Why This Canadian Rancher is Thankful to A&W

That’s right. You read the title correctly. I am a Canadian Rancher, and I am thankful to A&W!

As most people from rural Western Canada know, in September of 2013 A&W, a fast food burger chain, came out with their “Better Beef” campaign. This campaign made claims that their “Better Beef” used no hormones or steroids. They claimed it was raised “sustainably” and “ethically”. Their campaign also meant a shift from the 100% Canadian Beef they were selling to importing the majority of it from South America and Australia. This sparked immediate outrage from the Canadian Beef Industry. These commercials were aimed to spark fear in consumer hearts about the safety of conventionally raised Canadian beef. This was a conscious decision to mislead consumers in order to sell more burgers. I personally was insulted by their in-direct portrayal of the beef that I raise. The beef I raise is neither unsustainable nor unethical. Fellow Canadian Agvocates Sarah Schultz and Andrew Campbell wrote excellent articles on the danger of this fear marketing. Sarah’s post on her Nurse Loves Farmer blog, Fear Marketing: I’ve Got a Beef with A&W, and Andrew Campbell’s piece for Real Agriculture, I’m Done with Fearing Food and Done with A&W do an excellent job of explaining why this is a huge issue for not only us Canadian beef producers, but for a grain grower and dairy producer as well.

But wait a minute…

I just explained why I am furious with A&W for their fear mongering ways. Why I have not eaten a teen burger in three years. Why I continue to be outraged with every product line that they mislead consumers about. Their eggs are from vegetarian hens (even though chickens are omnivores), their coffee is organic (even though organic in many coffee growing areas means slash and burning of the rainforest). I believe in every fibre of my being that this organization has chosen a path of dishonesty and sensationalism as a marketing strategy, and that is something I can never get behind. So how could the title possible state that I am THANKFUL to A&W?

So here it is..

A&W and their misleading advertising has been a call to action for all Canadian farmers and ranchers.

The growing movement of food myths, smear campaigns and out-right marketing lies was sneaking up on Canadian farmers at such a slow pace that it was easy to ignore it. It was easy to tell ourselves that only the granola crunchies were actually buying the crazy stories that were out there. Only the downtown hipsters were ready to believe that us normal, everyday, hardworking farmers would knowingly grow and raise something other than delicious and SAFE food. A&W’s Better Beef campaign showed us just how wrong we were. This huge eye opening moment is something that I am extremely thankful for. Suddenly all of Canadian Ag took a step back to see how badly we need to tell OUR story.

tell your story pic

The hard truth is that people, everyday people, are talking about where their food comes from. They have questions and we can let organizations like A&W tell them their version of the answers, or we can tell them the TRUTH. The truth is that my Canadian raised beef is GOOD! The truth is that knowing, inside and out, exactly how Canadian beef is raised, I will serve it to my own children daily. That is much more than can be said of the South American beef that A&W is importing for their “better beef”. This very blog was born from that campaign, as I had A LOT to say, and needed more space to say it than regular social media would allow.

At a Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan conference I attended this winter, Sarah Shultz was asked what her extended family thought about how much of their farming operation that she shares online. She explained that the A&W Better Beef campaign was an eye opener for her farmer Father-in-law. He, as a grain farmer, could see where this was heading and did not like it at all. It gave him, and thousands of other farmers, the pause needed to fully get behind those of us willing and able to tell the Canadian Agriculture story. The unvarnished farming truth.

So I still will not eat a teen burger. Their vegetarian eggs have gone untasted by me and my family. But as a bigger person, I can give credit where credit is due. Thank you A&W for making yourself the greater enemy that Canadian Ag needed in order to rally our troops, see the bigger picture, and start standing up for ourselves.

every story is complicated pic

Update: I have been told that A&W does not buy beef from South America at this point. I have not been able to get a response back from them directly to confirm or deny that. I want to be completely truthful in anything I write, so will gladly take back the statement about their beef coming from South America. There website does specifically mention three suppliers from Canada (Spring Creek), USA and Australia. Wherever the source their beef from does not change the issue I have with how they are interacting with consumers. I do not like it.

Also, I am always willing to give credit where credit is due. A&W has chosen to take part in, and be very supportive of, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. I wish they had chosen to go through with this before claiming their beef is sustainable, but I applaud them in this great endeavor.

