pleasure of visiting Michelle Miller, one of our favorite social media collaborators and the voice behind The Farm Babe.  Here, in a piece written for AGDAILY, Michelle details a bit of the story behind Dirt-to-Dinner and sheds some light on the importance of partnering with like-minded “Agvocates”. 

Meet “Dirt-to-Dinner”: changing the game in food communication

Food Matters. There has never been a better time to share the story of modern agriculture.  That’s why “Dirt-to-Dinner” is an amazing organization that’s working to do just that. The team – Lucy, Lisa, Hillary, and Hayley, flew out to our Iowa farm last month to take a tour and learned all about how we run our livestock and row crop operation, and I’m so grateful to them for taking time out of their busy schedules to visit us.

Dirt-to-Dinner’s mission is to help you better understand how your food is grown and processed, and why this is important to you and your family. They provide the facts behind your food.

Lucy MacMillan Stitzer founded Dirt-to-Dinner to clear up food misconceptions with her friends. She learned a lot about labels and healthy food as two of her children were born with a blood disease and she had to be extra vigilant in providing them nutritious food to keep their immune systems strong. She discovered that labels aren’t always what they say, and she started asking questions, many of which were not answered online.

Needless to say, we had so much fun showing them around our farm, while taking some photos in the process!

Bottle feeding the orphan lambs. Lucy was an expert at making them share!

As an “agvocate”, I very strategically align with like-minded-brands or publications that share a similar mission to that of Farm Babe. What made me gravitate towards Dirt-to-Dinner was their overarching mission to uncover the facts behind your foods. What sets Dirt-to-Dinner apart from other agriculturally based blogs is that they do their research by talking to the top industry leaders in the ag space and beyond. Their relationships with major universities, research and development institutions, and scientist are endless. By basing each article in well-rounded, extensive scientific research, coupled with constant mindfulness for the everyday consumer, you can be sure of two things: accuracy and readability!

Michelle, Lisa, and Hayley inspecting the equipment shed!

The gals all have had interesting and varying careers and currently live in the Greenwich, Connecticut area just outside of New York City. I was excited to have conversations with them as we have similar backgrounds and share the same goals of consumer education in the food space.  Out here in rural Iowa, we don’t always hear about the latest trends and diet fads like they do in big cities. Case in point:  the celery juice craze – bad science debunked from the Dirt-to-Dinner team.  Read more about that here.

When asked about the future of D2D, Lucy responds with the thought of having a bigger influence with food corporations while raising awareness on the importance of food education for the end consumer.  As dieting trends become more mainstream with the help of social media, food companies need to wake up to the fact we have to be more proactive, not reactive when it comes to explaining what happens on today’s modern farms… particularly when it comes to topics like pesticides, food labels, veganism, and misleading marketing.  I couldn’t agree more, which is the whole reason why I also started my Farm Babe blog.

With the same ideas and goals in mind, I am proud to be a social media partner of theirs to help spread the good words of all that we do in food production, every single day.  You can follow them on, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and sign up for their e-newsletter here.

D2D On the Farm: The Row We Hoe

Fresh vegetables from Hindinger Farm

2018 Farm Income is at a 12-Year Low

You might be surprised to learn that the family farm still prevails! 99% of the farms in the United States are family-owned, and these farms account for approximately 89% of total farm production.

But the bigger picture of American agriculture is sobering. A volatile commodity trading environment, higher operating costs, and lower crop prices have farm income forecasts at a record 12-year low.

The effect of these factors, which are beyond a farmers control, ripple down to the grocery store. For every dollar consumers spend on food at the supermarket, the farmer receives just 14.8 cents.

“The prices that farmers have been receiving for their products aren’t paying the bills, and too many are being forced to give up farming.” – National Farmers Union

The Row We Hoe – Hindinger Farm

On a broad vista of 120 acres in New Haven County, Connecticut, fourth-generation Hindinger Farms grows a variety of fruit and vegetable crops from early spring until late fall. Seven days a week, fourteen hours a day, George prepares the fields, nurtures the plants, weeds, keeps crop pests at bay and harvests the crops. Liz takes care of the farm stand, finances, and marketing.

