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Voices

The Facts About GMOs, From a Farmer Who Used to Oppose Them

By Michelle Miller, Farmer

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As a 4-H kid with Hollywood dreams, my younger self would be SHOCKED to see me now, back on a farm instead of a movie set.

Not to say I didn’t like growing up around my friends’ farms in Wisconsin. I absolutely loved farm life, especially working with animals and riding horses. And every aptitude test my high school had me take agreed I was destined for a career in agriculture. But I had my sights locked on the big city. So after high school I moved to Los Angeles to earn a degree in fashion and chase that Hollywood life. I even got my foot in the door with a job at Gucci — THE Gucci — but I also drifted farther than I’d ever been from the farming community I knew as a kid.

Me, on a typical night out on the town in my mid 20’s.

 

What I didn’t realize then is that losing touch with agriculture would lead me to waste tons of mental and emotional energy, not to mention thousands of dollars, striving to adhere to strict food rules I thought we all had to live up to. I was super worried about pesticides, hormones and antibiotics, factory farming, you name it. It’s not that these aren’t legitimate issues, or that farmers don’t think about them too. But taken off the farm, they too often explode into terrifying half-truths or outright distortions about “Big Ag.” And I would see them echoed and amplified online, in movies, everywhere I looked — everywhere except from real farmers and agricultural experts.

You know the story. And like so many of us do, I bought into all of it.

At least I did until a farmer named Doug came into my life — and yes, I do call him my “Prince Farming.” I fell hard, and ended up trading my fashionista, city girl life for one working on his family’s fifth-generation farm in Iowa.

Cue my teenage self, picking my jaw up off the ground.

Once Doug and I started dating, it didn’t take long to realize that while I had the best of intentions when it came to choosing food that reflected my values, I didn’t always have the best information. The first eye-opener came on one of my early visits to his family’s farm. I was eager to learn and Doug was eager to share. It was all going great until I asked if his crops were GMO. He casually and proudly said “yes.”

Doug and I on the farm in Iowa.  Yes, those are GMO seeds in that planter!

 

…um, what?! I was shocked. How could this great guy be growing something everyone knows is terrible?

But as I soon learned, my reaction said more about my media diet than his farming choices. And it set me on a journey to not only reconnect personally with farming, but to also help educate other people struggling as I had to adhere to baseless food rules and social pressures.

All too often these “rules” sound great, because they reflect a common cultural idealization of the “good old days” of farming. But the blunt truth is that there’s no such thing as a pure, all-natural way to farm — no farming is natural.

Every crop we enjoy today, even if it was grown organically, has been modified at a genetic level to better meet people’s needs in some way. Before GMOs, the process just took a lot longer, and we weren’t as good at it. Then take pesticides: Every method of farming uses them. This shocks a lot of people, but even organic farmers can use pesticides as long as the chemicals are naturally derived — even if they’re more toxic than synthetic alternatives.

For all the promise of healthier, cleaner food, most the time all you get when you avoid GMOs is a higher grocery bill. 1https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306919218301131

If you’re like most Americans, an immersive education on a fifth generation family farm to discover all this for yourself probably isn’t in the cards. So here are a few things I’ve learned in my nearly 5 years of farming that I hope will make it a little easier (and a lot cheaper) for you to find healthy, tasty food that fits your values.

One of the combines we use to harvest crops on the farm.

 

Despite what some marketers would have you believe about “Big Ag” and greedy corporations controlling our food, 99% of American farms are family-run.2https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/farming-and-farm-income/

Perhaps the first thing I learned on Doug’s farm was that farmers like him and his family are good people trying to do their best for their families, farms and the people they feed. They’re entrepreneurs, because farms are businesses, but they’re not movie villains with something to hide. Every farmer I know truly wants people like you to understand what they do and why.

I’ll put it this way: If we ruined the land with poor farming practices or poisoned our customers with unsafe food, we’d lose our livelihoods. Our farmland wouldn’t produce, and no one would risk buying our crops if it did.

At the most basic level, not doing the right thing is just not in any farmer’s self-interest.

Doug’s parents, who are the fifth generation on the family business/farm! They’ve earned local awards for “farmers of the year” in soil and water conservation, partly due to GMO cultivation.

 

Despite relentless attempts to tar GMO Farming as dangerous and environmentally devastating (it’s not)3https://www.nap.edu/read/23395/chapter/8#172, the only real difference is that GMOs help make farming more sustainable.4https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111629

A lot went into Doug’s family’s decision to adopt GMO Farming methods — and none of it had to do with greed or corporate pressure. One of their biggest reasons was that GMOs helped them take advantage of “no-till” farming, which means growing crops without ripping up the soil through plowing and tillage — key factors that helped create the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

Instead we get healthier soil, a smaller carbon footprint, cleaner waterways thanks to less farm runoff, and perhaps the biggest benefit of all: dramatically less pesticide use. The herbicides we do still use are milder even than some of the naturally derived chemicals allowed in organic farming, and we stopped using insecticides altogether.

In other words, if you want to avoid pesticides, don’t avoid GMOs.

Some of our beautiful black angus cattle. We are very proud to feed them a healthy diet of both grasses and GMO grains!

 

Whatever you look for in your food, and whatever you’ve heard about how it’s grown, I urge you to take a step back next time you feel pressured or stressed about what to buy and what to avoid. Try to remember that there are families like mine (and yours!) all across the country, doing our very best to bring you healthy food, grown sustainably and responsibly.

I’m lucky enough to walk out my door onto our farm and get a firsthand reminder every day. It’s not what my teenage self imagined I’d be doing, but it’s become my calling. That’s why I want to let you know, and anyone else who’ll listen, that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get good, healthy groceries like I once did.

Maybe spend that extra money on something nice for yourself from Gucci. Teenage me would approve.

Did you hear about the farmer “out standing” in her field? This is one of our soybean fields!

 

This post is sponsored by A Fresh Look, a 501(c) (6) organization, whose mission is to provide trustworthy research-based info to consumers about the benefits of GMO Farming methods.

A Fresh Look, Inc. A family farmer-led non-profit