Monthly Archives: March 2015

Farming In Focus: March – Out Like A Lamb

This kicks off the very first post of my Farming In Focus project! My plan is to visit a different farm each month and do a sort of “day-in-the-life” of a farmer through photography. There are a number of reasons I’m doing this project  – primarily it’s to shine a light on what real life farming is like. I was recently at a training seminar put on by the Center for Food Integrity, and one nugget they shared that amazed me was that “most consumers are seven generations removed from agriculture.” That explains a lot about why consumers are sometimes confused about how their food is produced. How can we expect consumers to see through ridiculous marketing claims when in truth, they really don’t have any idea if chickens are raised using hormones or not? (If you read my series on egg labels, you already know that answer: all poultry is produced without hormones.)  So this project hopes to help, in some small way, bridge that gap.

Another reason I’m doing this project is because while I do have quite a bit of knowledge about the workings of agriculture, I haven’t spent that much time on a farm. In fact, I’ve never farmed a day in my whole life.  I visited a number of farms while working for Monsanto, but that consisted of mostly row crops. Here in Oregon, I have the benefit of being surrounded by great agricultural diversity, and this is my plan to get out there and learn more about what goes on in my own state. Hopefully  sharing what I learn with you will help us all learn a little more about agriculture.

Lastly, while I like to think of myself as an amazing writer (I’ll pause here for your applause), my degree is actually in photojournalism. Shocker, I know. I love doing documentary photography, and this will give me a chance to do it more.

I decided to focus on sheep for March, primarily because a friend of mine  posted on Facebook that she was shearing her sheep this month in preparation for lambing season.  Unfortunately, my friend lives eight hours away, so I started searching for someone closer! I ended up visiting two different sheep farms, one smallish and one more medium to large sized. Plus, it worked so well with the adage that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb!

The first farm I visited was SuDan Farm outside of Canby.

SuDan farm-1

Susie and Dan Wilson raise about 1300 grass-fed lambs per year, which Susie says is on the small end compared to some farms. They also raise about 30 pastured turkeys, 100 pastured chicken, pastured eggs, and produce many wool products which they direct-market. “We’re not organically certified,” Susie said.  “When people ask if we are I say no because we want to keep food affordable. If we had to get organically certified we’d make no money and we’d have to double or triple the price. When people ask that, though, they don’t care so much about that as they do animal welfare. If my animal needs a medication to help them, they’re going to get it.”

SuDan Farm-2

While Dan grew up in a farming family, Susie is a nurse practitioner by training but has always wanted to be a farmer. She started knitting when she was five and has been spinning since the 80’s. She started her own small-flock shearing business because she figured if she was going to be a sheep farmer she needed to know how to shear. She met Dan and has been farming with him for 15 years. She knows wool well and sells all her own fiber online and at  local farmers’ markets.

SuDan Farm-3

SuDan Farm had about 40 lambs when I visited this month. They keep about 40-50 each year for their own breeding stock, and the rest are sold either as breeding stock or sold for meat. SuDan Farm supplies wholesale lamb to 30-40 restaurants, including many well-known local restaurants like those at Timberline Lodge and OHSU. They also provide lamb to local food carts, wineries and caterers.

SuDan Farm-4

Susie has one lamb that she’s nursing along away from the mother until it’s big enough to re-join the rest on the pasture. Most ewes have single or twin lambs. When triplets are born, Susie takes one of the triplets away because ewes are not well-suited to raise triplets and often will abandon one. This way, all the triplet lambs survive.

SuDan farm-5

The day I visited was pretty much pouring rain. Aside from giving me (and a few other visitors) a tour, Susie was posting fleece on Facebook and sowing seeds in her greenhouse for their own vegetable garden.

SuDan Farm-6

Dan told me if it hadn’t been as wet as it was the day I visited he would have  been rototilling. As it was, he was repairing a trailer that they use to haul anything from compost to lambs.

SuDan Farm-7At 74, Dan told me he’s working pretty much every day. When they’re not delivering meat to restaurants they’re working the Portland Farmers Market every Saturday year-round at Portland State University and the Milwaukie Farmers Market every Sunday, May through October. The rest of the time, he’s working on the farm.  He told me a vacation day is when he doesn’t do anything in the hours between feeding the animals in the morning and feeding them at night.