As with many smaller farms, the costs of running their farm can sometimes exceed the income they produce from growing and selling their fresh fruits and vegetables. These substantial costs include insurance, electricity, fuel, loan payments, equipment, labor, irrigation, seeds, nursery stock and much more. So, they are always looking for ways to increase revenue and get people to eat more fruits and vegetables!

The Hindingers – Anne, George, and Liz run the 4th generation family farm in Hamden, Connecticut. The farm produces vegetables and fruits from May through November.

The Dirt-to-Dinner team chatted with the Hindingers to get a better sense of their farm and operations.

D2D: Tell us about the beginnings of Hindinger Farm.
HF: Our grandparents emigrated from Germany in the 1890s, bought the farmland, and started raising turkeys, pigs, and a few vegetable crops. They did all the farm work themselves and would sell at the wholesale market in New Haven. In 1955, Liz and George’s father expanded farm production by adding more fruits and vegetables.

Picking strawberries at Hindinger Farm, 1914

D2D: Do you grow with organic or conventional methods?
HF: Actually, for over 30 years we have practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which you could consider the best combination of the two. IPM allows us to prevent pest damage to fruits and vegetables while minimizing pesticide use.

We regularly test our soil, rotate crops and scout the fields for pest damage to stay ahead of their cycle. We utilize the resources of the Connecticut Agricultural station to help identify and manage crop pests. Fallow fields are cover-cropped to nourish the soil, and beneficial plants are planted alongside crops to help produce a healthy and biodiverse ecosystem.

Kale and Collards — two late-season crops.

D2D: Do you require seasonal labor?
HF: Yes, we hire H2-A workers from Jamaica. We provide housing, transportation and comply with the rules and regulations of The Immigration and Nationality Act. These workers are vital to our operation as without them we would not be able to farm. We cannot find local labor to work long hours, come back season after season, and genuinely care as much about our farm.

D2D: There is an upward trend in consumers’ desire for buying locally-grown food, and research forecasts that this trend will continue as consumers demand transparency and sustainability. What do you think of this?
HF: We earn the majority of our income by selling directly to consumers through our farm stand and seasonal Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions.

But, we live in a town of 60,000 people and have approximately 300 CSA subscriptions. So, consumers are shopping elsewhere or not eating enough fruits and vegetables! This may be out of convenience, time constraints, or a better price point in the grocery store, but the reality is you cannot compare the freshness and variety of locally-grown produce with that you find in a grocery store.

“We estimate that if our customers would spend just $5 more per week on produce, we could be ahead of our expenses.”

Sweet corn – a summertime favorite.

D2D: How do you try to differentiate yourself to bring in more customers?
HF: We are the farmers, and the people who meet us can get honest answers on anything they ask. We work the same soil as our great-grandparents did, and think that heritage resonates with a lot of people. We also sell vegetables from other farms, milk and cheese, jams, jellies, and gift items to help customers get more shopping done in one place.

George Hindinger promotes the annual strawberry festival on Connecticut Local TV

D2D: How have you adapted to social media?
HF: A social media presence on Facebook, Google Search, and even Tripadvisor have helped bring in customers to our farm. People and families have fun when they are here: they meet us, can visit with our petting goats, and enjoy a tractor ride or tour of the farm. And they go home with fresh fruits and vegetables to feed their family.

D2D: What else do you do to bring more customers to the farm?
HF: We host our famous Strawberry Festival every June, with ice cream, face painting, and music. The festival is excellent exposure and brings in many people outside the community to learn about our farm. We also host a fall harvest where we make and sell apple cider and sell lots of apples, pumpkins, gourds, squashes, and any other fall vegetables in season.

