There is so much good stuff to say about organic and conventional produce, from studies which clearly show the safety of both to decades of research that illustrate the disease-prevention aspects of these nutrient-dense foods. Plus, farms and farming companies continue to develop innovative, convenient fruits and vegetables, which are helping to increase consumption.
But while we are making some headway,only one in 10 Americans eat enough produceaccording to the Centers for Disease Control. Why? Because barriers to consumption still exist. One of those barriers is safety fears generated by certain groups who inaccurately disparage the more affordable and accessible forms of produce.
Among the longest and biggest offenders comes from an activist group that annually releases its so-called “dirty dozen” list. Since 1995, this group’s fear-based ‘marketing against’ tactic disparaging the most popular produce items has been used in an attempt to promote purchasing of organic products.
Look, we completely understand advocating for your members when the information is credible and the science is strong. The AFF advocates on behalf of organic and conventional farmers of fruits and vegetables and the safety of their products every day. But when you raise unfounded fears based uponunsupportable scienceabout the only food group health experts universally agree we should eat more of, it is time to revisit your approach. Especially whenpeer reviewed researchis showing this tactic may result in low income consumers stating they are less likely to purchaseanyproduce—organic or conventional—after learning about the “dirty dozen” list.
Put another way, according to these research findings, this activist group may actually be marketing against their own constituents’ organic products by releasing this list.
To summarize, the “dirty dozen” list is scientifically unsupportable, it may negatively impact consumers’ purchasing decisions, and it’s possibly even detrimental to the very products the list authors are trying to promote. After almost 25 years, it is time to retire this tactic in favor of more creative “marketing for” strategies that encourage consumption and doesn’t scare consumers.
Alliance for Food and Farming Works Hard for the Produce Industry
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
Since 1989, the Alliance for Food and Farming based in Watsonville has constantly been on guard for the national produce industry. They fight against misinformation on conventional farming, all while supporting organic production.
Teresa Thorne has been with the Alliance since it began and now serves as Executive Director. She is assisted in all aspects of running the non-profit organization by Rosi Gong. These two women share respect and admiration for the farmers who work diligently every day to bring healthy fruits and vegetables to our table.
The Alliance is a nationwide organization representing growers and shippers in California, the Northwest, Texas, Florida, and other states.
Top of mind at the Alliance is the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which will soon release its Dirty Dozen list of popular fruit and vegetables that they deem the public should not eat due to crop protection material contamination. Furthermore, they recommend that consumers only eat organic food.
The EWG list has come out since 1995, and the Alliance has debunked it with facts.
“We work diligently to put factual information out, to help consumers make the right choices for their families in the produce aisle,” Thorne said. “For the EWG to call healthy and safe conventionally grown produce dirty is really unconscionable and has no scientific basis.”
The Alliance wants the consumer to choose what is affordable, choose what’s accessible and buy it where it’s most convenient but choose to eat more every day, for better health and longer life.
The EWG is incentivized to promote organics, and because they are a multi-million dollar organization, they are able to get to the press.
“We are not even close to the budget they have, and we are always puzzled and surprised when they constantly refer to us,” Thorne said.
In fact, the EWG always refers to the Alliance as a front group that represents big farmers who produce both organic and conventional fruits and vegetables.
“If you want to call us a front group for farmers, it’s okay. But to try and categorize us as this big organization, we’re not, but what we have on our side is science and experts in the areas of nutrition, farming, toxicology and risk analysis,” Thorne explained.
“It’s interesting that the EWG has never questioned our science, and they’ve never questioned any of the content on our website, www.safefruitsandveggies.com. And it’s largely because they can’t, so they’re only real road is to try and discredit the organization carrying it,” Thorne continued. “That’s why they make allegations of us being a front group. But they are very much incentivized to promote organics; there’s no doubt about it. And again, that’s why they’re a multi-million dollar organization, and has celebrities as their spokespersons, and we don’t.”
And of course it is okay to promote organic food, but not at the expense of conventionally-grown produce.
“EWG is one-sided. It promotes organically-grown produce, yet maligns conventionally-grown produce—outright saying it’s unhealthy. That’s the crutch of the Dirty Dozen list,” Thorne explained.
