Hope you'll visit the new Cause Matters Corp. site!

Dear Reader,

Thanks for visiting, but please come on over to http://causematters.com.  My “Gate to Plate” blog was incorporated into a new website in July 2010. It has all the resources you see here, plus a whole lot of connections for farm, food and social media.  As you visit the new location for this blog, I hope you’ll update your bookmark and even share the new site with your friend.  See you there – this is the final posting at this site!

Connecting Gate to Plate,

Michele Payn-Knoper, CSP

Cause Matters Corp.


P.S. Have you connected to the other side of the food plate today?  Whether you’re a foodie or farmer, consider the perspective of the person across from you.

Share your "agvocacy scoop" at new site!

I Scream, You Scream, We all Scream…

Ahhh, ice cream.  A rite of summer. Whether a simple cone, a sundae or huge banana split – ice cream is the indulgence of choice for our family. We’ve been known to plan summer trips around where we can sample ice cream.  And ice cream is one of those foods that is even better when eaten with friends…

The same can be said for getting information out there about food, whether you’re on the farm or consumer side of the plate – or somewhere in between.  So, in celebration of National Ice Cream month and a new website that pulls in this blog, I’m asking readers to share your favorite scoop of advocacy with each other.

Read more and please point your bookmark to http://causematters.com for the blog and other resources on ag advocacy, social media & connecting food with farms. Click on blog and add your comment…

The joy of  summer holidays in small towns, complete with parades, community dinners and neighborly visits.  It wouldn’t seem like summer if these weren’t a part of our family/s memories – and a lively part of rural America.  I spend a lot of time writing about travels around the world, North American agricultural issues and  global food needs, so I thought it was time to tip my hat to our hometown.

Thirteen years ago, my husband and I moved to Boone County, Indiana on July 3 – and little did we know that we had arrived in the midst of THE biggest celebration of the year. We’ve since learned that Fourth of July celebrated over a couple of weeks here, complete with sports tournaments, Symphony at Sunset, a huge parade, queens of all ages, concerts & socials in the park – and of course, multiple fireworks shows. Apologies to my international readers, but I hope you can relate as you consider the best parts of your own nation’s festivities. I hope these celebrations will continue for generations, because of the color they weave in the fabric of rural areas.

  • Relaxing with friends;  Rarely do we take the time to enjoy quality conversations in a way we do over the social gatherings of the Fourth of July. No travel to exotic locations, no computers and no hotels – just families taking the time to visit in a festive setting.
  • Making memories; whether it’s watching fireworks with children on our laps, splashing water across the lawn or eating obscene amount of foods – these are the times I hope to remember on my deathbed.
  • Watching young people in the community grow up. It seems like only minutes go by; a little boy happily riding in a train turns into a young man who’s suddenly taller than mom, or blink and find a freckle-faced little girl in braces and pigtails is suddenly riding 4-H Queen Car.
  • Having people know your name. There’s great value in families looking out for each other community-wide. Trading in my heels of speaking for boots of solitude on a farm is a favorite when I’ve been traveling. However, I cherish the friendly waves when we go to town, how people look out for each other, and that people are connected enough to our family to be concerned for our well-being.
  • Reflecting on the privilege of being an American. Regardless of your country, I hope you find the same pride as you listen to patriotic music and see the flag of your homeland. It seems many have lost perspective on our history, independence and what it means to be an American.
  • Food. O.K., you didn’t really think I could write a blog without at least mentioning it, did you?  Ice cream, homemade pies, summer salads served from the garden, ribs, sweet corn, strawberries and more. It is truly a feast from the farms!

Feel free to chime in with your favorite small town celebrations. I doubt many other of our fellow parade watchers reflect on the progress of agriculture while watching a GPS equipped ultra-modern tractor maneuver the parade route 10 minutes after the antique tractors go by, followed by horse and carriage. I do – and while I love technology and the many advances of modern-day agriculture, I hope we never lose sight of the value of traditions in rural areas – like those of the last weekend. I also hope farms don’t become relics to only be showcased in a parade. How are you helping be sure that doesn’t happen?

Advanced social media training for farmers. Apply now at http://agchat.org!

Are you adept at adapting? Are your reacting or reaching out? Are you living in 2010 or 1990?  Being adept at reaching out in 2010 looks very different than it did in 1990 (the pre-internet era) . As is the case in any revolution, this means exciting opportunities exist. I believe the 460 million people on Facebook and 50 million tweets per day translate to agriculture’s chance to engage.

Many people reference their birthdate when opportunities around social media are brought up. Let me share a bit of a reality check; thought leadership doesn’t come with a birthyear – nor does the proper mindset to leverage tools that just make sense for farms and ranches.

