Farm Food Tour 2.0
So back in May, I had the chance to go to back out to Kansas and Missouri with the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Soybean Commission along a group of other bloggers, a farmer, and dietitians. When Jancey sent me an email inviting me to come back out, I was so excited to continue learning more about agriculture, this time focusing more on the science behind GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, etc.
To start off the trip, I flew into Kansas City, MO on May 7th after a whirlwind day before where I had a flight diversion that caused me to miss my connecting flight and lead to an unexpected overnight stay in Nashville. I arrived after the presentation at Elanco where we were able to talk talk about hormones in animals and antibiotics. Something that I learned there that I found mreally fascinating was how low the levels of hormones that are added to cattle really are. While we had previously discussed that in the last tour, seeing infographics that mapped out the levels compared to other foods we eat really drilled home in me how low the levels are. For example, a normal steer has 2 ng of estrogen, an implanted steer with hormones has 3 ng, and white bread has 136, 080 ng. Go check out some of the other information about hormone levels HERE. I was also pretty amazed to hear that without the productivity-enhancing technologies such as hormones, to equal the same output of meat that we have today, we would need 10 million more cattle, double what is currently in both Kansas and Iowa.
We continued to discuss how Elanco’s products impact modern agriculture before we got on the phone with a veterinarian to continue discussing animals and how these products impact them. Something I learned that I had no clue about was farmers don’t use hormones on pigs because they grow so quickly already that it isn’t necessary or chickens whose lives are too short for them to make an impact.
After having some fantastic BBQ for lunch, we got on the road and left Kansas City, KS for St. Louis, MO. We got to try out Mama’s on the Hill, an incredible Italian restaurant where I had their rabbit boulgenese, a specialty that Chef Irvine from Restaurant Impossible created for them along with a slice of their lemon limoncello cake. It was all so good!
For day 2, we were going to be at Bayer all day to learn about what they do there. To start out, they set up a panel that had the two farmers traveling with us, Janice Person from Bayer, and a few others that popped in and out. We learned more about how Amy and Emily’s farms functioned and some of the tough decisions that they have to make each year about how to raise their crops and animals best. Something that Emily said that I found really interesting was how they used to raise their pigs without sow pens, a pen that creates separation between the sow and the piglets, but they switched because of the high rates of piglet mortality that came from the sow laying down and accidentally killing her young. It was a choice to help protect the lives of the young to have them feed with the help of a sow pen instead of roaming more freely.
We then got a chance to learn about pollinators including monarch butterflies and honey bees. I thought it was really cool that there was such a push to help the monarchs with things such as apps like HabiTally that map their habitats in order to keep track of how much is out there or Farmers for Monarchs that encourages the preservation and expansion of their habitats. Curently, the USFWS is determining whether to add the monarch to the Endangered Species list. I was glad to hear that there is work being done to protect such a beautiful creature.
Learning about bees was another really cool part of the panel. Tim, the resident bee guy, came and talked to us about honey bees and how important they are to our modern food chain as a pollinator. I had no idea that one of the biggest threats to bees today is a tiny parasite called the Varroa mite that invaded North American bee colonies in the 1980s.
Fitting with talking about pollinators, we got to have a honey tasting there with a variety of different honeys that had such wonderful notes of avocado, daikon radishes, orange blossoms, broccoli, and more. My personal favorite was the avocado from Lili Honey in Glendale, CA!
After the panel finished up, we then went on to tour Bayers R&D facilities in order to better understand the research that they do there. We saw some of the rooms where they do different plant tests that are able to imitate the conditions for places such as Brazil in order to figure out solutions to the problems that they face there. Additionally, we learned more about how seeds are developed and engineered for efficiency. I learned that there are 10 commercially available genetically modified crops grown in the U.S. – canola, cotton, corn, alfalfa, apple, papaya, potato, soybeam, squash, and sugar beets. GMOs are a topic that there is much confusion and misconceptions about here in the U.S. but they do help deal with disease tolerance, drought tolerance, pest resistance, herbicide tolerance, and food characteristics that helps make crops more efficient and sturdy.
After listening to a panel discuss more about health and common misconceptions about agriculture, we took off and had dinner at Brasserie. I had an incredible roast that had chunks of pork belly in it that gave it such an incredible flavor along with a roasted garlic soup and profiteroles.
We finished up dinner and then went to check out the arch. I had never been to St. Louis before so it was exciting to be able to see the arch even though it was closed for the night and we could not go up it. It was such a fun little outing!
For our finally day of the tour, we headed over to Central Missouri Meat & Sausage to learn about the processing of swine and cattle. We saw every aspect of the processing except for the kill step which I felt helped clear up some of the haziness I had around what happened to the animals after they left the farm and before they got to my plate as a piece of bacon. I thought it was cool to see all the different equipment that they use to make sausages and to get the meat packaged for stores. After we toured the facilities and asked questions, we had lunch at the restaurant there. I tried their french dip sandwich and it was great! Afterwards, we headed back to Kansas City where I got on flight and went home.
Overall, this tour was such an incredible experience and a great way to learn more about some of the things we touched on during the previous tour but had not gone as in depth on. I felt like walking out, I knew so much more about some of the scientific side of agriculture and I have been sharing that information with others, busting some of the myths and misconceptions that they had heard, especially in regards to labeling practices such as advertising that chicken is “hormone-free”. I’m so glad that I was able to go and learn more about agriculture and I plan on continuing to try to learn more in the future! Thanks Meagan and Jancey!
To learn more about the first Farm Food Tour trip, click HERE to read my first post.
Disclosure: My trip and expenses were covered by a collaboration between Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Soybean Commission as part of an initiative to connect influencers, farmers and vets together. As always, all thoughts and ideas found here are entirely my own.