“We strongly advocate organic as well as conventional production. We’re advocates for all fruit and vegetable production,” Thorne said.
The Alliance is also an advocate for consumer choice in the marketplace for conventional or organic produce, whether you prefer to buy at your favorite warehouse store, small grocery store, or farmer’s market. The Alliance wants consumers to have the choice of fruits and vegetables no matter how it’s grown.
The Alliance also interacts with consumers on social media, and many are confused as what they should be eating.
“We see a lot of confused consumers in our social media, and many consumers go to our website and sign up for informational food safety emails from us,” Thorne said.
“And that’s why we try and provide information for consumers on our website from nutritionist about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables and from farmers about how they preserve food safety and really … [get] that message across,” Thorne said. “We want consumers to know that the farmer’s first consumer is their own family. So food safety is obviously a top priority for them.”
#GiveACrop: Simple Message About Crop Protection Tools
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
Sarah Macedo is the communications manager for CropLife America, a trade association that assists and advocates for their members, based in Washington D.C. They are the manufacturers, formulators, and distributors that manufacture organic and non-organic pesticides,
Macedo explained the #GiveACrop campaign, which puts a positive message for the need for crop protection products in agriculture.
“Go to GiveACrop.org, take a look at those memes along with myths and facts. We just want to talk about things in a realistic person-to-person way and not get too into this science, but just kind of talk about why pesticides are necessary,” Macedo said.
“Regarding the Give a Crop videos, we have heard from both farmer friends, adversaries, and consumers. We had a lot of the FFA kids who absolutely love them, which is great since that is our target audience; we do know that they are sharing that with their friends who are in the on-ag space,” she noted.
“We don’t have a lot of money behind it, so we have been promoting it on social media, and we’ve gotten great pickup even from folks who normally aren’t the friendliest in the ag space. They’ll watch one, and they’ll have posted and saying, ‘we may not necessarily agree, but these are funny and to the point,’” Macedo explained
Again, Crop Life America is a trade association representing the manufacturers, formulators, and distributors of organic and non-organic pesticides.
“We include government affairs, science and regulatory communications experts, and those from the legal profession who help our members, and our members And we advocate on their behalf to make sure that no regulations are going unchecked, that everything is based on sound science and getting the information out about the benefits of pesticides and why they’re used and about American farming in general,” Macedo said.
Google Hangouts Helps Bowles Farming Communicate Throughout
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
When it comes to agriculture, Merced County-based Bowles Farming Company has it figured out. With 160 years of experience, and six generations worth of history, the company has had a major influence on the state. Danny Royer, Vice President of Technology at Bowles, has valuable insight on what makes the company so successful.
Royer is in charge of the technology behind growing various crops including tomatoes, cotton, wheat, watermelon, and other organic commodities. He said that the key to solving issues is by sharing data within the operation.
“Data is what’s going to provide the solution, but we have to create systems that give the people [the data] who have the competencies to solve the problem,” he explained.
One way Bowles Farming Co. is able to achieve this is by using Google Hangouts on the farm, which enables them to communicate with different sectors of the operation single-handedly.
“We’ve got to be a little more transparent and open about sharing our information with people that are coming from the tech sector trying to help us,” Royer said.
Klonsky Credited for CA Agricultural Cost and Return Studies
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor and Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
Editor’s Note: We extend our deepest condolences to Karen’s family. Below is our interview with Karen upon her retirement in 2015.
This is an exclusive interview withKaren Klonsky, UC Davis Cooperative Extension specialist emeritus, in the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Her expertise has been farm management and production, sustainable agriculture and organic agriculture.
CalAgToday:Congratulations on your recent retirement!
Klonsky:Thanks, Patrick. I retired on July 1, 2015, after 34 years. I started at UC Davis in ’81, straight from graduate school.
CalAgToday:What has been your primary research interest?
Klonsky:My primary research areas are c and organic agriculture. I have approached these subjects from several dimensions, including the economic feasibility of alternative farming practices, the size and growth of organic production in California, and factors influencing the adoption of alternative farming systems.
CalAgToday: Wow, what a great career! I understand your interest in alternative farming systems began with your dissertation work comparing alfalfa systems with integrated pest management.