 

The next farm I visited was Crescent Lake Farms on Sauvie Island.

Trupp farm-1

The first thing Lynn Trupp does each morning is fire off a shotgun shot to scare off the thousands of geese who are eating the pasture meant for the sheep.  I was trying to get a picture of him firing off the gun, but even though I was expecting it, the shot made me jump so much I missed my chance. Instead I looked off to the field and literally saw the horizon lifting up with geese. Lynn said in addition to eating the grass, the geese also eat the first crop of alfalfa. He later showed me his neighbors wheat field that had should have been twice as tall had the geese not eaten it down to the ground a few weeks ago.  They’ve tried everything to keep the geese away, but nothing works very well. “Sometimes I scare them off for the day, but sometimes they just move over a bit or come right back.”

Trupp Farm-2

Lynn’s wife Mary is the fourth generation on this farm, and Lynn himself grew up a sheep rancher near Eugene.  In addition to roughly 750 sheep, they also have a couple hundred cattle, as well as some chickens, emus, rabbits and any number of other projects their daughter, a veterinary technician, keeps for fun. This year they have 300 mother ewes, each giving birth to one to three lambs. The rams are kept elsewhere. After scaring off the geese, Lynn gets to work feeding the animals.

Trupp Farm-3

Unlike SuDan Farm, Lynn and his wife don’t direct market any of their lamb, all of it goes to a slaughter house. He said in the past they’ve tried to sell it themselves but he got tired of folks trying to haggle him on the price and trying to slaughter the lambs on his property. All the wool they shear goes to Pendleton Woolen Mills in Portland.

Trupp Farm-4

Just like Susie, Lynn takes away the triplets from the mother ewes to make sure they all survive. He had about a dozen triplets he was feeding a milk replacement similar to formula. Some of the lambs needed to be bottle fed, while some of them could drink their own milk. As soon as they’re big enough, they’ll join the other lambs in the communal pen.

Trupp farm-5

In addition to it being the end of lambing season, it’s also calving season. Lynn usually leaves all the calves with the cows, but this one needed special help – it’s never been able to stand up. Lynn thinks perhaps it got stepped on during the birthing process and has a broken back. “I’m probably wasting my time,” Lynn said,  “but you never know.  I’ll make a harness and get her up and moving around. Sometimes these things heal themselves.” If not, the calf will have to be euthanized.

Trupp Farm-6

After feeding the triplet lambs milk, he feeds the older lambs spent brewers grain that he gets for free from a local brewery. Well, not exactly for free – he has to pick up the six to seven tons every week, which isn’t a trivial cost in transportation. He considers it well worth it, though, as it makes a great feed product for the lambs.

Trupp Farm-7

The heaviest part of lambing season is over – there are only about 45 pregnant ewes left that will mostly produce only a single lamb each because the majority of them are first-time mothers; they were only born a year ago themselves. Lynn feeds them  alfalfa that he grows himself. I asked him if the pregnant ewes eat the most, but he told me they don’t eat nearly as much as the nursing mother ewes.

Trupp Farm-8

While I was following Lynn around, he discovered a brand-new pair of lambs born less than two hours before I got there; they were still wet. After the lambs are born, Lynn moves them and the mother into what’s called a jug pen to make sure everyone is doing well and nursing. Ideally, they stay in the jug pen for two to three days, but Lynn said when they’re in the thickest part of lambing season, sometimes they only get to stay in the jug pen for a few hours before they’re moved out to make room for a newer set. Lynn has about 40 jug pens that need fresh food and water two or three times per day. The gestation period for a sheep is five months. A ewe’s milk is very high in fat and lambs gain almost a pound a day.

Trupp farm-9

Three hundred mother ewes means at least three hundred, maybe six hundred lambs. Each one of them must be given vaccines, and have their tails docked. The males also must be castrated. Lynn does all the work himself, sometimes with the help of his daughter as seen here. He can do it alone if need be with the aid of a special harness.  Starting in April they treat the lambs to get rid of worms every thirty days and run the whole flock through a foot bath to prevent foot rot about every three weeks.

