Our telecon with AgWired’s Chuck Zimmerman

This week’s blog post is a required post for my class.  Last week we had a teleconference with AgWired’s founder Chuck Zimmerman during which he gave his background and how he started out in agriculture media and AgWired.  Mr. Zimmerman definitely has one of the most interesting backgrounds I’ve heard, most of which is available to read about on AgWired.

One topic covered by Chuck was how communication and journalism changed over his career.  I know since I was a kid, things have changed immensely, so it has changed even more so for him.  When I returned from my 15-month deployment to Iraq in late-2008, technology had absolutely exploded.  I was asked by Verizon if I wanted “2G” with my new phone.  The salesperson looked at me like I was a complete idiot when I asked, “Why on earth do I need internet on my phone??”  Prior to leaving for Iraq, using the internet on your phone was the absolute scariest and most expensive proposition for me (and probably anyone without a lot of money).  Plus, I couldn’t imagine needing the internet so badly that I required it on my phone and always available.  Ignorance is bliss—I don’t know what I did without internet at my fingertips now!  Sad.

During his 30+-year career, Chuck has seen some of the greatest advancements in technology, particularly with social media.  He started out in agriculture radio broadcast after college and now operates one of the first agriculture blogs that he and his wife founded in 2004.  Chuck embraced the changes by generating AgWired, which has been one of the most successful tools in social media for agribusinesses in the United States.  This has been incredible for farmers as well, especially as a younger generation that is certainly more technologically savvy and can take even greater advantage of social media.  The younger generations are where I see the greatest impact going forward are.  Also and in this, everyone from large agribusinesses and small, family-owned farms alike will continue to utilize social media to grow their businesses.  It will continue to become easier and easier for consumers to connect with the businesses that provide everything from food to clothing.

Grass-fed or Grain-fed?

I spent my entire life growing up around dairy and beef cattle who were raised nearly exclusively on grass, so the idea of feedlots or factory farms was entirely foreign to me until I started investigating the food my family was consuming.  Like many women I’ve encountered, having a baby made me consider everything that goes into my son’s body (and consequently my husband’s and mine own).

Happy cow

Happy cow

One of the first things I discovered was the meat we had been eating wasn’t coming from a farm like the one I grew up on.  More likely, it was either from cattle who spent a lot of time on a feedlot consuming grain that wasn’t part of their natural diet.  I truly began to adapt the “foodie” attitude and really focused on how our bodies respond to certain diets and lifestyles.

Not a lot of foraging here

Not a lot of foraging here

Grass-fed versus grain-fed

In specific, beef cattle who forage produce some of the healthiest meat available for us to consume.  I’m not claiming cattle shouldn’t be fed any grain, but the type of grain and how much given is critical.  Grain is used to essentially grow cattle larger and faster than if they were foraging alone.  When cattle are given more grain than grass, I equate it to given humans fewer vegetables and more starches and meat.  The article Diet And Disease In Cattle: High-Grain Feed May Promote Illness And Harmful Bacteria details some information on feeding cattle mostly grain.

We’re blessed in our country with an abundance of land for animals to roam, yet only 1% of America’s beef supply comes from purely grass-fed cattle.[1]  Why don’t we see more grass-fed beef?  Well, it take longer to finish the cattle for processing and they do not produce as much beef, which entails Americans basically waiting and spending more money—oh no!  Here is some information about grass-fed beef, which I think makes it worth the wait and money:Fair-Oaks-Comm-Chart

  • Grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fat and overall has 27% less fat that grain-fed [3]
  • Per three-ounce serving, grass-fed beef has 35 mg of Omega-3s EPA and DHA, compared to only 18 mg for grain-fed [2]
  • Compared to grain-fed, grass-fed beef has twice as much Conjugated Linoleic Acid, which research shows links to easier weight loss and reduced risk of heart disease [2]
  • Levels of E. coli are usually higher in grain-fed cattle [2]
  • Much higher in antioxidants such as Beta Carotene in grass-fed beef [3]

Agriculture in America

I support of agriculture and farming.  I’m from a family of farmers and think farmers are the backbone of America—Dodge had it right when they quote Paul Harvey in their Super Bowl commercial saying God made the farmer on the 8th day.  Our country would not be where it’s at with its agriculture.  I especially support small farms like the one I grew up on.  Unfortunately, small farms won’t keep up with American’s demand for lots of inexpensive food.  The demand for cheap meat and food has caused some shortcuts essentially in American agriculture—not all shortcuts are bad mind you.  However, some of these shortcuts such as the use of hormones, genetically modified organisms, preservatives, pesticides, etc. have been banned in other socially, economically and culturally comparable countries like the United Kingdom due to their potential health risks. [4]  Things that make you go, hmm…

