Thursday, April 2, 2015

My Blog Has Moved

So, I've finally made the move to Wordpress!! I'm in the process of changing my domains but having some difficulty.

Until I get things sorted, you can check out my temporary blog at it's new home here.

Sorry for any confusion in the interim.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Gross Things I Do to Reduce Food Waste

Even CBS News reported that storing sour cream and cottage cheese upside down will keep it fresh longer!
Food waste has been on my mind a lot lately. Ever since I read some amazing essays which touched on the topic, I can't help but think about the incredible amount of food that gets thrown out today. While some waste happens throughout the food chain, the vast majority is in the home after it's been purchased by the consumer.

My mom taught my brothers and I to always eat everything on our plate. She is notorious for taking several days' leftovers, throwing them in a pot with some stock, carrots and noodles and calling it soup. Surprisingly, it's always good. This was the mentality she learned growing up because my grandparents grew up in Nazi-occupied Holland, surviving on little else than tulip bulbs at times. Thankfully, neither my parents nor I ever knew hunger, but my Grandparents did. They remind me of it every time I see them.

This appreciation for the food I have the privilege to purchase has led to a dutiful sense of responsibility around how I consume it. I try to waste nothing. I feel guilty if anything goes in the green bin (compost), and further to that, if I throw compostable-scraps in the garbage. It occurred to me today, as I trimmed mold from my mozzarella, I have become borderline-OCD about food waste. To the point, it's kind of gross. Anyone else go to some crazy extremes to make the most of the food you buy?

Disclosure: I'm not a doctor and just because I have not gotten sick, I make no guarantees you will not. Try at your own risk and if you're unsure, maybe consult someone who is actually qualified to advise you on the subject of food safety. I'm just sharing what I do that hasn't made me sick or impacted my health (that I know of). 

The Gross Things I Do to Reduce Food Waste

Cut the mold off cheese
I have always been told mold is a surface growth. This website says it's OK, so it must be true. I love cheese too much to throw it out ever because of mold, especially when I eat blue cheese all the time. I usually trim all the mold off I can, then use it up right away. So far, I've never gotten sick from this and I tell myself it's building my immunity.

Ignore the expiry date on dairy products
I consider the expiry date a guideline; it's best consumed before that date, but if it's not rotten it's fine to eat. It's rotten if it smells nasty or is too "goopy" (think milk). I always smell my milk before pouring it and if it still smells good and doesn't curdle in my coffee, then it's good to go! Sour cream will last forever if you put it upside down in your fridge. Okay, maybe not FOREVER, but literally, I've ate sour cream month(s) after the expiry date when I turn it upside down.

I keep and eat leftovers
Okay; this isn't so much gross as it is just plain cheap. Even if it's less than a serving or just some vegetable scraps, leftovers go into a container in the fridge and I use them at my next meal. These Pampered Chef bowls are perfect for stashing small amounts of leftovers. I also eat a lot of omelettes, and they are an ideal place to throw scrap veggies or even some leftover stir fry. It's not gourmet but it works and keeps things interesting.

I have a freezer of brown bananas
I don't absolutely love bananas, but I buy them for smoothies. Usually they go brown before I use them, so I toss them in the freezer. Frozen, brown bananas make perfect banana bread. My family loves banana bread with chocolate chips. Win.

I drink day-old coffee
I heard a speaker from the coffee industry last year mention how big the environmental footprint of coffee is and how our insatiable taste for it is impacting those countries producing it. How much of your morning coffee pot goes down the drain? I have a bad habit of not drinking the last mouthful of coffee, but I try to pour as little down the drain as I can. So much so, that if I have more than a cup left in the pot I'll save it and either reheat it the next day or use it in a homemade mocha-cafe smoothie. I appreciate good coffee, but some days, just coffee will do.

Things I Will Never Do

Eat expired mayonnaise. 
If it's a week or 2 (or 4) I have been known to use it if it's being cooked (like in this AMAZING Hellman's Chicken Parm recipe). After that, it gets thrown out. It kills me because I never eat more than an 1/8th of a mayo jar. Sometimes I buy smaller jars but the cost is almost the same, so more often than not I have a larger jar in my fridge. I keep thinking I should use mayo more, but let's face it; a tablespoon of mayo everyday isn't exactly like eating an apple everyday. I'm open to suggestions to what to do with it, but bad mayo is probably my biggest food fear.