Trupp farm-10

Every day Lynn drives the perimeter of his pasture on an ATV to both deliver food for his guard dogs and to check for lambs that have been killed by coyotes.  That white bucket contained more dog food than I have ever seen given to a dog, but as soon as we drove through that fence, a huge white dog came running from about half a mile away. I love dogs, but he did not look friendly. “If he’s friendly, he won’t be good at his job,” Lynn said.  Lynn’s dogs spend their life on the pasture guarding the sheep from coyotes, which explains why they need so much food. Lynn’s family owns 230 acres for those dogs to patrol. Trupp farm-11Thankfully, we didn’t find any dead lambs that day, and Lynn said so far this has been a pretty good year – he’s only lost a few lambs to coyotes. A few years ago, he lost about 70 lambs to coyotes.  In our drive around the perimeter, we saw places where the coyotes were digging under the fence and evading Lynn’s traps. I asked Lynn if he was concerned about the recent wolf sighting on Mt. Hood, and he said, “Yes, I’m very concerned. It’s only a matter of time before they’ll be here.”  After driving out on the pasture, Lynn took me in  his truck to check on the cattle that he keeps on rental pasture in the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area owned by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Lynn drives out to check on the cattle at least once or twice a day to look for cows that are having trouble calving and also just to have a presence since the area is open to the public. In the past, Lynn said he’s had trouble with people slaughtering his cows, so the more he’s present, the less likely it is that will happen. “If I’m honest with you,” he said, “there’s always something that I should be doing. I don’t always get to it all, but there’s always something that needs to be done.”

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It’s Momsense turns one!

cake-1Happy First Birthday to It’s Momsense! One year ago today I published my very first post about why I started this blog. I think it’s been a great first year – I published 40 posts and I’ve learned a ton, both about blogging and about the topics on which I’ve blogged. I thought that we should celebrate this occasion by looking back over the last year and summarizing some of the topics I’ve covered.

  • I’ve done six “Using my Momsense” stories. These are the research-heavy stories that take some time and involve at least one interview.

Why My Family Eats Conventional Produce – This was my very first research story that discusses the extensive registration process for pesticides. It walks through the human health assessment that a registrant must complete and outlines the three pronged approach: toxicology studies, establishing a tolerance level and dietary risk assessment. Conclusion: I feel very confident that the regulatory bodies have looked at it from all angles and have put regulations in place that err on the side of caution to reassure us our produce is safe. Eat more produce, don’t worry about pesticide residues.

Peeling Potatoes – Worth it or Not? – Do pesticide residues concentrate in the peel? Sometimes, a little bit. Are you significantly avoiding pesticide exposure by peeling your potatoes? No, because even those that do concentrate in the peel are still well under the safe level set by the EPA. You’d have to feed your child 3,247 cups of potatoes in one day before you got close to a problem. And that’s assuming every single one of those potatoes were at the highest residue level ever recorded, which we know, from PDP data, that they aren’t.  Do conventional farmers even eat their potatoes? Of course they do.

How Dirty is the Dirty Dozen? – You know that list that the Environmental Working Group puts out every year that list which fruits and veggies you should most definitely buy organic because they’re just soaked in pesticides? Turns out, it’s a whole lot of unscientific fear-mongering. Their “metrics” misconstrue data from the USDA and FDA to basically vilify the mere existence of pesticide residue without consideration of whether the amount present is within the safety limits set by the EPA. Bottom line: pay the Dirty Dozen list no mind, and keep eating lots of produce.

WTFF, Oregon? (Why the fear farming) – Last May, Jackson County, Oregon voted to implement a ban on growing GMOs in that county. The supporters of the measure used fear and scare-tactics to take away a perfectly safe technology from farmers.

Breaking Down the Labels Series: Egg Labels – This was a three-part story that discusses what the labels on egg cartons really mean. The first post gave my conclusions up front. My family looks for eggs from hens raised in enriched-colony housing, or conventional eggs. It also breaks down my recommendations for what to look for based on if your concerns focus on bird welfare, nutrition, or environmental impact. The second post goes in-depth about the different housing systems (cage-free, pasture-raised, conventional, etc.) The third post discusses how the hens are fed (vegetarian, omega-3 enriched, etc.), supplements (hormones or antibiotics) and third-party certifiers (Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved, etc.)