My family consumes organic produce (as necessary—another topic) and grass-fed meat, eggs, butter and unpasteurized milk exclusively because of the dramatic differences in nutrients and care of the animals.  Yes, the animals are given some non-GMO/organic feed, but their primary diet is grass.  Not everyone has the same opinion as I do, of course, but I do wish people could open their eyes to some of the dangers lurking out there in the food industry.  We are the unhealthiest, well-fed country in the world and are getting fatter and dying younger every year; there’s a connection, peeps. 😉

The farm we purchase our beef, eggs and unpasteurized milk from is Pasture Nectar Farm in Mount Vernon, Missouri—they deliver to several locations in and around Springfield throughout the week.  In addition to nutritional differences, the quality and taste of the products we purchase from them is beyond compare to what I’ve purchased at a store and other farms in South.  Pasture Nectar Farm is a small, family-owned farm that supplies people like me nourishing foods.  I had to give them props because they rock!  I wish I could embed a picture of one of their eggs compared to any other type of egg you can buy at a store (I don’t want to waste the money on a store-bought egg) because it’s incredible—they’re so nutrient dense with their big, deep golden-yellow yolks.  I also wish I could magically teleport tiny samples of their milk, eggs and meat products for comparison as well…would someone invent the teleport already??

A spiritual note

God provided us animals for our consumption when he commanded Noah in Genesis 9:2-3, “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea into your hand they are delivered.  Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.”  He gave us animals not to mass-produce and fill full of genetically modified food that isn’t natural to them just so we can have a $1 cheeseburger at McDonald’s.  We are responsible for taking care of His creation.

I believe He gave us our own bodies to be responsible for as well, which entails using discretion when opting what to put in our bodies.  The type and quantity of meat we consume is definitely a factor in our health.  Sadly, our country is relying more on reactive medicine to fix the problems diets and lifestyles got us into instead of being proactive and recognizing what we eat impacts not only the “important” things like our weight and good looks but our overall physical and mental health.

On the other hand, Jesus commanded us not to worry about what we eat in Matthew 6:25 and that we must not be anxious about how we get the food.  There is a fine line between adapting a healthy relationship with food and idolizing our bodies and the food we put in them.  I definitely struggle with getting fixated on the ingredient lists, which I’m trying to tame by moving away from buying so much premade/processed food altogether and making it myself at home.  It’s cheaper and I know what’s going into the food and our bodies.  This is a great way I can serve my family, but there are so many things I just don’t have the time to replicate, like potato chips.  I’ve made them, yes, but I ate every batch I made while cooking them.  Doh!

Budgeting for grass-fed meat

The greatest drawback to consuming grass-fed meats is the cost.  How does the frugal housewife pay for such luxuries?  I pay a premium for the local beef and pork, and even more for the pastured chicken we consume compared to average meat prices.  To offset the costs, we are very conservative with our meat consumption.  In order to best do this, we have to meal plan for at least the meat we’re planning to consume during the week with each meal.  I haven’t got serious enough about meal planning (still new at my “job”), but I do track our meat consumption throughout a week period.  My husband and I have always been big meat-eaters, so weaning ourselves down to appropriate proportions has been a bit of a challenge but worth the effort since it helps us maintain a healthy weight as well.

Second is the difficulties in purchasing it, but if you’re willing to drive to farm or pay a little more at the store, you can easily buy it.  Back to my favorite store, MaMa Jean’s, where I purchase our pork, chicken and lunch meat because they have a larger stock of meats from local farms that is readily available.  They have a great selection to choose from—everything from bison to bacon.

Closing (finally)

No matter what type of diet you have or food you eat, I think we all need to be intentional in our choices because we depend on it as a people in this country.  We are spending more on health care and disability, which are saddling our country with debt.  We are dying younger (the newest generation) and are more obese than ever before.  Our children are less active and developing diabetes more than any generation before.  Grass-fed, grain-fed or both, I hope everyone at least looks into the food they’re consuming (ignoring all the food marketing).

Blessings,

Michelle