Eat Old Meat
I don't mean old meat from the freezer;  I cook that up and try to cover in sauce because it usually tastes like ass. I mean old, cooked meat that has been sitting in my fridge for more than 4 days-ish. If there is even a hint of slime, off-smell (the old smell test is gospel with me if you haven't notices), or it's just been there for about a week, it's going in the green bin. Again, food poisoning from meat isn't worth the risk.

Anything else with mold
Casseroles, canned food like mushrooms or pineapples that were in the fridge too long, yogurt, the list goes on. If there is mold on it, it's gone. The same usually goes for rancid nuts. You can't hide that flavour.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Forget Gender Equality, Time to Change Old Boys Culture in Agriculture

To the Editor, Ontario Farmer

It was with great interest I read Marin MacNamara’s January 20 op-ed, “Gender equality and agriculture.” MacNamara points out a reality that exists in many industries, yet doesn’t have a simple solution.

There is no question many organizations in agriculture still have an “old boys” kind of culture that in most other industries is now frowned upon and has gone by the wayside. While there are female leaders in our industry who have proven we can successfully navigate this culture, many organizations have also realized this culture is unhealthy for all employees, not just women. This culture doesn’t focus on employees achieving their individual potential and bettering the organization. Rather, it fosters politics and conformity.

I see this culture limiting our industry in terms of both innovation and competitiveness, but also internally through Human Resource policies. Maternity and paternity benefits, for example, are gender-sensitive hot potatoes that management often doesn’t want to deal with. And while discouraging to both genders, inherent to our biology, women face the overwhelming brunt of this problem. 

At the end of the day, agriculture is still “survival of the fittest.” As business leaders we need to advance our organizations, but we also need to attract top talent to agriculture, male and female. The current culture isn’t going to cut it, and frankly many women just haven’t been willing to put up with it. And I suspect there will be increasingly more men who feel the same, unless culture starts to change. The first step is accepting there is a problem, and if talking about gender equality does anything, it will also heighten the awareness to this issue. Making the industry stronger overall.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

#Farm365 Teaches Us the Power of Words - Use Them Wisely

"Words have the power to create and destroy." A fitting interpretation of scripture today in church, with a reference even made to social media and how we use words today in our lives, which are increasingly online. Are we creating or are we taking away from people's lives with our words?

It took no less than 2 days for a great initiative to showcase daily life on an Ontario dairy farm to turn into an all-out brawl between animal rights activists and farmers on Twitter. My emotions are mixed. I have utter respect and admiration for the patience and tolerance of farmers like Andrew Campbell @freshairfarmer and Julaine Treur @creeksidedairy who answer question after question without judgement or harsh words. Their ability to show respect for differing opinions and choice of words set an example for which all of us can learn. It's classy.  

They choose words which create a conversation. They are open and transparent and leave opinions to those who listen to decide on their own. They do not attempt to destroy the integrity of an individual or pass judgement on those who might disagree. Can you say the same for your social interactions? 

There could be any number of reasons people choose to be vegan. Those who do not fundamentally believe in the practice of animal agriculture will not be swayed or reasoned with, because there is no common ground between us. This group might be loud, but they are a minority. They don't represent the majority of the 98% of Canadians who don't live on a farm. (They don't even represent the majority of vegans, I suspect.) They represent a small number of outspoken, extremists. We find it ironic they demand respect and compassion yet seem incapable of showing the same to people. For them, they likely find our observation likewise ridiculous.  

This divide is immense, and the more we demonize each other (and I mean that both ways), the greater it becomes. As much as these activists judge us, we are also judging them. When we do this, we stigmatize everything vegan-related, and this makes me sad. I have friends who have introduced me to vegan foods, and they have been damn good. I like good food. I also think we could probably learn a lot about incorporating some healthy protein alternatives into our diets, if there wasn't a stigma attached to vegan. 

