Remember what it was like when you were 12? I remember doing chores on the farm, ‘befriending’ barn mice and catching frogs in the nearby stream (no wonder my mom would frequently lock us out of the house until we emptied our pockets!). I remember jumping off the school bus to make myself a “sandwich” which was nothing more than a flattened slice of Wonder Bread, smeared with ketchup. I loved ‘em!

I wasn’t the only ‘tween who had a strange relationship with food. I found out how vulnerable our 12-year-olds are to foodie innuendo and misinformation at my daughter’s birthday/slumber party last weekend; her 5 ‘tween girlfriends were happy to participate in my informal ‘food survey’.

First, let me explain that these girls are very bright. They’re hungry for knowledge and certainly not picky eaters. None of these girls live on a farm and, in fact, only one of them (mine) has even been on a farm.

One is a vegetarian (for religious reasons) but the other five are definitely meat-eaters. For these very bright, very well-read girls, food comes from the store. They think all the corn they see in fields along the interstate is sweet corn. They think soybean fields are growing the type of beans that go into pork-n-bean cans. They think hog and cattle farms smell bad all the time and if you live next to one, you’ll probably get sick or have to drink bottled water because that’s what they keep seeing on the news. When I pressed for more information (while most were sitting around our breakfast table chowing on bacon and little sausage links), I found that none have actually smelled a hog or cattle farm. In fact, if they’ve driven by one, they didn’t realize it.

I then wanted to find out where they’re getting these ideas on hog farms so I asked how many of these suburban girls watch TV news. Three hands went up. I then asked how many have the Des Moines Register (the state’s largest newspaper) delivered to their houses. All but one hand went up (one girl said her mom had to cancel the subscription because her dad says too many bad words when he reads it).

Armed with that info, I did a little combing through the Register (a week’s worth is in my recycle bin). I found at least six editorials and a couple news stories written by or quoting folks who accuse livestock farmers of everything from ruining their environment to ruining their health. Not one claim is substantiated of course, but that’s not the point.

What’s really sad is too many Iowans base their entire farm and food safety perspectives on what they read or see and not what they ask (or smell) first-hand. What really stinks is that a disgruntled person who moved to the country next to a hog farm may fire off a nasty editorial when they smell something one day; never mind that the smell often can’t be detected 360 other days of the year. Too bad they haven’t heard the actual science which disputes that “24/7 smell’ philosophy: (Check this out)

In the end, all we can do is to remind our ‘tweens that these are the crucial years; the time when they need to ask questions, seek out several sources for answers and if they have a question about how farm animals are raised, ask a farmer. Farmers need to remember that their job includes not just raising food, fuel and fiber for a growing world—but raising the ‘Farm IQ’ of young people whose plates are empty of real-world facts. These kids are hungry for real knowledge. Knowledge and an occasional ‘ketchup sandwich’.

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.