The Hindingers grow the most delicious peaches!

D2D: What will you plant differently this year than last?
HF: Every year we grow something different for our CSA customers. Maybe it’s a new type of squash, bean or tomato. The seed companies always have a great selection in January when we do our seed purchasing. Additionally, we will be growing more cut flowers this year so that people can have a fresh bouquet adorning the dinner table.

D2D: Farming is a lot of hard work. Why do you do it?
HF: We love the farm, the land, and our community.

D2D: What about the next generation – will they assume the farm?
HF: At this time, we are still working with the next generation to carry on with the farm. They have witnessed our struggles, good years and not so good years, and are not sure they want the same life. But we remain optimistic: as we modernized the farm and brought it into the age of technology, our children have the opportunity to take the farm again to the next level.

Do you know a farmer who would like to share their story? Let us know at connect@dirt-to-dinner.com

D2D on the Farm: Support Local Farms

Dirt-to-Dinner working at Versailles Farm

More and more mindful consumers are getting to know the farms in their area, attending farmers’ markets, and supporting local growers. And while connecting with farmers and understanding how your food is grown is important, dictating how a farmer should best grow their crops resembles a patient telling a doctor which medicines to prescribe! As a result, organic practices have been overemphasized and the use of genetically modified technology is very limited. The question remains: Is it clear to the consumer how safe conventionally grown fruits and vegetables actually are?

Does local mean organic?

There seems to be an inextricable link between local and organic produce. Consumers often assume when they are buying local, they are also buying organic. According to a survey done by Statista, 96% of those surveyed believe “local” means the produce was grown within 100 miles, 57% think that it is produced by a small business, and 44% believe it means natural or organic. As shown in the chart below, despite the lack of clarity around what “local” means, more and more consumers are visiting farmers’ markets to buy just that.

In reality, local does not mean organic— and there is nothing wrong with that. Despite this fact, there is a push for farmers to produce only organic crops for their local farmers’ markets. However, what the consumer doesn’t always realize is that both organic and conventional farmers have bugs, weeds, and weather issues. In order to get a good yield, farmers must utilize a variety of different tactics. Sometimes this includes pesticides, sometimes herbicides, and sometimes both. Farmers are concerned with soil and their local environments’ health.  When it comes to growing practices, it isn’t black or white. Yes, farmers are often classified as conventional or organic— but there is a lot more to it than that.

In fact, conventionally grown crops are often misrepresented and pitted against organic produce as the greater evil. As we’ve discussed on D2D, conventional farmers create safe, healthy, and affordable produce. But many consumers still believe that organic is healthier and more nutritious because it doesn’t require pesticides or herbicides. This impression is misguided. For instance, conventional farming practices have traditionally been held to a higher sanitation standard than organic farming, which sometimes uses improperly composted manure as opposed to more sanitary synthetic fertilizer. Or organic farmers may use copper sulfate as a fungicide and pesticide, which can be more toxic to the environment, including bees, than the conventional treatment of glyphosate.

The U.S. organic market reported a record $43.3 billion in sales in 2015 and shows no signs of slowing down. The organic food and beverage market is supposed to grow to $320.5 billion by 2050.  (Source: Organic Trade Association

As we learned on Green Cay Farm in Florida, there are many challenges that farmers face when growing crops. These include, but are not limited to, pest pressure and maintaining healthy soil. Sometimes, to deal with these challenges, a conventional input is better for the land, the farmer, and the crop.

Because there is less technology used in organic farming, inputs are more expensive. This drives up the price of the produce. One organic farmer stated, “it takes $1,800 to weed an acre of organic spinach compared to $150 an acre for conventional.” (Source: Genetic Literacy Project)

D2D discusses conventional farming practices with Nancy Roe of Green Cay Farm.