Real Numbers for Beef’s Environtmental Footprint

Last year on Earth Day (April 22nd), my local paper published an article on how to be more “green”. In it, they suggested going meatless for some of the time because of beef’s poor environmental footprint. I wrote an article to counter this idea, as I see every day what beef’s actual footprint looks like. Read that post here

While doing some research for that post, I spoke with Tracy Herbert from the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC). She pointed out that while there has been quite a lot of research done in this area, there had not yet been an effort to pull the data from all those studies together to come up with one over-all consensus, but that they were working on it. 

I am happy to report that the results from phase one of that study are in, (see it here), and things are looking very positive for the beef industry! Over all they have found that we are producing significantly MORE beef (32% more), while using significantly LESS resources (24% less land and 29% less breeding stock), and creating a significantly SMALLER environmental footprint (15% less greenhouse gasses). 

  
While I only have to look out my front window to see first hand what beef does to (or for) our environment, this study that puts exact numbers on what we do is very exciting. We can only improve if we know where we started, and every farmer I know only wants to improve how they farm. I can’t wait to see where we are in 10, 20 and 50 years from now! 

For more info, visit the BCRC’s website, here. Or read Real Agriculture’s article on the study here

  
 

Massive Batch Meatballs

The Christmas season is upon us, and that means holiday Potluck parties. Of course I am always expected to bring a beefy dish to share, being a cattle rancher. My absolute favourite crowd pleaser at Potlucks is beefy meatballs. They are so versatile, you can change their entire flavour by switching up the sauce, and they go with everything! Possibly the best part about meatballs is how easy they are to make ahead in big batches to freeze and pull out when needed. 

While the sauce possibilities are endless, two of my favourites are Sweet and Sour, and Creamy Mushroom sauce. I will share them in a future post, but for those of you who are often in a desperate rush (like I am tonight), pour a couple cans of cream of mushroom soup over a crockpot full of pre-made meatballs and voila- easy peezy dinner! 

This recipe is Child, Rancher and Mom approved, a perfect trifecta!

  
Massive Batch Meatball Recipe 
Ingredients:

  1. 8 lbs ground beef. No need for the more expensive lean ground beef – because there is no pork, the added fat in regular ground beef keeps the meatballs juicy and delicious. 
  2. 1 onion finely diced and sauted in canola oil until translucent 
  3. 2 cups Panko bread crumbs. If you don’t happen to have Panko in your pantry, never fear, any kind of bread crumb works. If all else fails, finely crushed crackers or tortilla chips will work in a pinch. 
  4. 6 eggs
  5. 4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  6. 1/4 cup Johnny’s garlic seasoning
  7. 1/4 cup Italian seasoning  (both seasonings can be switched up according to taste.  
  8. 1 tbsp salt and 1 tbsp pepper 

  
Directions:

  • Mix all ingredients in large bowl (I use my bread making bowl). If you are squeamish about mixing raw meat with your hands, use medical gloves. 

  

  • Roll into small meatballs. Make sure they are equal in size so they cook evenly. 
  • Spread meatballs out evenly on broiler pans. If needed, I also use cookie sheets covered in tin foil for easy clean-up. Just make sure it has sides to catch grease. 

  

  • Bake at 350 degrees F for approx 30 minutes. This will largely depend on the size of meatballs. 
  • Always cook ground beef dishes to a minimum internal temp of 160 Degrees F!!!

  

In the past, I always fried my meatballs, but once I discovered cooking them in the oven, I have never looked back! No splatter, no standing over a hot stove, and I found the meatballs actually kept a better round shape in the oven. 

Once cooled, I freeze the meatballs in large ziplock freezer bags. I never know how large of a crowd I will be cooking for, so I love that I can take out as many (or little) as I need. Just pop them out of the freezer into a casserole dish (or crockpot), cover with the sauce of your choosing, and heat at 350F until hot and bubbly throughout. 

  
I hope you enjoy this stand-by as much as we do!

Cattlemen’s Young Leaders – Angela Kumlin

As I mentioned in a previous post here, Aaron and I are currently acting as mentors to a young agricultural professional, Angela Kumlin, as part of the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program. As part of our journey together, I have asked Angela to write a guest blog post about her experience thus far. Take a moment to read her story below, and welcome her to the vast (and amazing) world of the beef industry!!

