Monthly Archives: September 2015

Cyber Threats and Why I Remain Anonymous

Last February I started a petition in Oregon supporting a bill that would have eliminated the non-medical vaccine exemption. I’m pretty proud to say the petition gathered almost 2,000 signatures. Unfortunately the bill was dropped (look for mention of me in that story) because the senators were unprepared for the onslaught from the anti-vax community. While I’m disappointed in the result, it was a strong learning experience for me. The reporter who covered the bill for the Salem-based paper wanted to interview me on why I started the petition, but as you all know, I don’t disclose my last name on this blog and the paper has a policy against anonymous sources. This was the one time that I really wavered on maintaining my anonymity. I was extremely tempted to let her use my last name and give her a great quote on why I feel so strongly about this issue. But, in the end, I’m glad I didn’t.  bleach screen shot closeupThat’s an actual comment from the petition page. Probably that crazy person won’t show up at my house and try to do any real harm. It’s one thing to write nasty things from your computer and it’s an entirely different thing to truly make an effort to hurt someone, but that doesn’t make that sort of thing easy to read. Thankfully, this is the only real example of a cyber threat that’s been directed at me. But I’m just small potatoes compared to some of my blogging/social media buddies. farmers daughter usa

That’s from my friend Amanda at The Farmer’s Daughter USA.

Mommy PhD - I hate youThat’s from my friend Mommy, PhDbomb monsantoThat’s from my friend Robert at Rationality Unleashed. There’s the example where an anti-GMO activist tried to take my friend Sarah’s nursing license away (at Nurse Loves Farmer). There’s also this example of someone who hates my friend Joni (Hawaii Farmers Daughter) so much that she bought her domain name and started a blog dedicated to why Joni is wrong on that domain. And then this:

combined MAMyths threatThat is from my friend Kavin Senapathy who received this threat for starting the March Against Myths movement. It’s really this last one for me that drives home why, even when I’m tempted to drop the anonymity part, I haven’t. Because it only takes one crazy person who wants to bomb Monsanto or stomp on your head or pour bleach down your kids’ throats. Yes, it’s unlikely those people would actually follow through, and maybe they’re just trolls trying to scare you for fun, but what if they aren’t? What if just one of those unbalanced, angry people decided to do a little digging and find out where my kids go to school? It’s unnerving.

When I decided to start this blog, my husband was initially against it. He’s a very practical, safe, and private person. He doesn’t do Facebook and even way before I started blogging he was always slightly uncomfortable when I would share stuff about our family on Facebook. So when I proposed that I start carving my controversial opinions out there in internet stone with our family’s name attached to it, he was very uneasy. It’s not just because I say things that a lot of people disagree with. I also used to work for Monsatan – the very “evil company” that the guy in the screen shot above wants to see bombed.  My husband stipulated that if I, a former Monsanto employee living in a city full of liberal minded hippies, was going to start blogging about things that get people all riled up, I was going to do it without using my last name. I agreed.

And so did my parents. After I started the blog, a long-time family friend of ours (who I’ll call Mary) told my mom I should be extremely careful. Mary should know –  at the time she and her husband (who I’ll call John) lived in Hawaii and John, who used to work with my dad at Monsanto, was kind of a head honcho at Monsanto Hawaii. I know this family well – I grew up with their kids, we used to have holiday dinners together, vacation together, the whole thing. I used to eat lunch with John and my dad in the Monsanto cafeteria on occasion when I worked there. Mary and John have been on the receiving end of more cyber threats and IN REAL LIFE threats than anyone I know. Does anyone know John's address

There’s someone asking for John’s address. time for bullets yetThat’s from a comment thread about John.

I could post more examples, but you get the idea. John was actually verbally assaulted in person while he was shopping for Christmas presents at Best Buy one time, which just goes to show that enough online anger does, in fact, sometimes translate to real, in-person threats. He’s not alone, either, there are plenty of other Monsanto employees who have been threatened as well. John and Mary have since left Hawaii, not necessarily as a result of the threats, but it certainly made the decision to leave easier.

And then there’s public scientist and recent media frenzy Kevin Folta who is being so disgustingly bullied by anti-GMO activists that someone created a craigslist ad using his own mother’s name to shame him. I don’t personally know Folta or I would have asked him for a few examples of violent threats that have recently been made to him, his family, and his laboratory. Folta is just the most visible example, but there are more than 40 scientists whose reputations anti-GMO activists are trying to smear by making it look like they get paid to do research, including Washington State University associate professor of nutrition Michelle McGuire who did a study debunking the claim that glyphosate (Roundup) shows up in breastmilk.

Then there was also the time that Mike Adams, who runs Natural News, called biotech supporters modern day Nazis, suggested that anti-GMO activists should consider murdering scientists and journalists, and then provided a hit list of scientists, journalists and news organizations to target.