In the case of Green Cay Farm, genetically modified technology could have a significant impact on the quality and availability of their corn and squash crop and would ultimately increase the profits of the farm. As Nancy Roe told us, she would like to use GM seeds but that could negatively affect her CSA subscribers. If she were able to use genetically modified crops she could yield more on less land and apply 1/3 less pesticide to her crops.

Versailles Farm, in Connecticut, takes another approach. Here, the “French-intensive method” is used to grow a variety of lettuce crops, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, edible flowers, and mushrooms. This approach combines conventional and organic inputs to produce roughly 12 acres of food on 1.5 acres of land!

Versailles Farm. The tightly packed rows using the French intensive method produces on 1.5 acres what would normally require 12 acres.

For Versailles Farm, “best practices” means fully utilizing new technologies like soil moisture sensors, irrigation sensors, and (if necessary) synthetic inputs based on detailed soil analyses. The owners, Steve and Ingrid McMenamin combine this with more old-time techniques, like the broad fork, which is a hand tool used to crack the soil before planting to allow oxygen in without disturbing the all-important microbiome of the soil web. They also grow companion plantings, like marigold flowers, nasturtium, lavender, and dill in order to naturally fight off pests. For example, lavender repels cabbage worms.  They can then harvest these companion plants for additional revenue. The bees are able to pollinate the flowers and create the honey made on the farm.

Versailles Farms grows thousands of marigolds in between crops. Acting as a companion plant this little flower is repelling insects, preventing fungus and keeping everybody healthy. Their roots contain thiophene which is toxic to certain nematodes, aphids, and beetles.  Marigolds also attract beneficial insects.


“We grow for flavor rather than compliance. Versailles Farm takes a best-practices approach in everything we do.  If organic has a best practice we use it. Same goes for conventional techniques.  Some may question how synthetic fertilizers affect the soil.  We use both organic and synthetic inputs.  We plant a cover crop and amend our soil with compost every year.  We spoon-feed our tomatoes with synthetics because they’re heavy feeders and the flavor is better.  Our soil is healthy and the worms are happy.” (Steve McMenamin, Versailles Farms)

Owners and farmers Ingrid and Steve McMenamin are responsible stewards of the land. They hold Versailles farm to the highest standards of plant culture, hygiene and flavor — they don’t feel compelled to adopt a purely organic regime in order to get a “badge.”

The health and quality of a farm’s land are extremely important to both conventional and organic farmers. If farmers don’t manage their inputs properly they are wasting money, negatively affecting their crops, and hurting overall profitability. We must trust both conventional and organic farmers to do what is right for their land given their seasonal challenges, pest threats, and growing conditions. Get to know your farmers, and you will be pleasantly surprised at the care they take of their land—even if they aren’t solely organic.

Successful farms are those who can marry the best techniques that are applicable to the crop, the soil, and the environment. It is not just one or the other – it can be both!

A big thank you to Steve and Ingrid McMenamin from Versailles Farms and Nancy Roe of Green Cay Farm and Farming Systems Research. 

D2D on the Farm: America’s Salad Bowl

The Dirt-to-Dinner Team in Salinas Valley

The D2D team recently took a tour of Monterey County in Salinas Valley, California. Perfectly nestled between the Gabilan and Santa Lucia mountain ranges,  the valley spans 90 miles long and 15 miles wide. The soil is some of the most fertile in the world, created after thousands of years of nutrient dense mountain erosion and the ebb and flows of the Salinas River.

The north end of the Salinas Valley opens to the Pacific Ocean. This marine influence cools the valley and makes possible the wide range of crops found here. With a total value of over $1.9 billion, Monterey County is the fourth highest agricultural producing county in California. (UCDavis)

Two very deep underground aquifers and cool air from the Pacific Ocean contribute to the ideal growing conditions, which enables farmers to plant crops twice per year. Because of its prolific crop production, the area has been nicknamed the “Salad Bowl of the World.” Its top crops are Leaf Lettuces, Strawberries, Head Lettuce, Broccoli, Nursery stock, Wine Grapes, Cauliflower, Celery, and Spinach.

