Farming Fraud And Why #knowyourfarmer Is So Important!

A lot of people ask me questions about our products vs. conventional or even organic grocery store options. A few of my favorites are...

"Why would I spend $6 on a dozen of your eggs when I can get cage free for $2? It’s basically the same right?"

"How can anyone pay $20 for one chicken when they can go to Costco or Walmart and buy a fully cooked one for $5? It's organic too ya know?"

"I buy all of my organic food from the grocery store, it's way less than what you charge and it's super convenient. Why would I bother with all the extra hoops?"

Dear friends, these are real questions I've been asked, and probably to your surprise, I'm more than ok with that. Everyone should ask questions. It's how we grow, learn, get better, and make educated decisions. A large majority of people will end up buying from me after I respond with the knowledge that I've acquired over the years in this adventure.

Because our social media feeds are pretty tailored to what we enjoy, (homesteaders, farmers, foodies, paleo gurus, hunters, health advocates) it would appear that most people know all about the differences in cage-free, organic, pasture raised, and conventionally raised products. But what I tend to forget is that what I'm seeing on my instagram feed is a drop of a drop in the bucket. I'm going to do a blog post addressing the specific questions around eggs soon, by far the most questioned topic.

So where am I going with all of this? Well, I usually try to avoid talking about news worthy topics (it can get pretty hairy and I’m not one for keyboard warrioring). Sometimes though, something big happens in the world of farming that I feel is just too important not to bring to your attention. I'm betting most of you don't follow farming news, and it almost feels like it's my responsibility to bring some things to light. And it's also why it's so important to #knowyourfarmer, to ask questions, and to try to cut out all of the bureaucrazy, I mean bureaucracy in food.

So here's the scoop. A certified organic Missouri farmer committed suicide recently upon learning of his 10 year sentence to federal prison for a fraudulent crime. What's the crime you ask? His organic crop farm grew organic corn and soy, and these crops were then fed to livestock making them also "certified organic". Turns out, he was using all the same horrible pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides that we think we're avoiding when purchasing organic. He was not following most, or maybe any of the organic standards and got away with it for a long time. What's more crazy is his farm sales of corn equaled up to 7% of the organic corn grown in the U.S. in 2016 and 8% of soybeans in the U.S. All in all, from 2010-2017 he sold 11.5 million bushels of fraudulent organic grain. To give you more of a visual, that equals about 3,600 rail cars full of grain. If you want to read more about this creep, just search “organic farmer suicide”.

If you're thinking, "well, what are the odds that that grain ended up in my organic Costco chicken, organic beef, organic bacon, etc.?". Honestly, I have no idea what the real odds are. I don't have time or the brains for that kind of math, but that's not the point. The real point is, this was one farmer who got caught and was made an example of. How many of the other U.S. farmers have been tempted to go this route?

So how did this even happen? Basically, there aren't enough regulators to keep eyes on all farmers all of the time. And then, If you get certified organic meat from another country, you can bet that is getting even less regulatory inspection. This is not just meat either. Those organic peppers from Mexico in the middle of winter are probably not as safe as you think. I have no idea for sure, and sadly no one really can know. I'm not one for government regulation, especially when it comes to food. It keeps the little guy down and gives the false sense of health and security when dealing with the big guys. And this case is proof of the latter.

Don't get me wrong, the organic certification process has probably done a lot of good for the masses. It was started out of concerns for what was being done to our food behind closed doors and over-seas, and was created to keep everyone in line. But there will always be people trying to cut corners, or straight up try to pull the wool over our eyes to make an extra buck. In my experience, it's a lot harder to do that when you talk face to face with someone. When you can go to their farm and see how things are done. I tell people all the time, if a farmer won't let you come to their property, they've got something to hide and you should run in the other direction.

We are not certified organic and never plan to be. The paperwork, dollar bills, and sometimes backward thinking regulations are not worth their weight in salt. In fact, it’s quite a joke. If you really truly care about the quality of the products you're buying, then finding a local farmer that is doing it honestly is the only way to go. There's a movement happening in the world of food right now, and people are really tired of being deceived, manipulated, or straight up lied to. What's great for you is that I care so deeply about these things that I'm willing to read all of the info out there about food, farming, and health and share my knowledge. It's kind of a problem actually. Lol! I love it. I do get down a lot because of stories like these, but then I get motivated to continue to get our little farm up and running, to reach as many of you as we can. To share the information I've learned, and to help you see that a lot of what you're being told is a lot of half truths, or even full lies. But there’s also a lot of great information out there, and we have easier access to it than any generation before us. It’s just weeding through it all that can get tricky. It’s not all bad though, there are plenty of people like us that are wanting to do the right thing.

This can feel frustrating, I know. We do purchase a lot of local goods, but certainly not everything. I have a dream to one day be full on canning, freezing, and dehydrating all of our garden goodies to try and lessen the offseason foods we buy like berries, potatoes, tomatoes, etc. in the winter. For now, I’m doing the best that I can with the time and resources that I have. Just because you can’t do everything all of the time, doesn’t mean you can’t do some of the things some of the time. So get out there and #knowyourfarmer. If you’re reading this you already know us, and that’s one step in the right direction.