Hold on Honey, What’s This Buzz About Bees? – This was also a three-part story (plus a Bee Trivia Quiz) that discusses the recent concerns about the honey bee – often summed up by the term Colony Collapse Disorder. The first post addresses why bees are important, what’s actually happening, and what might be the problem. The second post talks about the false idea that pesticides are fully to blame and why bees are probably not headed for extinction. The third post talks about why they’re not headed for extinction – research, possible answers, and what you can do. Conclusion: There are a handful of things that are contributing to a higher level of bee losses, but there is no smoking gun, and bees are not on the brink of extinction. Should we be aware of what’s going on and keep looking into solutions? Absolutely. Should we panic, jump to conclusions, ban pesticides and try to scare people into buying organic to save the bees? Absolutely not; the sky is not falling.

  • I’ve also done eight “Something to think about” stories – these are pretty much opinion-editorial stories on which I’ve done research, but haven’t done any interviews. Here are some of my favorites:

What’s a GMO and Why Should I Care? – Basically a consumer introduction into what GMOs are, how you can tell if they’re in your food, why they’re safe, and why they’re important.

Why You Should Oppose Mandatory GMO Labeling – It presents an unnecessary barrier to the progress of a technology that is immensely beneficial, it is misleading because it implies that food produced through genetic modification is harmful, it forces all of us to pay more for one group’s ideological preference, and it doesn’t address the problems people have with agriculture.

Take the GMO Quiz: How Much Do You Know? – This remains the most popular post I have ever done. The title is self-explanatory. The post includes all the answers to the quiz questions.

The Unintended Consequences of Organic – Why organic probably can’t feed the world.

  • I’ve done 10 “Just Being a Mommy Stories.” These are just me, talking about being a parent. Here are my favorites:

Sign This Petition: Vaccinate Your Kids – Discusses a petition I started to eliminate the non-medical vaccine exemption in Oregon and Oregon’s depressing immunization rates. The petition now has over 1,800 signatures.

Organic Junk Food is Still Junk Food – Just because those fruit snacks are organic doesn’t mean they’re better for you than the conventional fruit snacks.

What No One Told Me About Staying Home – On the difficulties of going back to work after being a stay-at-home-mom.

What’s Your Flavor of Crazy? – Everyone has the thing they obsess about because it’s impossible for parents to be educated on all topics. For me, it’s misinformation. For some, it’s screen time or processed food.

  • There are others, but that’s a pretty good roundup. So what’s on tap for the next year?? Well, only time will tell. But I can give you a few hints about what I’m currently working on.
    • This month I’ve started a new project where I’m planning to visit a different farm (or farms) each month and do a day-in-the-life of a farmer through photo essay. I’m really excited about this for a number of reasons – I’m going to get to use my camera more (my degree is in photojournalism, after all) and I’m going to learn so much more about farming and share it all with you!
    • My next “Breaking Down the Labels Series” will be about milk labels. Next month I’ll be visiting a few dairies and looking into what the claims on the carton are all about.
    • I’m currently starting some research into food dyes – we all know they’re unnecessary, but what does the science actually say about how good or bad they are for you?
    • Orthorexia: what is it and why I think it could affect our children in the future.
    • Got an idea?! Send me an email: itsmomsense@gmail.com

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Thank you to all my readers. It’s blown me away that so many of you take the time to even read what I have to say. I hope you stick around to see what the next year brings. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!

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Sign this petition: vaccinate your kids

I’m about to talk about something that I know a lot of people feel really strongly about. I touched on it before in my post about denialism, but recent political events make me inclined to say it again, and say it stronger. I hope I say it strongly enough to convince you to sign my petition.

