What farmers can learn from mommy bloggers

CM-MR-3-What farmers 3by Sally Colby
The phrase ‘mommy bloggers unite’ will probably never be uttered because they’re a group that’s already as united as they could be. But who are mommy bloggers, and why should farmers care about what they think?

According to the social media site Mashable, the average mommy blogger age is 37, has at least one child living at home, and has either read or contributed to a blog within the past 30 days. They may have careers, but they’re very home-oriented and care deeply about what they’re feeding their families. They have questions about how food is produced, but most are open-minded and willing to seek out and listen to accurate sources for information about animal agriculture and food production. Together, they put out 3.9 million blogs in North America, so they have significant influence on other moms who are making decisions about food.

That’s why Penn Ag Industries, who created the highly acclaimed Today’s Ag exhibit at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, invited a group of mommy bloggers for a guided tour of that exhibit. The moms came ready to learn, and many of them scribbled notes or entered text into their phones as they listened to experts discuss everything from modern veal production to why pigs are in crates and how farmers keep water clean. They saw large equipment, learned what it’s used for, the cost of such equipment and that farmers are often in debt. They learned about how IPM is used to manage insects and disease, that farmers use as few chemicals as possible, and that farmers must keep records on nearly every chemical product used on the farm.

As the group approached the livestock barn, several representatives working with the Marcellus shale project addressed the moms and explained how this energy source is critical to both homeowners and farmers who use natural gas to heat buildings. A wellhead, just like those that mark the spot of a recent drilling, was on display

Another stop was the environmental area, where a stream flowed through a field. Kelly O’Neil, Pennsylvania agricultural policy analyst for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, talked about how farmers protect the many small streams that flow through farmland. She presented facts about of cover crops and how farmers manage nutrients, and pointed out that if livestock were on the farm, the stream would be fenced to keep animals out. “Stream banks covered with native vegetation — shrubs and trees — keep the area healthy,” she said. “The roots hold the soil in place, capture runoff from the upland area and keep it out of the stream.” O’Neil pointed out that the young chub swimming in the stream would benefit from the leaves of trees and shrubs through the shade provided, and that the fallen leaves of native species help to feed native fish and wildlife.

Next stop was the livestock barn, and a potentially controversial topic: formula-fed veal calves. The moms learned that veal calves are raised far differently than they may have expected, with a balanced diet, room to move around and plenty of fresh air. Minds were opened, and perhaps changed, through the power of up-close-and-personal learning.

At the dairy display, which included several cows and a calf, large animal veterinarian Dr. Darcie Stolz talked to the group about her role working with farmers and their dairy cattle. “My job is to help dairy producers keep their animals healthy and comfortable,” she explained. “A lot of my day is spent working with producers, coming up with vaccination programs and measuring growth.” Stolz compared tracking heifers’ growth and health to well-baby checkups familiar to moms.

Next, the moms saw beef cattle and learned about popular cuts and the role of beef in the diet. In the pig area, the moms were introduced to Bob and Doreen Shearer, who raise about 9,000 pigs/year. The Shearers explained that baby pigs stay with the sow for three weeks, and explained why farrowing crates are necessary to protect young piglets. As a single feeder pig pushed its way through an already-tight pile of sleeping pigs, the moms saw for themselves that the crowded conditions they may have heard about in confinement operations aren’t really the case, and that pigs intentionally seek out other pigs during resting.

Poultry, including ducks, turkeys and laying hens, were the last stop. The moms learned that poultry are fed carefully formulated rations designed for each species and each stage of growth, and that brown eggs are no different from white eggs other than shell color. The all-too-common myth that chickens are fed hormones was dispelled.

Melissa Sankey, assistant vice president for Penn Ag, says that Penn Ag hosted the same blogger group last year with positive results. Sankey says that one common belief in the group was that organically produced food is superior to food produced in other farming systems. “It was good to get them out here, let them have conversations with producers and help the moms realize that organic is a choice,” said Sankey. “It isn’t that it’s better, and in America, we have food choice. We make sure the moms get accurate information, and if they blog about it, they’ll reach people we wouldn’t be able to reach.”

So if you happen to meet a mommy blogger who’s interested in food, take some time to answer her questions. She’s trying her best to feed her family, and once she gets to know you, you’ll find that she’s truly interested in you as a farmer.

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