My Top 10 Tips To Successful Menu Planning! #motivationalmenu

When it comes to meals, most of us are scrambling day by day, scraping together whatever we’ve got that is edible. I get a lot of weird looks when I share that I actually enjoy cooking nourishing food (at least now I do). What I’ve learned is that cooking isn’t the hard part, organizing my menu and my week is. But is it really that hard? I was always so frustrated with meals because I would put it off until 3:00 or 4:00 in the evening and then try to find the easiest, quickest meal to throw together. This works out every once in a while, but it gets old fast and really makes being creative difficult. This is why most of us end up eating crap from a box or takeout more often than we’d like.

Everyday I would complain to Rob about making dinners and he would always tell me to plan for the week ahead. Since I know everything (lol), I said it wouldn’t matter and I’d still be scrambling. (I can be pretty stubborn). So, I finally took his advice and found that not only was he right, but I was starting to enjoy it. I was creating a plan for the week that was more than just mindlessly eating, but it was a nourishment plan. No matter how or what you eat, eating the same thing over and over can get boring and isn’t that great for you. Especially if it’s processed food that continues to pop up in your menu.

What is #motivationalmenu and how did it begin?

Rob and his friend decided to start motivating each other to work out, shoot their bows in preparation for hunting season, and keep each other in check every Sunday. They would text how they did for the week and would high five for their accomplishments and motivate each other to get back on it when it was a bad week. I loved this idea and reached out to his friend’s wife for a similar idea with meal planning. I’m the kind of person that will get away with anything I can when it comes to short cuts, especially when there’s no one to keep me in line. She expressed how she loved my weekly menu idea but had a few questions and said it was something she wanted to start doing (but seemed pretty unmotivated to do). So, I thought, let’s be each other’s motivation for this. I often slip up and forget to do the menu, but if someone else is depending on me, I’m far more likely to follow through. Then I thought, she can’t be the only person to need a little motivation for menu planning, I should make this a thing on social media. That way I really feel obligated to follow through, and I bet I’ll get more people to feel motivated as well.

So, here I am, writing a blog post on how to make menu planning easy and effective. However, THIS IS NOT ABOUT MEAL PREPPING! That’s a whole different blog post and will be part two to this (maybe, lol). I felt that menu planning deserved it’s very own blog because it’s so overwhelming in itself and often doesn’t get the spotlight it deserves. Everyone wants to talk about the prepping part, but how can you prep without a plan?

To take this even further, what I want to do is allow us the space to share our #motivationalmenu on social media. Here’s how it works…

  1. Create your menu for the week on Sunday or Monday, or whatever day floats your boat. (I’m shooting to post on Monday mornings)

  2. Take a photo of it.

  3. Post it to Instagram or FB, on your feed or in your story, and tag #motivationalmenu and @thegrazinglife. If you don’t do social media, email the picture to me.

  4. I’ll share your post on our story to spread the motivation to others.

  5. Check out our stories on Mondays and see what others are planning. Steal ideas you love and ignore the rest.

Love it? Hate it? We shall see. What I don’t want you to do is not post because your menu is “ugly”. Who the eff cares? Do you need a cute menu board? NO! Grab a piece of paper, the back of a credit card application envelope, or write it on an amazon prime box for all I care. IT DOESN’T MATTER! Making big changes is hard, so why make it even harder by putting pressure on yourself to make it pretty as well? If that’s your end goal, great, but don’t put off the menu until “I get a chalk board” or “fix my chicken scratch hand writing”. This is about content, not aesthetics. Yes, I have a cute board. But I’ve been working up to this for years and started with just a list in my planner.

Ok, so now that all of that is out there, here are my Top 10 Tips To Making Your #motivationalmenu.

  1. Pick a day to plan and schedule it like it’s a doctors appointment. Seriously, make it a priority and don’t waver from it. Pick a time and day that you know you’ll be successful at. Mine is Sunday night when the girls go to bed. If I know I need to make something a certain day before that scheduled time, I’ll pull out my phone and make a note when I think about it.

  2. Keep track of your menus from the past. I have a notes file on my phone called #motivationalmenu. I type in all the days of the week, then fill in my protein choice for each day. Every week I just add seven new days then I can look back at what I made the weeks prior to try to mix it up. Or, after a few weeks, you could copy and paste a week, tweaking a few things here or there. If you prefer pen and paper, have a notebook you write this out in.

  3. Pick a shopping day that’s 1 or 2 days AFTER your menu planning day. This may seem odd, but I’ve found way more success when I’m not planning, shopping, and trying to cook the same day. I swear that most people try to do it all in one day and end up ordering pizza by the time they get home from grocery shopping. When I make our menu on Sunday evening, I plan Monday and Tuesday’s menu based on what I have in the house and shop on Tuesday night for the rest of the week. This is probably why Burger Monday happens. We always have frozen ground beef so I just make burgers and serve it with whatever veggies I have to cook from the week prior.