While some of these stories are more extreme than others, these are not isolated events – the examples I’ve given here are not unique. This is the world we live in. Cyber bullying is not something that is limited to school-aged children, it happens all the time to adults, me included. I see it daily in online forums. Sometimes it’s as benign as simple name calling, other times it’s truly threatening, but it happens. A lot.

farmers wifeeThat’s from Krista, The Farmer’s Wifee, a dairy farmer and creator of Ask The Farmers.

I know I’m not Kevin Folta or a head honcho at Monsanto, or even a very influential blogger. But online conversations can quickly go from “I hate you” to “what’s your address” and “is it time for bullets yet” and “I’ll be watching you.” For a mother of two young kids, that’s kind of scary. I’m just not willing to make my family a target, even if the chances are extremely low that anything would even really  happen. I don’t even want my kids to see me get threatened, in person or online. I’m already taking a risk just by being outspoken about controversial issues, creating a blog, and becoming well known in online circles for my opinions. Not using my last name makes it just a tad harder for someone to  do something nasty, and that makes me feel a little more secure.

Anonymity is not always an easy position to take, though. Recently I participated in a #Moms4GMOs letter and was contacted by a journalist writing a story about the letter. He was challenging me on why I didn’t include my last name, implying that because I wanted to remain anonymous there might be something devious or underhanded about my participation. Anonymity limits me on how far I can take my advocacy, and there may come a time when it just isn’t practical to continue to be anonymous. But until then, this is why I do it. Not because I’m hiding something, or because I don’t want someone to find out that I’m getting paid to shill for Big Ag. I’m not shilling, I’m just a little scared of crazy people.

Please like & share:

11 Comments

Filed under Something to Think About

August Farming in Focus: One of my Favorite Things

This farm visit was by far the best smelling visit I have ever done. Mmmmmm… hops: smells like beer. I’ll talk about agriculture just about anywhere, but (no offense to the dairies and the sheep farms I visited) hands down, talking about beer in a hop house takes the cake. The only thing that would have made this visit better is if I could have been drinking a beer during it! But, then my pictures probably wouldn’t be so great. One of the things I just love about the Pacific Northwest is the beer and the culture surrounding beer. I love learning about beer, I love drinking beer, I love trying new beers,  I love visiting breweries – in fact, I consider it a personal challenge to visit every brewery in Portland, and eventually Oregon. My husband and I are well on our way to making that vision a reality. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it, right? 🙂 The hoppy flavor of the beer here took some getting used to, and I still have a tough time with an extremely hoppy PNW IPA, but practice makes perfect, my friend, and I never give up.

Technically I took these photos the first week of September, but I’m still counting them for August. This month I visited Ben Coleman in St. Paul, Oregon to see the hop harvest and to talk about how the craft brew industry has changed how Coleman’s farm grows hops.

hops-8Ben Coleman is a 3rd generation hop grower who farms with his two cousins, father and uncle in St. Paul. The Coleman family has a long history as hop growers in the Willamette Valley – Coleman’s grandfather built the oldest block hop house still in use in the state of Oregon in the 40s when they still formed the bricks by hand – as you can see by the handprints in the image above. His family also manages eight of the 30 hop picking machines in Oregon, so as far as hop growers go, Coleman’s family is one of the bigger growers in Oregon (although Washington has much bigger growers) – his family grows about 1,000 acres of hops. The Yakima Valley of Washington far and away grows the most hops in the nation, but the climate and soil in the Willamette Valley are just right for hops – and Oregon comes in a distant second for hops production. Idaho follows Oregon in a very close third place.

hops-9Coleman’s family grows more than just hops. All told they grow about 13 crops including grass seed, green beans, table beets, corn, alfalfa, wheat, pumpkins, radish seed, cauliflower, hazelnuts, garlic seed and kale seed. Though, when I asked him what he calls himself, Coleman said he definitely identifies as a hop grower even though in acreage they grow more grass seed than hops. Coleman told me this summer’s drought has been really good for the hops – they like it dry and hot. And with the recent surge in craft brewing, his family is steadily growing their hop acreage. This is the first year in six or seven that they’ve had enough yield to necessitate harvesting hops 20 hours a day. I’ll be honest, before I moved to Oregon I had never seen hops growing – I had no idea they grow on an 18 foot trellis. Another interesting tidbit: hops are closely related to cannabis – both are in the Cannabaceae family. Unlike cannabis which has multiple uses, hops are only used for making lovely, lovely beer.

hops-10In March and April stringing begins – a specially trained crew ties strings made of hand woven coconut fiber made in Indonesia from the ground to the wire cable running between the 18 foot poles. The crews can do a one-handed tie that allows them to string between five and ten acres per day. The hop bines (that’s not a typo – hops are a bine that climb without the use of tendrils, distinguishing it from a vine) grab tightly to the coconut fiber, making it an ideal choice for a trellis. Another alternative is thick paper rolled into a rope, and in Europe growers use metal twine. About three to four weeks after stringing, the plants must be trained up the trellis by hand. The crew passes through twice and prunes to ensure the bines all grow to the same height.