If you are a person who’s adept at adapting and have reached out to build a community to be an “agvocate”, it may be time to move your skillsets to the next level. Perhaps you have a Facebook, but you’re not sure how to fully use it to share your farm story. Or, you’re on Twitter and have found it interesting, but don’t really “get it.”  There’s been a conference designed just for farmers and ranchers who are ready to move up the technology mindset ladder. The AgChat Foundation just announced an”Agvocacy 2.0 Training Conference in Chicago on August 30-31. The program includes agriculture’s best and brightest in social media, with the training set in a variety of learning formats for 50 selected people. Core areas of interest include:

  • Bridging basic communications with social media
  • Community Building for Twitter and Facebook
  • Extending your community beyond ag
  • Creating effective content for YouTube and blogs

It’s been exciting to watch the program develop; I’m firmly convinced that participants in this inaugural Agvocacy 2.0 Training Conference will walk away with incredible ideas when the noon to noon agenda is complete. Successful social media is about engaging human to human interaction; this conference is an exciting chance to bring top agvocates together to “ideate” around best practices in Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Linkedin and YouTube. It’s about moving your mindset up another level on the agvocacy ladder.  Workshops, roundtables and panel discussions include:

  • Growing your communications skills & understanding of consumer research.
  • Building Message House Diagram: Learn to logically build messages and supporting talking points.
  • Twitter Community Building: Find tools, hashtags, strategy to maximize impact of ag voice on Twitter.
  • Facebook Profiles/Fan Pages/Groups: Maximize farmer understanding of Facebook as a tool to put a face on the plate.
  • Extending beyond ag: Find personal interests, data, lists & best practices to reach beyond traditional ag circles.
  • Burning questions: Personalize your learning by getting the info you need in one-on-one Q&A.
  • Creating Impactful Video: Grow in-depth understanding of tools to create, upload and share videos to agvocate.
  • Building an Effective Blog: Help farmers understand how build, share and monitor an effective blog while finding personal style.
  • Real World Show & Tell: Learn from case studies of SM use to take farm to others.
  • Road map for your action plan to agvocate.

If you’re ready to embrace change and be a part of the conversation for agriculture’s benefit, I’d encourage you to apply at http://agchat.org to tell the AgChat Foundation how you have the mindset to make agriculture matter. You have until July 1. There’s no time like the present!

An open letter to all those concerned and outraged by the Conklin Dairy Farm incident…

Please allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Kathy Swift and I grew up on a dairy farm in northern Virginia.  My parents milked 100 Holstein and Jersey cows and I spent many years in 4-H traveling around to county, state and national shows exhibiting my dairy cattle.  I chose to have a career in agriculture and in 1997, I received my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.  I have been a cattle veterinarian in northern Florida and southern Georgia for the last 13 years.  I would like to take a moment to address the actions in the Conklin Dairy Farm video as a member of the veterinary community.

First of all, I would like to apologize on behalf of the dairy business.  I am terribly sorry that the video has caused many of you to reconsider consuming dairy and beef products.  I am sorry that you had to consider whether all animals were treated this way.  I am sorry that you had to wonder whether the dairy products in your refrigerator were produced by cattle that have been treated humanely and with great care and respect.  If anything good comes out of this incident, it is that the dairy business has made it clear that we will not tolerate such behavior .  It is morally reprehensible and we do not condone it in any way, shape or form.  Period.

There are many organizations claiming to be animal advocates and fighting for the rights and well being of farm animals.  They would have you believe that the agriculture industry has no concern for its animals or their welfare.  They would have you believe that we are not listening to consumers.  They would have you believe that we are not going to change.  I am here to share several facts with you:

The veterinary community continues to learn and educate farmers about proper animal care and animal welfare.    More and more research dollars are spent annually to learn how animals process and react to pain and, more specifically, what we can do improve.  For example, a study was recently done at Kansas State University using thermal imaging as a way to assess animals’ response to pain.  From that information, we can learn how to handle cattle more appropriately and treat them with suitable medications as situations deem necessary.

The American Association of Bovine Practitioners recently conducted a survey assessing veterinarians’ use of pain relieving medications in promoting animal welfare and proper animal care.  Currently, only one non steroidal anti inflammatory drug (NSAID) is approved for use in cattle.  More options are needed.  The information collected by this survey will prove valuable in continuing to work with the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical manufacturers to allow us more legal access to medicines.  This will allow farmers, ranchers and veterinarians to enhance animal welfare without risking the safety of the food supply.

Most recently, Kansas State University hosted a Beef Cattle Welfare symposium to scientists, veterinarians and ranchers to discuss current thoughts and needs within the farming community.  Quoting Dan Thomson, DVM, PhD, director of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University, “(this year) we talked about issues. We talked about confidence in an industry. We know we do a dang good job of raising cattle and we do everything at a very high level. But we want to get better every day. We have more openness, more transparency. We are focusing on the future and outcome- based measures for change.”  Conference speaker, Temple Grandin, PhD, a pioneer in proper cattle handling and animal welfare, spoke about “How to Set Up and Implement an Auditing System”.  She has been instrumental in making positive impacts on how cattle are handled and processed for slaughter.

