2017-09-07 / Community

Know Your Farmer - Know Your Food presented at Port Austin Farmers Market

By John Bonke
Staff Writer • jbonke@mihomepaper.com


PORT AUSTIN - Know Your Famer - Know Your Food was presented at Port Austin Farmers Market by a moderated panel of three local farmers. Pictured here are (from the left) Moderator Elaine Bristol, and local farmers Rita Herford, of Harbor Beach, Frank Szymanski, of Port Austin, and Ashley Messing, of Ubly. 
Photo by John Bonke PORT AUSTIN - Know Your Famer - Know Your Food was presented at Port Austin Farmers Market by a moderated panel of three local farmers. Pictured here are (from the left) Moderator Elaine Bristol, and local farmers Rita Herford, of Harbor Beach, Frank Szymanski, of Port Austin, and Ashley Messing, of Ubly. Photo by John Bonke HURON COUNTY - Three local farmers answered farming- and food-related questions on a moderated panel, Saturday, Aug. 19 on stage by the old gym at the Port Austin Farmer’s Market. Folks could stop that morning beforehand by the booth at the market to submit a question. Elaine Bristol moderated the panel consisting of Rita Herford, of Harbor Beach, Frank Szymanski, of Port Austin, and Ashley Messing, of Ubly. In front of the stage, a sign proclaimed that Huron County grows the most wheat in Michigan.

Bristol asked the farmers what is usually in their shopping cart each week. Dairy farmer Messing said her cart usually has milk, cheese, sour cream and fresh fruits and veggies. Szymanski said his family’s cart usually has a lot of cereals and dairy products. Harbor Beach-area farmer Herford said milk, cheese, tortilla shells, lettuce, soups, pastas, potatoes and bananas and other fruit.

Fielding the questions whether folks should be concerned about food safety, dairy farmer Messing said that milk is one of the most-tested foods and it is tested multiple times throughout processing. She said that if bovine antibiotics are found in a tested sample, that milk cannot go into processing. She added that hormones are found naturally in foods including vegetables and that growth hormones are species-specific.

Bristol asked the farmers to explain a little bit about what goes into raising a crop. Szymanski answered the question speaking about corn and explained that the season can extend from the first part of May until mid-October. Herford spoke in regard to beans and said that beans are combined, with the rest of the plant staying in the fields. Herford said her mother likes to take freshly harvested beans to prepare them for meals.

In regard to GMO (genetically modified organisms), Herford said that GMO research and testing can take as much as a decade and that some of the testing determines whether nutrition is the same in the new plant.

In answer to farming practices, Herford said that farmers using manure captures nutrients and returns them to the soil.

Messing added that using manure “is the farmer’s version of recycling.” She said that she hopes to see more composting and methane digestion developed and the two processes become more cost-efficient.

Bristol asked more questions along the lines of the environment and Messing spoke briefly about MEAEP (Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program) and how that helps farmers use environmentally friendly practices and that water and soil are monitored by samplings.

Herford added that farmers plant filter strips that help keeps soil from running off after a rain.

Speaking about chemical applications, the panel said that farmers have to ask if the chemical is effective and also cost-effective so the farmer will use as little chemical as possible; also, there are automatic controls on machinery to help prevent using too much. Szymanski said if he had a choice he wouldn’t use any but weeds affect crops.

Herford added that farmers have to be licensed and certified and have to keep up-to-date about the subject and know how much is enough. She gave an example that if 20 gallons of a solution is sprayed on an acre, for example, much of that is water and perhaps a little less than 30 ounces in the entire 20 gallons is the actual chemical. She also said that farmers read the labels and consider which crops and which weeds are involved as well as other factors.

Turning to the subject of technology, Bristol asked the farmers to pick which one is the most helpful to them. While all three said they really couldn’t pick just one, they each gave an example of one that has been extremely helpful to them. Szymanski said GPS (global positioning system) helps with steering equipment, seeding during planting and chemical applications to help farmers to hold down the amount used.

Herford said that having data accessible on phones and tablets via the internet has been a big help. She said that technology has also helped with record keeping. Other data used by her farm is weather conditions and forecasts. Herford added that data throughout the season can be added to the records helping the farmer look back and see more easily what factors existed and their impact. She said there are farmer-specific apps that help monitor activities.

Messing said robotic milking machine systems allow cows to choose when they get milked ad “it has really revolutionized my life.” She said that the robots have two washing cycles during the day.

Speaking to the challenges of farming, Herford said that the weather presents the farmers their biggest challenge - “you can’t change it.” While weather is also a challenge for Szymanski, he said prices influence farming a great deal. Messing also said that fluctuating prices are a challenge and so is labor. She said that the robotic milking system has helped with that.

Bristol said she knows farming is hard and so asked the three why they do what they do.

Messing said that she is part of seven generations of farmers and she’s proud to carry on the tradition and there are three generations on the Messing Farm. She added that there is always something new every day when it comes to farming - and she loves animals.

Szymanski said that he grew up with it and he loves being self-employed; there are long hours, but you make your own schedule. Farming isn’t boring, he added, with the routine varying every couple of weeks. Szymanski also said he loves to run equipment.

Herford said that farming is a family-oriented business and occupation. “Farming isn’t a job, it’s your life,” she said her father would say. She said that she is able to be home with her family and it allows for flexibility. Herford said she had job shadowed other occupations during high school, but didn’t like being inside eight hours a day.

Bristol concluded the informational panel by saying - “Ask a farmer, first (don’t Google it).”

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