Then, what about the rest of consumers who don't share the extremist view? What do they think? They might not be engaging as ferociously, but they're listening. Are your words creating a positive and encouraging image of agriculture? Not just of what you do, but who you are? A few bad apples will spoil the bunch. Don't let the extremists spoil you. Choose your words wisely and if need be, choose to say nothing at all. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 - Reflection, Enlightenment and Some Darn Good Travel

If I had a bucket list, this would be the year where I would have knocked several items off it. 3 "Wonders of the World" - the Taj, The Great Wall & the Grand Canyon; an EMBA and Ivey Scholar, snorkeling in the Caribbean, live-tweeting our robot start-up and commanding my own combine through harvest were just a few of the year's highlights. If I'd been flying with 1 airline, I'd be well within the "Elite" travel status, with almost 50,000 miles logged on the flights I recall off the top of my head!

Among these highlights, it was also a year of perpetual reflection and self-discovery. I struggled a little to re-adjust to life after EMBA, which as it turns out was much the same as it was before. The underwhelming interest of those around me quickly led me to understand that as much as education is important, until it is manifested through daily problem solving and thought leadership, it is not really appreciated. It was time to start putting EMBA to work for me.

There were a few more moments of enlightenment this past year which will lead to some changes in my life in 2015.

Opportunities to excel aren't always packaged as we expect.
In a society where we are heralding women for leaning in and encouraging everyone to find their passion, it's easy to fall into the mindset that your strengths are under-utilized and your talents fit better elsewhere, either in a different role, company or even a different industry. This may in fact be true, but then you better do something about it because otherwise, it can quickly distract you from being your best self at your job today. We all know the first step in getting promoted is performing well in your current role. I knew this, but I got a wake up call this year, when I realized I was so focused on what I thought I should be doing, I was missing great opportunities to leverage my strengths to get the results I needed in my current role.

Listening takes work & I suck at it.
At 31 years of age, I have realized I don't listen very well. I don't mean all the time, but certainly when it comes to conversations about food and farming, it would serve me better to ask more questions and listen more. Directly related to my last post, I've realized I don't take as much away from these conversations as I could if sought others opinions more often. My personal development goal this year will be developing my listening skills to have more meaningful conversations. Advice here welcome!

It's My Turn.
After 6 months of self-reflection and trying to discover exactly where my talents were needed, I've discovered what I'm particularly passionate about and also how I can make a difference. As it turns out, it isn't just 'one thing' and maybe that is appropriate; I thrive on the variety and believing I'm making a difference in many different facets of the ag industry. This year, the priorities on which I've chose to are not just going to allow me to apply my strengths and develop some new skills, but I'm going to 'kick things into higher gear' and start creating more meaningful value. Stay tuned! More to come..

Shake it Off.
A trusted co-worker joked recently T Swift's "Shake it off" should be my theme song in 2015. Turns out, it wasn't really a joke but a message; "life is good, don't get hung up on negatives, Jen". In Their Roaring Thirties; Brutally Honest Career Talk from Women Who Beat the Youth Trap, Kat Cole, CEO of Cinnabon, talks about how interactions with a jerk boss would "drain her emotional bank account", but her community involvement gave her an opportunity to 'refill' it. This balance or offsetting of the highs and lows of my community involvement, family and work life is exactly what has allowed me to stay sane through what seems like a ridiculous schedule. Sometimes it's easy to diminish the highs though, and my challenge in 2015 will be to celebrate these wins more and shake off the lows faster.

Hope you have a moment to reflect on your 2014 and wishing you all the best in 2015!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Know Your Audience - Are Agvocates Missing The Mark?

Copyright: <a href=''>jumbo2010 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Photo credit: 123RF Stock Photo
Though agvocacy is one of the biggest buzzwords in the online ag community, it would appear it hasn't gained the traction most would desire. If you follow a handful of vocal farmers on Twitter or are an agvocate yourself, it's easy to start to feel overwhelmed with what many are calling 'attacks' on agriculture.

Have we not given agvocacy enough time? Is the content we're sharing not worth following and taking notice? Are we "preaching to the choir" too much? The possibly over-used metaphor often accompanies a challenge to tweeters, bloggers and writers, industry and farmers alike to appeal to the public and "tell our story".

But there is one problem. The public isn't listening. You can write the greatest literary work in the world, but if no one reads it, what has been accomplished?

Some are quick to point out, "we" (a reference that somehow is meant to encompass all of the vast, diverse and unique facets of the agriculture industry into one group) don't have the audience "they" (being anyone who might represent a different viewpoint) do. 

First off, this is true. But "they" didn't start with a million followers. They started with one or two, just like me and you, and the similarities don't stop there.

