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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Tag: agriculture

Thanksgiving message from spring Go Big Read speaker

Former U.S. Senator George McGovern has agreed to serve as the keynote speaker for the spring Day on Campus: Food Summit program. Read his thoughts related to global hunger and our relationship with farmers in his recent Sacramento Bee opinion piece: http://www.sacbee.com/1190/story/2350851.html

In it, he references “In Defense of Food” as well as the USDA’s recently announced “Know Your Farmer” program: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/%21ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?contentidonly=true&contentid=2009/09/0440.xml

The Food Summit will be held on Friday, April 23 at Memorial union. For more information on the program visit: http://www.uwalumni.com/home/reunions/alumniweekend/alumniweekend.aspx

Heidi Zoerb
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

A Wisconsin Farmer’s Response to Michael Pollan, Part I

As a third generation Wisconsin dairy farmer and a UW College of Agricultural and Life Sciences graduate, I enjoyed the opportunity to participate in Chancellor Martin’s GO BIG READ initiative.

Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food is an interesting and provocative book. Several of his ideas have merit for consideration, particularly that of family meals at appointed times with limited snacks in between. He has been clever enough to site numerous studies and individuals supporting his points of view. He also, unfortunately, uses labels (reductionist science, nutritionalism, monocultural agriculture) to trivialize and demean that portion of the food industry upon which the very existence and security of this country depends. His commentary seems to generally follow the anti-animal, anti modern agriculture rhetoric accepted by a public increasingly removed from the source of it’s food supply.

Here are some observations and opinions on several of Mr. Pollan’s views. They are given from the perspective of one who has had some “hands-on” agricultural experience on three continents and half a dozen different countries over the course of a 50+ year relationship with production agriculture and agribusiness.

Privileged America

Americans spend less of their take home pay (under 10%) on food, than just about any other nation on earth. This allows us to have available comparatively generous amounts of disposable income for non-food items. What would life be like in your sphere of existence if it required 30% of take home pay to purchase food for yourself and a family? What about 50%? Americans are privileged to have the most abundant, diverse, safe and economical food supply in the world. Modern day production agriculture makes this possible.

Stewards of the Land

This unique status has not always existed, and is in fact, only a fairly recent phenomenon.

Mr. Pollan does have it right in asserting that it all begins with the soil. Here is a brief example of an evolution in American production agriculture typified by soil management practices on our own Wisconsin farm, located in the rolling and rock strewn hills of the ‘Kettle Moraine’.

Grandpa plowed the land with horses, working up and down the hills, when he and grandma first began farming here around 1900. The farm was 40 acres, a typical size at the time due to land survey procedures and the fact that this size was about the limit a man and a team of horses could work in one growing season.

Dad, upon the purchase of neighboring farmland and mechanical horsepower, established contour strips across the hills and planted grass waterways to slow down and divert excess water during rainstorms. To this day, they still hold soil in place and allow for crop rotation. He also drummed into us a simple philosophy: “Soil is like a bank, if you want to get something out, you must put something in!”

I introduced and promoted ‘conservation tillage’ and ‘no-till’ cropping practices to the family farming operation. These methods disturb very little topsoil during planting season. This further reduces erosion, preserves organic matter, conserves soil moisture, and saves considerable time and fuel when planting crops.

Moderator’s Note: This is page 1 of 5. Read the rest: A Wisconsin Farmer 2010-25-09.pdf

The discussion generated by Mr. Pollan’s book has certainly been an opportunity to explore some issues pertaining to food and food production. The opinions I have ventured here are my own, but are probably shared by others in production agriculture. Here is my own variation on the Pollan Theme:

Eat responsibly. Eat together. Be grateful for abundance. Thank a farmer.

On, Wisconsin!
George H. Roemer
UW-CALS Class of ’70

Moderator’s Note: The full essay, A Wisconsin Farmer 2010-25-09.pdf, includes the additional sections “There’s Nothing Simple About It,” “Soil Is Organic,” “Monocultural Monopoly,” “How Now, Contented Cow,” “Laced or Unlaced,” “Anti What (or Whom?)” “Jambo, Bwana! (Hello, Mr.)” and “Pay More, Eat Less.” Additional installments will also be posted to the blog.

Can Biotech Cure World Hunger?

The New York Times series “Room for Debate: A Running Commentary on the News” for October 26th is on the topic “Can Biotech Cure World Hunger?” The feature includes commentary on a central question by a group of experts approaching the topic from different perspectives. In this case, Paul Collier, economist, Oxford University; Vandana Shiva, activist and author; Per Pinstrup-Andersen, professor of nutrition and public policy, Cornell; Raj Patel, Institute for Food and Development Policy; Jonathan Foley, University of Minnesota; and Michael J. Roberts, economist, North Carolina State University are the experts.

They address a set of questions that have come up in connection to campus discussions around Go Big Read: What will drive the next Green Revolution? Is genetically modified food an answer to world hunger? Are there other factors that will make a difference in food production?

This Spring, we will wrap up our first year of Go Big Read with a day-long food summit with a number of distinguished speakers. These will be among the topics addressed by a distinguished speaker and UW faculty. Stay tuned for details!

Sarah McDaniel
Go Big Read

Aug. 23-29: National Community Gardening Week

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared August 23rd-29th to be “National Community Gardening Week“!
“Community gardens provide numerous benefits including opportunities for local food production, resource conservation, and neighborhood beautification,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“But they also promote family and community interaction and enhance opportunities to eat healthy, nutritious foods. Each of these benefits is something we can and should strive for.”
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