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Hello there!

My name is Angela Kumlin and I am participating in the 2015/2016 Cattlemen’s Young Leaders Program (hereafter referred to CYL). Through this program I have been matched up with Adrienne and Aaron Ivey as my mentors, so Adrienne asked me to do a guest blog post to tell you all about CYL.

I heard about CYL through some friends who had been involved in the program. They had nothing but good things to say about it, although they did seem to have trouble putting into words what was so awesome about it. “It’s just…awesome. You should do it.” I heard this several times, so in January of 2015 I sent in my application! I hope I can articulate it well enough to justify how awesome this program really is.

The application process was quite simple, although took some hard thinking on my part. “Describe your involvement in the cattle industry” – easy enough, but then throw in some doozies like “In 250 words or less describe your goals in the cattle industry.” 250 words! If you haven’t figured it out already, my thesis prof described me as “quite verbose”, so I had trouble keeping my thoughts concise.

Shortly after applications were sent in, 26 applicants out of about 70 were chosen for the final selections process in March in Saskatoon. When I arrived I knew a few people already, as several of last year’s mentees were there for their CYL graduation. There were lots that I didn’t know though, and we spent the next two days meeting and learning from one another, competing at round table discussions to vie for a spot in the program, and becoming a great group of friends. The round table discussions were challenging but very interesting, and I learned a lot just from listening to the perspectives of the other applicants. We also had a guest speaker panel one evening where we could ask questions of some prominent figures in agriculture, such as Marty Seymour [CEO of Agribition].

One day after returning home from selections, a friend in the program texted and said, “You’re in, congrats! I made it too!” So we all waited eagerly to hear who our mentors would be. When I first called Adrienne to introduce myself, we spent a half hour on the phone learning about each other’s backgrounds. When my husband came home that evening I told him about Adrienne and Aaron’s ranch and their business and lifestyle. His first comment was “That’s crazy – they picked people who are exactly who we want to be in ten years!”

This became even more evident when we went to visit Aaron and Adrienne in September to meet in person and tour their ranch. Not only do they have an operation similar to what we would love to run someday, but they are great people. I don’t say this lightly – they really are! Gracious hosts, great senses of humour, awesome kids, and a real zest for life, agriculture, beef, and trying new things. We were extremely impressed. We had some great discussions around their kitchen table that have had us scratching our heads, crunching numbers, and throwing ideas around since we left.

As a part of the mentorship within CYL, we are also allowed a travel budget to participate in some educational experiences. Since Aaron and Adrienne were the Saskatchewan Outstanding Young Farmer’s last year, they have invited me to go to that conference this year in Edmonton, which I am really looking forward to. Adrienne and I are also hoping to go to Altech’s Rebelation conference in Kentucky next spring.

Some of my goals with my mentorship this year were to learn about risk management within a ranching business, succession planning, social license and talking to the public about agriculture, grazing management, and employee management. Aaron, Adrienne, and I have set goals and steps for me to learn something about each of these topics over the course of the year. I am looking forward to spending more time on each of these topics! I truly appreciate the time they are spending with us to give us a leg up in this industry. It is a big time commitment and they are busy people, so it means even more when they take the time out of their day to call and chat about what’s going on in the beef industry.

Outside of the mentor aspect of CYL, the program offers a lot of other opportunities to CYL participants. There are competitions within the program to go on trips, such as to the Five Nations Beef Alliance which is being held in Mexico this year. There are also forums every few months where we all get together and go through some training (ex. negotiations training and leadership training), hear fantastic guest speakers, network with prominent figures in the beef industry as well as one another and our mentors, and volunteer to give back to our industry. Several of us will be volunteering at booths during Agribition. If you are interested in the program, be sure to stop one of us to say hi and ask about how to get involved! Applications for 2016 will be accepted between Jan 1st and March 31st 2016. If you are looking for more information on CYL, you can visit their website at http://www.cattlemensyoungleaders.com/.

Funding for the CYL program is made available through its foundation partners: UFA Co-operative Ltd., the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA), Cargill, and MNP. The program also receives support from gold sponsors Farm Credit Canada and New Holland. The CYL Spring Forum in 2015 was sponsored by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Cattlemen’s Young Leaders 

This summer I was contacted by the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders (CYL) committee asking if I would be interested in acting as a mentor in their program. This is an amazing program that aims to create leaders in our top young cattle producers through training, experiences and mentorship.