One of the most important takeaways we had from this trip was the care and stewardship of the land, with little differentiation between organic and conventional farming practices. The large and smaller scale farmers in this area— regardless of whether they are conventional or organic growers— are growing sustainably, efficiently, and safely. They take care of the land by employing successful crop rotation, appropriate pesticide use, and using an advanced recycled watering system to irrigate their crops. In fact, 72% of crops utilize water-conserving drip irrigation tape as their main delivery method for irrigation.

Our tour was guided by Evan Oakes, owner of Ag Venture Tours and a former agricultural scientist for the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Salinas. He first showed us one of the few edible species of thistle: the artichoke.

Salinas Valley is the primary U.S. home for artichokes because of the cool breeze coming off the ocean, rich fertile soil, and roughly 200 days of cloud cover, which closely mimics the weather in parts of Italy, the artichoke’s indigenous home.

Artichoke ready for picking from Pezzini Farms

We visited Pezzini Farms, a 4th generation artichoke farm and saw acres and acres of “Green Globe” artichoke plants. Each of these hearty plants can reproduce for as long as 15 years, as long as it is properly pruned!  When artichokes are in season early in the spring, Pezzini Farms sells about 200 pounds per week, and is best known for the delicious menu of cooked artichokes, including French fried chokes, from the “Choke Coach.” We can vouch that deep-fried artichoke hearts are delicious!

Pezzini Farms sorting their artichokes by size. The artichokes roll down a conveyer belt which drops the different sizes in their respective bins.  image: Pezzini Farms

Artichokes are harvested at several different sizes. The jumbos work great to hold a variety of stuffing; the extra smalls are best eaten whole! (image: Pezzini Farms)

The farm utilizes integrated pest management practices, such as turning under the spent plant to nourish the soil and reduce pesticide use. The farmed acreage also utilizes drip irrigation to reduce water consumption and fertilizer usage.

For all you chefs out there, we also learned the best way to identify a ripe artichoke at the grocery store or farmers market… it QUACKS!

After the tour of Pezzini Farms, we loaded up into Evan’s Ag Venture Tours van and began to absorb the vast amount of growing acreage in this area. Fields and fields of dark loamy soil stretching to the horizon.

Currently, the Salinas Valley is early in the growing season. Because of this, our team saw crops in different growing stages. Broccoli was being harvested, while cauliflower was just showing its bud. Some strawberries were being harvested, but other fields had a few weeks to go. Most of the lettuces were being planted or were still in the baby leaf stage. Raspberries were just about to break bud, and specialty crops, such as broccoli rabe, were getting ready to be harvested.


Most of the fruits and vegetables produced in the valley is grown for large U.S. growers, such as D’Arrigo BrothersDoleDriscoll and Taylor Farms.  In many cases, small independent growers contract out to these larger firms. The larger parent company (like Driscoll) will operate the research facility which provides information and farming strategy to their contracted growers. However, we also saw large grower operations that were not contracted. Andy Boy, operated by the D’Arrigo family, is a fourth generation family farm that handles all of their packaging and shipping on site as well. In fact, when visiting the grocery store in Connecticut the day following our trip we found fresh Andy Boy broccoli rabe — and it was delicious!

Andy Boy broccoli rabe at the grocery store back home

Many thanks to Evan Oakes from Ag Venture Tours for surviving 1,000 questions a minute from the D2D team!
For more on Monterey County visit the Monterey County Farming Bureau website.

For more on the growers and producers in the area, you might be interested in the following sites:

Andy Boy Produce

Taylor Farms



D2D on the Farm: GMOs

Green Cay farm talking with Dirt-to-Dinner

D2D recently visited Green Cay Farm, also known as Farming Systems Research, in Boynton Beach, FL. Green Cay is a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, that has operated between 10 and 15 acres of farmland for 17 years. CSA means they are a direct-to-consumer farm that delivers fresh veggies weekly or bi-monthly to their subscriber list. The farm grows over 30 different vegetable crops, including tomatoes, beans, broccoli, peppers, kale, squashes, watermelon, and lettuces, as well as different varieties within those crops.