Klonsky:I studied agricultural economics in graduate school and started working with a professor in my department who had a joint appointment in agricultural economics and entomology. And I just became very interested in that research area.
I worked with entomologists and researchers on a computer model of plants and alfalfa weevils, and their interaction, plus a management component. I studied the plant and bug components, then did the management part and imposed it on top and asked, ‘If you did this, how many bugs would die?’ The plant model showed how much the alfalfa would grow, and at what point you could cut the alfalfa and achieve the desired yield. I never actually did any fieldwork.”
CalAgToday: Since 1983, you not only directed ongoing Cost and Return Studies, but the development of an entire archived library of Cost and Return Studies for the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. You recently completed studies on pistachios and walnuts, right?
Our library contains studies about field, tree and vine crops and animal commodities. But since I retired,Dan Sumner, director, University of California Agricultural Issues Center and Frank H. Buck, Jr. Distinguished Professor for the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics has taken that over and I continue to be peripherally involved.
CalAgToday: These cost studies have been recognized worldwide.
Klonsky:Yes, and it has been very gratifying work. We decided to put them online routinely, and we have had a million downloads per year. Around 2005, Pete Livingston, my staff research associate, got the idea of scanning in the older studies. All of the newer studies were in electronic file format, so posting was easy. However, most of the older studies were paper copies, so we got a grant to scan and add them to our new online archive.
CalAgToday:What was the most interesting thing about doing those cost studies?
Klonsky:I loved doing those studies. I really learned a lot because all cost studies are done directly with farmers we met through county farm advisors. I really got to know what farmers were thinking about and what their options were.
CalAgToday: So those were real costs, not university costs?
Klonsky:Those were not university costs. The farmers tell us what equipment they will use, and then we calculate the cost of using their equipment—the fuel used to operate the equipment and the repair costs—with an agriculture-engineering program.
CalAgToday: Do you have a math background?
Klonsky:Yes, I got my bachelor’s at the University of Michigan in mathematics. It was very helpful.
CalAgToday: And you also earned your Ph.D. at the University of Michigan?
CalAgToday: So did you grow up in Michigan?
Klonsky:No, I grew up in New York.
CalAgToday:And you had an interest in going to Michigan State University?
Klonsky: I had an interest in agriculture because I had an uncle who farmed corn and vegetables in upstate New York. We would go up there and I thought it was the most wonderful thing in the world.
CalAgToday: What were some of the highlights of your career?
Klonsky:For many, many years, I was involved in the long-term on-campus sustainable agriculture research on land that is now on Russell Ranch, but it started as Sustainable Ag Farming Systems. We looked at four different farming systems, organic, low input, high-input, and we did a lot of analyses with cover crops and rotations. It was great to work on that project.
CalAgToday: And you worked with USDA on the trends of organic farms?
Klonsky: Then I worked quite a bit with Department of Food and Agriculture on using the registration data for their organic farmers to compile statistics about how many farmers they had, what they grew, and the number of acres they planted with each crop. They had this database, which started in 1992 I believe, but they weren’t using it. Now the most recent registration analysis is available for 2012.
CalAgToday:Just to try to get more data on the organic movement and organic growth?
Klonsky:Yes, because there was no data at all about it. Now NASS (National Agriculture Statistics Service) conducts a nationwide Organic Census, in addition to the regular Census of Agriculture.
CalAgToday: I understand you served as an editor of the Journal of American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA). What did that entail?
Klonsky:Yes. I did that for many years. ASFMRA is a national organization. The Journal of the ASFMRA comes out annually. As editor, I corresponded with the authors, assigned reviewers, and ultimately, accepted or rejected submissions, like any journal.
CalAgToday: Did you travel a lot with your work and presentations?
Klonsky:You know, not so much, I went to Spain one time and France once for work. But I did travel around domestically to symposiums and conferences to speak on the economics of growing a lot of different crops, including many presentations at the EcoFarm Conference.
CalAgToday: You worked and collaborated with some really interesting people.
Klonsky:Most of my important collaborations were conducting trials with people in other disciplines. For instance, at Russell Ranch, I was the only economist involved in the collaboration with plant pathologists and pomologists who ran trials to discover fumigation alternatives in the preplanting of trees.