hop harvestWhether it’s coconut fiber or metal twine, it all comes down at harvest time. Figuring out when it’s time to harvest is a very precise science: the hops are regularly sampled as harvest time nears and dried in a food dehydrator to test for the proper amount of lupulin oil – what provides the distinct flavor and aroma to beer.  Coleman’s family has retrofitted old combines to be specialty hop harvesters. First, what they call the “mosquito” comes through and cuts the bines (and the strings) at the base of the plant near the ground. Then the second harvester pushes a truck in front of it and cuts the bines at the top, where they fall into the truck. A crew follows behind picking up any bines that have fallen or were missed.

hops-1From there, the trucks drive to the hop house where the part they’re after, the hop flower, is separated from the bine and dried. First the bines are strung up on a belt that moves them inside the house. Another interesting tidbit: in this image you can see birds flying around above the truck – swallows take advantage of the bugs that are roused into the air during the harvest process – they were all over the fields and dipping and diving above the truck.

hops-2

The bines travel into the hop house where they take an intense (and loud) beating to get the hops off the bine. They travel through a number of conveyor belts, turbines, and shakers to separate the flower from the leaves and bines. The leftover leaves and bines are composted and later spread onto the fields.
hops-3When all that’s left is the hop flowers, the next (very important) step is drying them.  The hops are spread at a precise depth in a kiln heated from below at 135-140 degrees. It takes about eight hours for the hops to go from about 75 to 80 percent moisture to the target nine to ten percent moisture. One of these square kilns holds between 12 and 20 bales of hops, depending on the variety. For perspective, one acre of hops produces between five to 12 bales of hops. One bale is equivalent to about 400,000 12 ounce bottles of beer. If you drank one of those bottles each day, it would take you over 1,000 years to drink one bale of hops!
hops-4As I mentioned, the key part of the hop flower that brewers are interested in is the yellow waxy substance inside the hop flower called lupulin – not only does this give beer it’s distinctive aroma and flavor, it also contains antibiotic properties which limit bacterial growth allowing the yeast to ferment. Different hop varieties contain different amounts of lupulin. Coleman is holding cascade hops, which his family grows for Anheuser Busch. Coleman grows 16 varieties of hops, some of which he directly sell to both Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors, but many of which he sells to Indie Hops which supplies Oregon-grown hops exclusively to craft brewers. Coleman told me that the craft beer industry has drastically changed the way they grow hops. “The whole craft brew thing is really exciting, but we went from growing four to five varieties of hops really well to growing 16 different varieties. Sometimes we make a mistake now.” Not only that but the craft brews, particularly that hoppy IPA I mentioned, uses about ten times as much hops as high-volume domestic beers.

hops-5

The craft brew industry has also changed hop production by way of traceability. Craft brewers have placed an emphasis on using local hops, which requires that Coleman do a really good job of labeling his bales with both what kind of hops they are and where they were grown. Coleman foresees that it won’t be long until he’s labeling with specific field-by-field information. Coleman said he spends a lot of his time making sure that labeling process goes just right. Keeping those 16 varieties straight is important because different hops have different uses – some are bittering hops, some are aroma hops – and they’re used at different times during the brewing process. hops-6

Craft brewing has also changed hop production from a food safety perspective. It used to be that hops were added to the boiling part of the beer making process, which essentially pasteurized the hop, but craft brewers also do what’s called dry hopping where they add the hops after the boil, usually in the secondary fermenter,  to get that super hoppy aroma characteristic of an IPA. Adding the hops after the boil means the hops are not pasteurized, so brewers are demanding a much cleaner process of hop production on Coleman’s end to help reduce the risk of infection. Don’t freak out about your IPA, though – like I said, lupulin has antibiotic properties, which is one of the historical reasons hops were added to beer in the first place, so the risk is inherently low.  hops-7Another risk associated with hops is the risk of spontaneous combustion. Not for you, beer drinker, but for the grower and the transporter. Earlier I talked about the target moisture range of nine to ten percent, and part of that is because that prevents the bales of hops from catching on fire. Coleman told me that hop houses and warehouses have burned down in the past because of that, and his cousin just barely saved their own storage warehouse from that same fate. Walking through the warehouse, his cousin smelled something amiss and started feeling the bales until he found a few that were hot to the touch. They pulled them out of the warehouse into the field and sure enough when they slit it with a knife the whole thing went up in flames. The moral of this story is to get a good moisture reading on your hops, like Coleman is doing here. Also, Coleman is paid by the pound, so he wants to make sure that the moisture level is at that top end of the target range – the more moisture they have, the more they weigh, and the more he gets paid. From  here the hops are delivered directly to cold storage and are tested for moisture and leaf and stem content. Smell is of utmost importance, so brewers get a special sample cut out of the bales and sent to them just so they can smell and verify before they put it in their beer.