Farm manager Nancy Roe gave us an expansive tour of the farm fields and we discussed the successes of the farm as well as the various challenges they face from season to season. One of the most interesting conversations we had was about a heavily debated topic in Ag. You guessed it…GMOs.

Nancy’s farm does not grow genetically modified crops, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t a fan of the technology!  Because of consumer misconception, Nancy cannot integrate GM seeds into her farm without the fear of losing customers. But, every year Nancy estimates they lose roughly 30% of the crops they plant. And last year they were required to spend more money on pesticides in order to keep up with the disease and pests that threatened their crops.

These leafy greens are still a viable crop but have been the snack of different insects. If you look closely you can see how they have damaged the leaves.

“We cannot grow genetically modified crops because our consumers won’t buy them, but it would help with crop loss. What consumers often don’t realize is that traditional crops farmers plant today have also been modified! The seeds they plant are not the seeds that were originally found in the wild. Using plant breeding technology, scientists have created better crops. Genetically Modified technology does the same thing— just a lot faster. ” Nancy Roe, Ph.D.

The hot, humid climate in South Florida offers its fair share of challenges. Ultimately, GMO technology would allow Nancy to experience less loss on the farm and require fewer pesticide treatments. Corn, for example, is a profitable crop for the farm, but because of pest threat, Nancy must treat the crop 2-3x a week in order to fight off insects and disease. This does not mean she is haphazardly spraying her crop in excess pesticide! She noted, “Farmers don’t put pesticides on their crops because they’re bad people! My grandchildren run through my fields and pick the salad we eat for dinner. Conventional farming is safe. And pesticides are so expensive— we wouldn’t spray our crops if we didn’t have to.”

If she were able to grow and sell genetically modified corn to consumers, she estimates she would not need to treat the crop with any pesticides or herbicides until the very end of the growing season, when the corn silk fly becomes an issue for the crop. In Florida, this pesky little bug will lay its eggs on the corn, which will then bury as maggots under the protection of the corn husk. This is a pest that is specific to the humid temperatures of Florida, so corn growers in a cooler climate might never need to spray any pesticides on their crop! In Florida, if she was able to grow genetically engineered sweet corn seeds she would be able to spray 1/3 less than she does now. Nancy also noted that many organic farmers in the climate are forced to spray more frequently in order to keep up with the pest and bacterial diseases of the south Florida climate. (Yes, organic farmers use sprays too.)

Additionally, this season, the farm’s broccoli and cauliflower crops were knocked out due to bacterial disease and damage inflicted by the Diamondback moth, which eats the leaves and flower buds of crucifer plants. On average their crops are threatened by 8-10 different types of disease and 12 different types of insects.

Diamondback moth leaf damage.

Three years ago, Nancy saw the benefit of growing GE crops first hand. After losing her entire squash and zucchini crop to an unforeseen virus, Nancy was visiting a neighboring farm to discuss the issues and successes the farm was experiencing. When walking those fields, she noticed gorgeous squash and zucchini plants. Because the seeds were genetically engineered to not get the bacterial virus, the neighboring farmer had a great growing season and successfully sold his crop. Since genetically modified crops have been proven safe by 275 organizations, including the FDA, USDA, WHO, EFSA, and NIH, and they help our farmers, shouldn’t we support it, as well?

Farmers are constantly trying to heed the needs of their consumers, but at the same time, they need the flexibility to create a more sustainable farm that not only benefits its customers but also the land and its workers. 

This beautiful purple Brussel sprout crop is actually a loss for Green Cay farm. Due to the hot, humid climate, the sprouts themselves never grew.