Then I worked with people at UC Santa Cruz on alternatives for strawberry fumigation. Most of my work has been interdisciplinary.
CalAgToday: California farming is a tremendously diverse industry. We produce 60% of the fruits and vegetables, and nearly 100 percent of the nut crops that people across the country consume. Any comments on that and on how, valiant and resilient farmers are to get through year after year, particularly lately with the drought and the lack of water deliveries?
Klonsky:When I first started, there was a land price bubble, and there were a lot of bankruptcies because people had these land payments they just couldn’t pay.
It was kind of like the mortgage crisis that housing saw in 2008, agriculture saw in the early 80s.
CalAgToday: So as you have been editor for the Journal of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers, you see land values going up and that keeps agriculture strong—the high land values, right?
Klonsky:Well, but it keeps it expensive. So now there is more and more leasing of land. As farmers retire from permanent crops, they have an orchard, but they don’t really want to sell it, so they lease it.
CalAgToday: There you go. Keep it somehow in the family.
Klonsky:Yes, they try to keep ownership in the family. Or what we see also are these development leases where a young farmer can’t afford to buy the land, so they lease the land, but they pay for the trees to be planted.
CalAgToday: So you are still coming to your office at UC Davis?
Klonsky:I am officially retired, but we have what we call a ‘partial recall’ where you can do things if you have funding. I have a project along withRachel Goodhue, Professor, UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, funded through the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. The Department of Pesticide Regulations is required by law to do an economic analysis of all proposed new regulations. So that is what I am working on.
CalAgToday: Give me a couple of examples. VOC regulations?
Klonsky:Yeah, we do VOC.
CalAgToday: Are you looking at sustainable groundwater legislation?
Klonsky:No, just pesticide regulation. It is funded by the Mill tax on pesticides.
CalAgToday: Did you work with a lot of graduate students at UC Davis?
Klonsky:Oh yeah, I worked with a lot of graduate students coming through. One of them was on different ways of pesticide management on eucalyptus trees. I said I went to Spain. On that trip, I spoke about growing eucalyptus for firewood.
CalAgToday:That was an economic study, wasn’t it?
Klonsky:Yes it was. They grow it not for firewood, but for paper. But that never really caught on here.
CalAgToday: Are you bullish on agriculture? Do you think Ag is going to continue thriving in California?
Klonsky:Oh, sure. Oh, sure. But I think that the water situation is definitely real, and I think agriculture already has definitely made tremendous strides in irrigation systems, especially the subsurface irrigation in vegetables, in particular processing tomatoes, which I worked on.
CalAgToday: That was a huge improvement in growing tomatoes. And people didn’t think it was going to work, but it turned out to be fantastic.
Klonsky: Yeah, a really win-win on that one. And orchards are getting more efficient. If you look at the water per pound of crop produced, you see major improvements with water efficiency.
CalAgToday: Absolutely. Of course, most plants transpire most of the water they take up through the roots, up through the leaves and the stomata cells. By the way, do you have any interesting stories regarding your career?
Klonsky: It’s not the highlight, but the weirdest thing of my career is I got an email from somebody in Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries from the United Arab Emirates. They wanted me to give a live presentation about Cooperative Extension in California and how it’s organized.
So I had to go to this office building in downtown Sacramento at 10:00 at night because of the time difference. I went into a conference room that had a special kind of projector so I could see them and they could see me. And on the monitor I see all these men walked in—they were all men—and half of them were in Western dress and half of them were wearing a Sheik-like headdress, with a band that sits on top and holds it on.
That was crazy, just being downtown after everybody is gone and the whole building was dark and quiet, except the one room that I was in.
CalAgToday: How long was the presentation?
Klonsky: Gosh, maybe an hour.
CalAgToday: You needed to do some research for that presentation?
Klonsky: Yeah, I had to do some research, I had to think about Cooperative Extension in a different way—the big picture.
CalAgToday: Keep up the good work, and I hope you are enjoying retirement.
Klonsky: Yeah, I come in two days a week, so it is nice to see everybody. I still get a lot of emails, which I need to answer.