  4. Plan your meals around your schedule. This may seem obvious, but I would make my menu first, then get to the day that I needed to be in the kitchen for an hour but only had 20 minutes. You’re setting yourself up for failure if you have a menu that you need to be cooking at 5:00pm but you also have soccer, parent-teacher night, or whatever else planned for that same time.

  5. Choose meals for your menu that compliment your schedule and make sense. Also obvious but apparently not for me. So, I would plan a menu that was roasted chicken, with roasted parsnips. This is great if you have 2 ovens or you have the time to plan the parsnips to be roasted early, then roast your chicken, then warm the parsnips back up for the actual meal. Another big failure is too many items being cooked on the stove top at once. I try to plan for something that goes in the oven with one or two things that cooks on the stove, or vise versa if two different things can cook at the same temp in the oven.

  6. Start out planning to only cook 3-4 days per week. Eating well doesn’t mean you have to be a slave in the kitchen EVERY SINGLE DAY. Start slow and plan meals that will feed you more than once a week. If your schedule has an outing every Friday or Saturday, there’s 2 days you don’t have to menu plan. For us, I try to plan to cook 4-5 large meal days a week, at least one leftovers day (usually 2), and a gluten-free frozen pizza every other week. With 3 small children, one with celiac, we don’t go out much so it’s not often in our menu plan. But that doesn’t mean you can’t.

  7. Use repetition but mix it up. Every week I attempt to have a different protein each day that I cook. It’s really helpful if you make a menu that follows a pattern each week and you can just switch out the recipes. Mondays we do burgers. It wasn’t planned that way, but it just keeps happening so I’m going with it. Taco Tuesday is a popular example of this. (And talk about an easy menu option). In our menu, I also aim to make 1 soup per week. I’ll make way more than needed for one meal, serve it twice in the week, and freeze the rest for a day that I need a quick menu option. (Or when I fail to pull whatever I needed out of the freezer for said day.)

  8. Buy meat and frozen veggies in bulk. If you can afford it, get an extra freezer. You will not regret this. It is so much more cost effective to buy meat in bulk, especially if you’re trying to eat grass-finished or pasture raised. If you find a deal at the grocery store, then you can buy a bunch and throw it in the freezer. Keep inventory of the freezer though, because it can be a place for meat to go to die. If you can’t get an extra freezer, try to dedicate some space in the one you have for meat only. Keeping frozen veggies on hand is a super easy way to throw a side together. I keep frozen broccoli and cauliflower on hand at all times. Just toss in a pyrex with your favorite cooking fat and spices, roast and you’re done.

  9. Get excited about food, but don’t go beyond your comfort level. I love when people get super passionate about their menus. They load them up with all sorts of new and exciting meals as they work towards eating healthier. However, if you go too far, you’ll likely fail because you’re changing it up too much too fast. Start planning meals that are easy for you, and aim to switch out 1 or 2 meals a week for something new. If you’re VERY new to real cooking (meaning you mostly cook from a box or frozen meals) then aim to replace 1 meal a week or even every other week. The goal is to make good habits you can stick with, not change your whole life, get overwhelmed, then revert back to bad habits because this is “too hard”.

  10. If you have picky eaters, stop making them special meals. This is going to irritate some of you. “But my kid really hates ‘xyz’ and refuses to eat blah blah blah”. The only reason kids are picky is because we give them too many options. Many people hate to menu plan because they feel like they have to make 2, 3, or even 4 different menus. And I’m saying whole menus, not menu options. I wouldn’t want to do that either. Obviously you don’t want to pull the rug out from under them all at once. My suggestion is to start slow and make one main protein (steak, chicken, fish) and 2-3 sides, including one that you know they like. At our house, you must try every single thing I make, but you do not have to eat all of it. This way they’re forced to try new things, or things they think they don’t like. Often they end up liking them and I feel like a winner. I’m real cutthroat about this and if you don’t eat it, you don’t get anything else later. No snacks, no other options. Eventually they will get hungry enough to eat what you make. Kids in Africa eat spiders for crying out loud, and they won’t starve to death from one missed or skimpy meal. Obviously there are things that some kids just absolutely won’t eat (ranch dressing for me), which is why I always have a selection of sides but that’s just how my menu is, not because I’m pandering to my kids. You’re going to be much more successful if you make a menu with a few options rather than tuna casserole Tuesday when your kids hate tuna. If you don’t want to try this, that’s fine, but it’s going to make menu planning much easier.

There you have it! Did I miss any awesome tips or tricks that you do to make menu planning easier? What are your thoughts on any of these, I’d really love to know. “What if I fail?” Congratulations, you’re human. If you miss your scheduled day, make the menu in the middle of the week. Just don’t give up entirely. Head over to our Instagram or FB page and see what my #motivationalmenu is this week and let’s start sharing them to inspire each other.