Although I did not know who my Mentee would be, I was given a list of her goals and objectives to get out of the program, and I was struck by how closely they followed the issues and obstacles that Aaron and I had overcome over the past 15 years on the ranch. Grazing plans, agvocacy, succession planning, and the process of building a cow herd from the ground up were all topics we have spent the past decade focusing the better part of our brains on.

Aaron and I already spend a significant amount of time volunteering for both local organizations and provincial Ag associations, so our first reaction to the mentor request was, “how can we possibly fit this in as well?” But we saw the value in passing along not only our successes, but maybe more importantly, our failures. Although we had a strong network of peers, and were extremely fortunate in coming from incredible farming families whom we learnt a lot from, we never had formal mentors. We see the value in mentorship to the Canadian Beef Industry. In our eyes, the communication of knowledge is one of the greatest barriers within our industry. So without knowing a lot about the program, we took the plunge and took on the challenge.

  
Our Mentee, Angela Kumlin, has impressed us with her intelligence and drive. Our time spent with her has been extremely productive and rewarding. I won’t give away too much of her journey, as I have asked her to write a guest post for this blog. Read about her experience here.

For more info on the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program look here, or follow them on Twitter at @CYLProgram

Our Thanksgiving Message: Thank You for Choosing Canadian Beef This Year. 

  
These is one absolute truth here on the ranch:

We love raising beef!!

We are incredibly fortunate to be able to make a living doing what we love every day of our lives. 

Canadian Thanksgiving is this weekend, so I though it more than appropriate to share our message  of giving thanks to all of you who chose Canadian beef. 

View our Thanksgiving message HERE

Thank you!!! 

  
  

If McDonalds and A&W, Costco and Walmart can work together, why can’t we as farmers?

  
This week I had the amazing experience of acting as tour guide for the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef AGM Tour. The CRSB is an unprecedented initiative where stakeholders from the entire food chain have come together to define and improve beef sustainability in Canada. Stakeholders that have dedicated their time, effort and funds to this include Costco and Walmart, McDonalds and A&W, Producer Groups (Canadian Cattlemen’s Assn), wildlife groups (World Wildlife Federation) and packers (Cargill). It is an incredibly diverse group of people with diverse, and sometimes even divergent goals. 

 

             A common thread
As I chatted amongst these high level thinkers within competing industries I was struck by one overwhelming common thread. Each person there, each organization, was there for the sole purpose of making the beef industry (from the beginning, middle to end) not perfect, but BETTER. With so many opinions, and so many end goals, reaching each groups perfect goal is impossible. They each understand this fact, but it does not stop them from working together to make things BETTER. BETTER is not perfect, and it may never be, but it IS with working for. 

  What farmers can learn from this

My time recently spent on social media has been disparaging to the point of causing me to actively avoid Twitter. Agricultural in-fighting feels like it is at an all time high. Organic vs conventional, supply management vs export markets, big farms vs the little guy. It feels as though every sector of agriculture has backed itself into a protectionist corner, spitting mad and firing uncalled for shots at anyone that dares question them. 

So what would happen if we chose instead to put down the word cannons and focus on making things BETTER? Instead of ripping each other apart, we asked questions? What if we chose to stop the strive for perfection in our own section, and switched our focus to making all of Ag BETTER? Surely if McDonalds can work with A&W, then beef and dairy, organic and conventional, large and small can chose the same path. BETTER sounds good to me. Is BETTER enough for you? 

 

 

IV Branding 2015

Every year on the ranch, calves are gathered up and “branded”. Because we do not catch and tag each calf when it is born like many cattle producers do, the first time we get a hand on our calves is in late July to early August. Each herd is individually brought into one of two yards, and sorted into cows, dry cows (cows that have no calves), and calves. The calves are then put through our farm-built sorting tub and chute. Each calf is caught in the small calf squeeze and headgate. They are each vaccinated, tagged, branded and castrated (if they are males). 

  
Branding is a family affair every year. The kids love working the calves, as they are just the right size. It’s a great chance to improve their livestock handling skills for when they are older, and working fully grown animals. 