On a local level, I continue to educate my clients about what they can do improve animal welfare situations on their farms.  I show them how to use a local anesthetic when dehorning calves to prevent pain.  I continue to use a tranquilizer with pain killer activity whenever I am castrating calves.  I educate farmers and ranchers on the appropriate times to use pain relieving medications.  We discuss ways to handle and work with cattle to present them with the least amount of stress.  Animals that are well cared for are much healthier and cost the farm less overall in reduced health care costs and improved efficiency.

On a larger local level, I was asked and actively participated in helping to formulate an animal welfare audit for the regional dairy farm milk cooperative.  This audit consisted of a series of questions addressing animal housing, veterinary care, nutrition, milking machine and milking parlor maintenance, calf and heifer care, and personnel training and education.  By March 2010, all members of the milk cooperative had been audited by a veterinarian and achieved a passing score of 90 percent or above.  (Now I realize that you could be skeptical here and say that those passing scores are not valid, but I don’t know of any veterinarian willing to risk his or her license to pass a farm as humanely taking care of their animals if they are not.)  This form was not requested by any organization.  It was instead a step taken by the milk cooperative in response to public concern and questions about animal welfare.

The take away message from all this:  agriculture IS listening.

I could go on here, but I will instead encourage you to go straight to the source.  Who didn’t learn at a young age that messages get twisted and misconstrued simply going from one person to the next?  I don’t want you to only listen to me about animal welfare.  Meet the farmers in your community.  I persuade you not to just ask the easy questions, but ask the hard ones too.  The difficult questions are what get good open dialogue started.  You don’t need the filters of animal activist groups; go straight to the source.  Don’t have a farmer close to you?  Contact your state Farm Bureau.  They will be happy to put you in touch with a farmer that you have an interest in learning more about.

Anyone reading this letter is cordially invited to connect with me on twitter @cowartandmore.  I am happy to listen and answer questions.  If I can’t give you an answer, I will be happy to find you someone that can.


Kathy Swift, DVM

Note from MPK: Kathy Swift is a practicing large animal veterinarian who is also a mom and a gifted artist.  She blogs about two of her passions in life:  agriculture and art on her blog, cowartandmore.blogspot.com. I have great admiration for Kathy and would encourage you to connect with her. She’s a great example of agvocacy on and off the farm.

One week ago, my office went “back to Mac.” I’ve been known to get a little cranky when computers aren’t working, so this transition was anticipated with some stress.  Enough people have asked me on Twitter and Facebook about the PC to Apple switch that I thought it was worth a post. And, I speak a lot about moving mindsets up the technology ladder, so I didn’t want to be a hypocrite because my mind was definitely stretched in uncomfortable ways through this. However, I’m happy to report that we have a much more efficient office, streamlined system and greater understanding that technology really should be in the background when operating properly. (more…)

What’s the perfect recipe for chili? Some like it with corn, others put in chickpeas, yet others crave spaghetti noodles in it. Personally I add herb cornbread biscuits on top of my chili. Different recipes fit different tastes. The same is true for social media; some will love the spice and fast pace of Twitter, while others enjoy the sweetness of Facebook. Yet others find YouTube to be the special sauce – and even go so far as to shoot video from the tractor and upload from their phone since they have no high speed internet. (more…)

Planting New LifeHas “green” thinking gone too far?  Mike Rowe, speaking at the recent National FFA Convention, mentioned that the world may be wrong about making things green in a recent Agrinews article about the Dirty Jobs host.  “Green maybe wasn’t the best color.  Seems to me that brown would be better suited. Think about it, everything that’s green starts with something that’s brown, usually dirt.  And if you were to scrape the dirt off of the farmers from coast to coast, you’ll find the greenest people on Earth.  Not because they’re trying to save the world, but because sustainability is the best way for them to do their job.” (more…)

kelsayKelsay Farm, a modern dairy farm just south of Indianapolis, IN, has done an excellent job of helping more people understand food production. I recently asked Amy Kelsay to share her passion educating others about where their food originates.   As the first of several producer profiles, I am sharing our interview to showcase those who are championing agriculture on their farm.

Describe your farm tour business and why it started: Our family had been giving farm tours for over 30 years; however in 2005, I quit my job with Purdue Extension to stay home with our daughter and found myself becoming the tour coordinator for the farm! This is a role that I absolutely love! I especially love educating young people and I feel very blessed to have this opportunity to share our 6th generation family farm with them. It’s a perfect fit for me! (more…)

Many in food production take the hard knocks for becoming family corporations with million dollar assets.  Some activists, such as the Environmental Working Group, have even gone so far to list farm subsidies so everyone can see the millions brought in by today’s “rich farmers.”  There’s no list of input costs, equipment prices, explanation of how those assets aren’t liquid, or the distribution of dollars between the farm gate and food plate.  Yet, we frequently read “the greedy corporate farmers making millions.”  (more…)

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