Oregon has the worst immunization rates in the country and has the most lenient rules on vaccine exemptions. Since 2000, the percentage of Oregon children entering kindergarten whose parents have chosen to exempt them from vaccines has grown from less than one percent to greater than seven percent. Why is that unacceptable? Because, as many of you know, vaccines only work when a certain percentage of the community is vaccinated. Together, this community of vaccinated individuals protects those for whom the vaccine wasn’t effective (yes, that happens) and those who are unable to be vaccinated (infants, cancer patients, kids who are too ill to get the vaccine). Each disease has a different “herd immunity” threshold – this threshold indicates the percentage of the community that must be vaccinated in order for the vaccine to work most effectively. For measles, that threshold is 94 percent. We are precariously close to falling below herd immunity for vaccine-preventable diseases, making those vaccines less effective for the community as a whole.

That pisses me off, and it should piss you off, too. Vaccines are safe and effective. The medical community is solid on that message. Nonetheless, parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kids because they don’t believe the medical community. Maybe they’re afraid of autism, maybe they think their kids should build up a natural immunity, maybe they don’t like the pharmaceutical industry but frankly, I don’t care why. Choosing not to vaccinate your kids is not like choosing a parenting approach; it’s not like choosing what to feed them for breakfast, or what car seat to use, or what school to send them to, or how much screen time they get. Because all of those things only impact you and your family. Choosing not to vaccinate your kids impacts MY FAMILY, and that’s why I’m pissed off. You do not get to make poorly-informed decisions that put my kids’ health in jeopardy because you think you know better than the doctors.

If you don’t want to vaccinate your kids, that’s fine. But you should not be allowed to send them to school with my kids because it’s selfish and dangerous. It’s straight-up selfish of these parents to rely on my vaccinated children to protect their unvaccinated children while at the same time they’re reducing the effectiveness of the vaccine for the entire community. Two doses of the measles vaccine is 97 percent effective at preventing measles. That means if my kid falls into that three percent for whom it is not effective, and there is a measles outbreak because the herd immunity falls below 94 percent, she could very well contract measles even though I had her fully vaccinated. For every 1,000 people who get measles, one to two of them die.

I vaccinated my kids, I did my part, but it’s still fully possible that one of my kids could die from a vaccine-preventable disease because other parents are deciding not to vaccinate. That’s unacceptable and needs to change. If immunization rates in Oregon continue to fall as they have been falling for the last 15 years, we’re headed for disaster. So let’s do something about it. I am not willing to wait until we have a much bigger problem on our hands before we make a change.

The Oregon Senate Committee on Health Care is currently reviewing Senate Bill 442 that would eliminate the current option for parents to opt their school-going children out of state-required vaccines due to religious or philosophical reasons. As it is, Oregon parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children have to obtain a Vaccine Education Certificate so they can opt-out. Parents can either visit their doctor to obtain the certificate, or they can simply watch a video online and print out the certificate at the end of the video. Clearly, that’s not enough because Oregon still ranks as the worst in the nation for immunization rates. And that’s just the state average. The scariest part is that there are schools in Oregon that have greater than a 70 percent non-medical exemption rate.  Yes, you read that correctly, that means that less than 30 percent of those kids are vaccinated.  If you look at this list you can find your child’s school and see what the non-medical exemption rate is. If it’s greater than six percent, you’re below herd immunity for measles. Mississippi, on the other hand, does not allow non-medical vaccine exemptions and in 2014, only a scant 0.1 percent of Mississippi kindergartners were exempt from vaccinations.

I tried to watch the public hearing held February 18 by the Senate Committee on Health Care.  You can watch the whole three-hour saga here if you like. I was unable to stomach the whole thing – it was a dog and pony show. The committee must have thought so, too, because when they got wind that Andrew Wakefield was planning to attend and testify at the March 9 meeting, they changed the meeting to a work session instead of a public hearing and uninvited all speakers. Yes, Andrew Wakefield is the one whose infamous study linking the MMR vaccine to autism was retracted from the journal in which it was published and whose medical license was revoked because his study was found to be fraudulent and unethically financed. While he has been disinvited, he claims he’s still planning to have a town hall in Portland. Let’s send a message to him and to the anti-vax community before the March that we are tired of their anti-science rhetoric and that we won’t stand for it when it comes to protecting our children.

We need this bill to pass so Oregon’s vaccine rates don’t continue to fall. Please contact your representative and let them know you support this bill, and sign my petition to pass SB 442.

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