I hope your week is off to a great start. I'm writing a post today (words only!) because I think this is a post that needs to be written and nobody else is going to do it.
In my last post I briefly mentioned the Iowa Corn Tour fiasco that had taken over twitter for a day. Essentially, a few bloggers were flown, put up in a hotel, fed, and given gift bags by the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. The bloggers tweeted often and enthusiastically throughout the trip about how excited they were to learn about the non-risks of high fructose corn syrup and the sham of organic farming.
This caused a major uproar among a few bloggers, in part because of the blatant lack of transparency about the tour itself. This outrage was nicely summarized by Milehi Mama in this post, in which she expresses her distaste at the content of the tweets and the lack of openness by the sponsors. My favorite quotes from her post:
"Many of the tweets weren’t about the benefits of corn, but were about why organic farms are a scam and why we just shouldn’t care if our food is processed. Sadly, good information like the benefits of frozen vegetables were hidden in the misleading mudslinging.
I don’t have a problem with bloggers taking tours of industry, or trying out products, or liking high fructose corn syrup and eating Cheetos.
What do I have a problem with? Bloggers blindly accept any information given, and use the corporate platform to spread misinformation in the name of promoting a product, especially without transparency."She ended her post with a perfectly appropriate send-off, asking all of us to 'blog with integrity'.
I completely agree with her points, but I think the following has been missing from this conversation:
There are people in this state making huge changes in the way Iowans feed themselves and the world by growing sustainably and educating people.
It makes me incredibly angry to see my state depicted as being dedicated only to big agriculture. The Iowa that you see in tours like this and the one Shauna participated in allow corporate sponsors to tell the story of our state.
I'm not denying that factory farming is a big part of Iowa. Fly over this state and you'll see a patchwork of corn and soybeans that are used to make all kinds of non-food products, packaged and shipped around the world. Drive our highways and you will see (and smell) rendering plants and contained animal feeding operations like the one Shauna was paid to tell you are perfectly fine. This is the picture of Iowa that emerges if you listen only to those who speak loudly with deep pockets.
But there's a side of Iowa that's missing from this story:
- Mrs. Pavelka, my lamb farmer, who treats her animals with such care that you can stop by her farm any time and pet your future meal, no white disease protection suit needed.
- The inspirational Danelle Stamps of Stamps Family Farm, whom I consider my friend as well as my pig farmer. Through the internet, I've watched her raise the Birkshire pig that I purchased and will soon eat.
- Susan Jultz, my vegetable farmer from ZJ Farms in Solon. ZJ provides high quality produce through the model of community supported agriculture. (You can see some of my posts about the shares we got here)
- Scott Koepke from my cooperative grocery store, where he sources locally grown produce for a fair price, teaches backyard gardening, and advocates at the local and state levels for small young farmers who are just starting out. His work has made a huge difference in how people in my city eat.
- Restaurants like Devotay, Motley Cow, and Lincoln Cafe, who have made an art of the farm-to-table concept and live it every day, and the people who make a point of eating at these restaurants and asking the chefs about where the food comes from.
- Local non-profit organizations who are feeding our hungry directly from the fields of small farmers, like Johnson County Local Foods Alliance and Local Foods Connection.
These people are my local heroes, and they make me proud to live here.
My point is this: For every tweet and blog post that big agriculture buys to sell you their version of food, there is an important person or organization that goes unnoticed. I don't want to allow corporations to control the world's perception of Iowa, and perhaps the best recourse I have is to write about it here. We have the power to inform ourselves, educate others, and reject advertising as information.
Finally, I'd like to share this video with you. It's from Francis Thicke, who is running for secretary of Agriculture in Iowa. To elect him would send a clear message that Iowans want to make food policy a priority. (You can read about Michael Pollan's opinion that this is 'the most important election of the year' here)