That’s pretty much everything I learned about hop production. I hope you learned something, too! Now, I need a beer. Cheers.

Please like & share:

5 Comments

Filed under Farming In Focus

Gwyneth Schmyneth

Wouldn’t it be cool if I were a celebrity? Like, say for example, that I got rich and famous for some beautiful landscape photographs that I took, or for some song I wrote on the piano, or for some movie I acted in. Let’s say I got so famous that millions of complete strangers knew my name and cared about what clothes I wear and where I go on vacation. You’d see my face on magazines in the checkout aisle at the grocery store and you’d stop to read about whom I am dating or what clothes my kids wore on their glamorous beach vacation. I’m not sure I’d actually like that, because then I wouldn’t be just a regular person anymore, but at least I’d have super powers. I’d have the power to sway how you feel on controversial topics that I have no expertise on simply because I am famous. That would be pretty awesome.

But, unfortunately, I’m not famous. I don’t have millions of dollars. I don’t fly in a personal jet, I don’t own any private islands, I don’t hire someone to take care of my kids while I’m out posing for the paparazzi in my expensive, designer clothes.  So I guess my opinion is not as convincing and not as important because I’m just a regular, not-famous mom.

At least, that’s the impression that I get when I read in the news that Gwyneth Paltrow hosted a news conference in Washington D.C. to try to influence how Congress votes on the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act that would create a uniform, science-based labeling standard and prevent costly state-by-state GMO labeling laws. Somehow her opinion on GMO labeling is very important because she’s not just famous, but she’s also a mom.  And as a famous mom, she’s going to stand up there and represent all of us poor, not-famous moms who are too busy taking our kids to soccer practice and microwaving pre-packaged frozen dinners to understand about GMOs. We need that warning label on our packages of Oreos because otherwise there’s just no way to know if it’s bad for our kids.

moms4gmosOnly, that’s bullshit.  I don’t need Gwyneth Paltrow to represent me. And I have absolutely no idea why anyone would give a flying you-know-what about what Gwyneth Paltrow thinks about GMOs. She did not become famous by being an expert in biotechnology, or food, or nutrition – she’s just a good actress. She is not any more of an expert on GMOs than some random mom at the supermarket, so why does anyone think her opinion matters? What she thinks doesn’t matter any more than what Jenny McCarthy thinks caused her son’s autism or how Neil Young feels about Monsanto or how Sarah Palin feels about climate change.  The only people who should be influencing how you feel about science are scientists.

What do the scientists think about GMOs? That’s who’s important. Those are the real celebrities we should be listening to. Like the scientists at the FDA. Or the ones at the American Medical Association, those at the National Academy of Science, and the ones at the European Commission.  They think GMOs are safe and are the same as non-GMO foods. They think putting a label on foods that contain ingredients derived from GMO crops doesn’t provide consumers with any useful nutritional information any more than putting a label on foods grown with irrigation would provide useful nutritional information. I think those scientists are convincing because they understand the thousands of studies that have been done on GMOs, including the same studies that anti-GMO groups who score celebrity representation claim demonstrate GMOs are unsafe or damaging to the environment, and they’re still not changing their minds. Not because it’s a conspiracy, but because those studies aren’t convincing. Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t have any information that the FDA doesn’t have. For me, at least, I’m going to listen to the people who are truly experts at determining what’s safe and what’s not instead of actresses and song writers. Unless, of course, I’m looking for advice on acting or writing songs.

This is exactly why I recently participated in a campaign to support the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act and challenge celebrity moms who are trying to represent all moms.  A bunch of us “regular” moms got together and wrote an open letter to the celebrity moms demonstrating that we do, in fact, accept the scientific consensus on GMOs and don’t feel that GMOs need a stigmatizing mandatory warning label. Most of those “regular moms” aren’t just offering their run-of-the-mill opinion on the subject, either. Most of them (like Julie Borloug, granddaughter of Nobel Peace prize laureate and father of the Green Revolution Dr. Norman Borlaug) actually are subject matter experts – scientists, science communicators and farmers.  If you’re going to listen to how moms feel about GMO labels, you should listen to these moms.

But here’s the thing – you don’t have to listen to any moms to decide how you feel about mandatory GMO labels, particularly celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow who are not a reliable sources for science-related issues.  Inform yourself – read evidence-based information, talk to a farmer, or talk to a real expert on GMOs.  Then, if you agree with us non-celebrity moms on GMOs, join us: sign this letter and pledge to judge GMO food with facts, not fear.

 

Please like & share:

10 Comments

Filed under Just Being a Mommy Stories