Reaching consumers is key to helping with food confusion. Tamika Sims, the director of Food Technology communications for the International Food Information Council Foundation, is using social media to aid consumers.
“We will follow what is happening in … social media—including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest—to get a feel for how consumers are talking about food,” Sims said.
Sims noticed that differences and similarities between organic and conventional crops are being discussed with consumers, emphasizing how safe both are.
“That’s the one that we can’t seem to get enough of,” she said.
They talk about the differences and similarities as far as organic and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.
“We talk to consumers about how they’re equally safe and equally nutritious and that one is not superior to the other when it comes to food safety or nutrition,” Sims said. “If you have access to either, feel free to enjoy both in an equal way.”
Interested in learning more? You can go to the IFIC’s website to check out their resources.
Food Blogger Lorie Farrell AgVocates Conventional Ag
By Laurie Greene, Editor
Lorie Farrell helps farmers and agriculture by amplifying their voices. A freelance blogger and self-described AgVocate for food, farm and public policies that support agriculture and combat misinformation and junk science head-on, Farrell resides on Hawaii’s Big Island, the birthplace of the Rainbow GMO papaya that saved the state’s papaya industry. Having observed, firsthand, many activist groups who have sought to halt progress in conventional agriculture, she has a unique perspective on the issues and shares her views on her website and social media.
And while many food bloggers lean heavily toward organic production, Farrell stays away from it. “Organic production gets plenty of traction, so I tend to stay away from that part of agriculture production,” Farrell said.
“Some in the organic crowd seem to think that it is all one way or all the other, and it is not,” remarked Farrell. “It is really a mixture of methods. We need all of them at the table, and the table today looks much like what it is going to look like in a few years from now—a mixture of crop production methods and all the technology,” she noted.
Farrell wants to educate her audience to learn more about agriculture and advocate on its behalf. She stressed the importance for all of us to ask more questions, “but at the same time, it is also our job to give them good information and shine the light on good sources of information. It is not their fault they don’t understand. But at a certain point, we can lead a horse to water; they have got to make the choice.
And Farrell said emphatically that food shaming and food fear are intolerable. “Food shaming is when a person makes a judgement call on another person based on their choices of food,” she explained. “This happens very often with females and moms and it is unacceptable. Someone might see a mom buying a food that’s unhealthy and feeding it to their child. They will call the mom out on it. I’ve had moms tell me that people ask them, ‘You are feeding your kids organic food, aren’t you?’ They answer, ‘Well no, I am feeding them balanced meals, or I am feeding my baby formula.'”
“People will shame and bully you into making different food choices based on their perception of food. They will do it in person, but social media is also a very effective way to food shame. The objective of online food shaming is to change your choices of food—to take away your choice of food, actually—so you purchase organic or non-GMO. I don’t even know what the word ‘natural’ means.”
By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) published a comprehensive digital guide to the key federal farm and food programs that support sustainable farm and food systems. The Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs will help farmers and non-profit organizations navigate the numerous farm bill and other U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that have been championed by NSAC.
“The Grassroots Guide will be a valuable resource for farmers as they look for opportunities and financing to grow their farms and help build a more sustainable farming system,” says Juli Obudzinski, Senior Policy Specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “The Guide is specifically targeted to the farming community and distills very technical federal policies and programs in a way that is accessible to farmers and consumers alike.”
The Grassroots Guide includes up-to-date information on conservation, credit, rural development, research, and food programs authorized in the farm bill and other pieces of federal legislation – including recent policy changes made in the 2014 Farm Bill.
This new resource details over 40 federal food and farm programs that provide funding to farmers and organizations for conservation assistance, farm real estate and operating loans, outreach to minority and veteran farmers, beginning farmer training programs, value-added enterprises, support for farmers markets and farm to school programs, and more. The Guide is organized into the following topic areas:
Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers
Conservation and Environment
Credit and Crop Insurance
Local and Regional Food Systems
Sustainable and Organic Research
For each program included, the Guide provides plain-language explanations of how the program works, who can utilize the program, examples of the program in action, step-by-step application instructions, additional resources, and a brief overview of the program’s history – including legislative and administrative changes and historical funding levels.