In August, I was able to attend my first-ever Potato Association of America annual meeting. Though it's always held at a different venue each year, this year it was held at its headquarters-Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. This year's president, our technical editor Dr. Phil Nolte, shared with members in his opening remarks, memories of his first attendance. His first meeting many years ago was also in Corvallis. He explained to everyone he remembers being intimidated by the presence of so many potato industry experts-until he got to know them. He then realized that scientists in the potato industry weren't unapproachable-they were, and still are, down-to-earth people who are willing to listen to other points of view.
While in Corvallis, I had the opportunity to share my own point of view with a Hispanic woman in a convenience store. I stopped in the town of Philomath on my way to the coast, and I was wearing my Potato Grower magazine hat. The woman then started bombarding me with questions about potatoes. While one of them was about the role of McDonalds in the potato industry, her first question was her most direct. She wanted to find out the truth about genetically modified crops. So I told her what was wrong with them.
Like Dave Douches from Michigan State University succinctly said during one of his presentations, genetically modified crops are not "frankenfoods."
You want to grow a healthy crop, that's fine and dandy. However, you'll have to deal with pests, weeds, fungi and nematodes. How are we able to keep those assaulting armies under control while still delivering a healthy produce that will feed the maximum amount of people? Chemicals.
So a relatively handful of extremists decide to scare the general population into believing that growers are actually trying to kill everyone with chemicals and make a profit off it. So scientists come up with genetically modified crops to reduce needed chemical applications or what-not. How do people react? With suspicion.
I told this lady bluntly that growers MUST get rid of pests. She was surprised but genuinely seemed to believe what I told her off the cuff. Now, I didn't have data at my fingertips at the time, but I told her what I knew. Consumers need to realize what growers are doing and why. They need to be educated about GM crops, about pesticides, fungicides, insecticides and herbicides.
The conversation needs to be taken back by agriculture.
I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but we need to start preaching to the congregation before they stop coming to church at all. I'm grateful this Hispanic lady asked me those questions. I'm especially grateful they were honest questions. When I answered them, she accepted them. Now I wish I could've given her sources to back me up-so she could share them with others.
That's what The Hand that Feeds U.S. is for. The Hand that Feeds U.S. is an educational resource for urban media on the importance of U.S. agriculture to the security and future of our country. If you also grow sugarbeets in addition to potatoes, you've probably heard of them before. We've put a link on our website to an article they've written called, "Fact or Fiction?" Go to Potatogrower.com and click on "Extras." Share it with everyone who's not in agriculture.
University of Wisconsin Associate Professor A.J. Bussan, in an introduction at the PAA, explained that we're letting people who don't understand what we do drive the conversation of sustainability. It's time to have the conversation on our terms.