You might not think a girl from Nebraska would feel comfortable in a big city like Atlanta, but I felt right at home while attending the recent farm tour hosted by IFIC Foundation. The sights, sounds, and smells while visiting a Georgia poultry farm and peach packing plant provided a sense of comfort before the chaos of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics Annual Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) began. I definitely walked away from the day with more knowledge and more respect for farmers across state lines.
While we traveled to our farm tour destination, we watched the documentary film, Farmland. I was so excited to watch this movie because we were heading to visit one of the farmers featured in the film. The film focuses on the stories of six young farmers from different areas of the US, including Nebraska and Georgia. Even though all the farmers were focusing on different types of agriculture, the running theme throughout the film is that they all care and are passionate about the land they farm. It was a humbling experience to watch the movie and then get to hear directly from farmer Leighton Cooley, our first stop on the IFIC Foundation farm tour. Not only did I get to meet a movie star and wear an amazing outfit while touring the poultry house, I also learned several things I didn’t know before about poultry farming:
- Both organic and conventional chickens are vaccinated. Regardless of marketing campaigns, no hormones or antibiotics are in any of the meat we buy. If antibiotics are used, that animal must pass a withholding period before its meat could enter the food supply. In organic farming, the animal would be treated, but would be required to be removed from the program. The inhumane thing would be to not treat the animal if they were sick.
- The average chicken is about 5 pounds when it is ready for harvesting. They are not these giant looking, deformed birds that you see pictures of on the Internet.
- Extreme caution is used when working with the broilers. Outside visitors have to wear protective gear to protect the chickens from any bacteria that could make them sick. (FYI, Broilers are the chickens that we eat!) They are kept indoors to guard them from germs, predators, and to keep them warm.
After we visited with Leighton, we traveled to Dickey’s Peach Farm, where we shared a fantastic lunch and got to hear from experts Michael Doyle and Dee Sandquist. Mike is a professor at the University of Georgia and Dee is a Registered Dietitian and farmer living in Iowa. Mike reminded us that one in five Americans struggle to put food on the table and that 20 percent of the US population receives food stamps. Today’s farmers have additional pressures such as water, land costs, environmental contamination, labor, and the fact is that younger generations of farm families are leaving the farm. This is another reason why the message of Farmland is so important. We need younger people to consider going into farming, because the average age of a farmer today is 58.
After lunch we toured the peach packing plant and learned more about orchard to plate. Peach harvest actually occurs in the summer, so we didn’t get to see any peaches. However, we did get to see the facility and speak with the owner, Cynde Dickey.
Dickey Farms was built in 1936 and its founder, Bob Dickey also served as a postmaster, undertaker, and general store manager. Being an entrepreneur myself, I was impressed by how innovative he was and how he wanted to elevate the peach industry. In order to reduce labor, he installed equipment to help brush off the peach fuzz and he was the first to introduce a cooling system that slowed the ripening process while removing dust and other particles. I also hadn’t thought about the role food safety plays in peach farming. There are very strict standards in place for food safety, since being able to track the peaches from the orchard to the wholesale customer is important in the event there should be an incidence of foodborne illness.
Here are a few more facts I learned at Dickey Farms:
- Peaches used to be transported by mules from the fields to the packing house.
- Peach trees can live up to 40 years, but will only produce fruit for 12 years.
- Dickey Farms sells over 20 peach varieties!
After enjoying some delicious peach ice cream at Dickey Farms, we hit the road and were able to catch a glimpse of peach fields on our way back to Atlanta. In addition to meeting a movie star and eating the best ice cream in Georgia, I got to speak to my colleagues about food and farming. Even though we all have different backgrounds and traveled from all over the country to be there, we could all share common ground in the food we enjoy and appreciation for the people who produce it.
View these Vines taken by Amber on the Farm Tour:
Vine Video – Learning about poultry farming: https://vine.co/v/Oq3hZa50QmM
Vine Video – Suiting up to see some chickens!: https://vine.co/v/Oq3iH00gAKP
Amber Pankonin, aka @RDamber on Twitter, is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Medical Nutrition Therapist based in Lincoln, NE. She works as a nutrition communications consultant, freelance writer, and adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Amber shares her love for food and nutrition at Stirlist.com, the trusted voice of farmers, ranchers, and companies seeking an honest connection with everyday home cooks.
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