 
 

Although branding days are hard work, they are everyone’s favourite days of the summer. They not only give us the chance to get a really good look at how well we have nurtured our cattle, branding days also give us a great look at how we have nurtured the inner farmer in each of our children. 

   
Needless to say, I was bursting with pride!!

 
And the calves looked great too…

  

Keeping my Cool with Vegans on Twitter

It is not new news that Vegan Activists are busy on social media these days. Months ago they made a huge group effort to take over the farmer driven #farm365 movement on Twitter. #farm365 was started by Andrew Campbell, an Ontario dairy farmer as a way for farmers to show (with pictures) what their daily life is like on the farm. What started as a great way to show consumers how their food is really produced in a completely open and transparent way, quickly spiralled down into offensive attacks from vegan groups trolling twitter. See more here: https://www.realagriculture.com/2015/01/farmers-speak-perspectives-farm365-activist-backlash/

Since the moment I started taking part in #farm365, I have had countless tweets attacking me, my family and my profession.

 So why do I continue to take part? It is really quite simple – I believe in the purpose of #farm365. I believe that people have forgotten what everyday farmers look like. They have forgotten that we are kind, caring, compassionate people that feed what we grow to our families with pride. We care about the land we are in charge of. We are not swayed by mega-corporations trying to sell us one seed/chemical or another. We make our own decisions, and stand by them. 

When the vegans come a-trolling, sometimes it is hard to keep my cool. I have no interest in trying to change their minds. I know they are set on their choices, just as I am set on mine. I know that the vast majority of people won’t be swayed by them either – especially when they are at their most hateful. I know it is best to walk away and probably hit the BLOCK button. That being said, some days it is really hard not to engage them. It is hard not to stand up for myself, my values and my morals. I want to shout from the rooftops that we care deeply for our animals, and ensure their eventual death is pain-free and respectful. But they don’t care. They only see death, and to them the death of an animal is possibly more important than the death of a human. It is certainly more important to them than the respect of a fellow human. 

So sometimes I crumble. Sometimes I engage. It never works. I have tried being respectful. I have tried being witty. It. Does. Not. Work. 

Today I crumbled. I engaged. Luckily they have learned to not threaten violence, or Twitter will suspend their accounts. This was a calm and respectful interaction with them. Believe me, they get much, much worse. Here is a little snapshot of today’s crumble:

   

       

So again, I have learned my lesson. Do not engage. But knowing that still doesn’t lessen the knife-like feeling in my gut everytime one of their brethren favorites or re-tweets one of these. 

So for all you eat meat-eaters out there – those of you that are watching on Twitter or Facebook or reading blogs like this one: thank you for every Like, Favorite, Share, or Re-Tweet. Thank you for every honest question you have asked of farmers like me. Thank you for wanting to know more. My engagement with you far out weighs days like today. Your support balances the hate. Some days we need it. 

Momma D’s Swiss Steak

Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, my Mom had a handful of go-to recipes that were sure to bring everyone, (picky eaters like myself included), happily around the table, no matter what schedule craziness was going on.  Swiss steak was a favorite of the entire family. It is not low in calories or sodium, so maybe it is a good thing that it takes a little extra prep work. That being said, there really isn’t anything more comforting on a cold or rainy day.

This recipe uses Minute Steak (also known as cube steak), made from relatively thin round steak that has been tenderized, either by pounding it with a meat tenderizer, or an electric tenderizer. It gets its name from only taking a minute or so to cook if you are frying or grilling it. This recipe takes considerably longer, but the results are more than worth it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb Minute Steak
  • I box Vegetable Thin crackers
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 cans Cream of Tomato Soup
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese

Directions:

  1. Crush crackers into fine crumbs (I use a blender) and add parmesan cheese
  2.  Put flour, cracker crumbs and milk each in their own tray or deep plate
  3. Put canola oil into heated frying pan
  4. Dip and coat each minute steak with first flour, then milk, then crumbs
  5. Fry until golden brown – flipping half way

6. Place steaks into casserole dish and cover with tomato sauce

7. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 90-120 minutes (depending on thickness of steaks)

If your dish is quite full, it always helps to place an old cookie sheet under it to catch any over-flow.

8. Uncover, spread cheese on top and bake until melted

9. Serve with mashed potatoes – the sauce makes an amazing tomato gravy!

I hope you enjoy it as much as we always have!!