In fact, they are are us - they worry about the health of their children. They see a better future for the environment around them. They seek the highest value return for their money, even that which is spent on food. They are deeply passionate about their cause, to the point of emotional attachment and are driven to do something about it. Their audience is even the same as ours.

So then, the question becomes, how did they develop this mass appeal and apparent influence and what are we doing wrong?

The simple answer is to say it's fear mongering. I disagree with this, at least to the extent of explaining how these food bloggers got their start and developed a following. Fear mongering may aide the hype, but I don't think it has staying power. Fears are confronted and subside with time.

No, they simply understand the audience better than we do. They are part of it. They are the consumer and they don't even have to try to appreciate the challenges, concerns, hopes and desires of the audience we so desperately try to target. 

Our point of uniqueness is being a farmer, but our downfall is that we forget. We forget we are so unique, that while we are also consumers, we have a vantage 98% of consumers do not. Think like the ever-passionate and often-animated Crystal MacKay, Farm and Food Care Ontario Executive Director;  "if you've ever used the word "teat" in a sentence, you're not like them."

We don't need to do a better job explaining what we do. We are very good at that. Most people just don't care. They don't care because they can't relate and understand why they should care (and 'because we grow your food', is unfortunately not reason enough). We need to do a better job understanding consumers. 

Fortunately, this is pretty easy because they are everywhere! The challenge for most of us, myself included, is to stop agvocating long enough to hear what they have to say. Strike up conversations with people in the grocery story, "city friends" or the parents of your kids' friends about what they're purchasing and why. Then listen! Don't interject or try to counter or persuade. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason! You'll learn far more about what's on their minds and be better prepared to tell a more meaningful story. Not suggesting it didn't have meaning before, but 'getting in the consumers' head and removing that farmer bias is the only way we can start getting our message to the masses. Until then, we will only ever be preaching to the choir.   

Monday, October 6, 2014

Advice to a Young Aggie (Or insert your undergrad major here)

At some point, I crossed the threshold from being 'recently graduated' to a full-blown alumni. It's a little surreal, being invited back to Career Week to impart 'wisdom' when I'm still seeking it wherever I can find it myself. Nonetheless, these events always offer a chance to reflect on what you've learned and how far you've come. Here are my big three pieces of advice for today's Aggies (or any undergrad) + one bonus from my friend, Rebecca. 

1. Do something different.
You might be absolutely positive about the industry you want to work in, but even if you are passionate about nothing else, try to work outside it, just once. If this seems scary, then start by taking some courses that interest you but might be completely unrelated. As one of my coworkers and fellow speakers this evening put it, "college is your time to explore." Try summer jobs or course subjects that seem intriguing but your practical, 'left brain' tells you are not 'good experience'. Everything is an experience from which you can learn, related or not. This is probably my biggest regret. I was so set on my destination, I missed the scenery along the way... trips to Belize, history class, College Pro Painters. All experiences I regret missing.

2. Ask for opportunities.
For as many jobs that are posted, there always seemed to be just as many that are not. If there is a particular industry, firm or role you're interested in, seek out someone to talk to and ask about the opportunities that exist for summer students or recent graduates. They may not be hiring, but they may know someone who is and if you're particularly driven, they may even create an opportunity for you. What's the worst thing that can happen? 

3. Get your hands dirty.
I don't know how many tires I shined. In fact, I wore Eau d'Armorall for an entire fall. Luckily, I was never in one place long enough to worry if it was offensive. My point is, we all started there with the  'dirty jobs'. The boss doesn't care what you know (because honestly, you actually know nothing) but really wants to see if you're willing and a team player. It's a test of character no one teaches you in a textbook. These days, those stripes are no easier to earn but far fewer seem willing. Roll up your sleeves and pitch in. I guarantee it will not go unnoticed. Too few young people think they graduate to be the CEO. The lyrics are for a reason; "We started at the bottom now we're here."

Get to know your classmates.
More-so in a tight-knit industry, agriculture obviously being the example, there is a strong likelihood you will not only work with, but work for, support, collaborate with the people sitting around you in those AGR classes. Make an effort to get to know as many of them as you can. Down the road you'll not only be a hero when you know "X" at "that company" and can call them up, but you'll be relieved you remember their name when you stand behind them in the lunch line at the farm show.

Because someone has to make that hood sparkle and get that rubber shining! My first major "event" as Promotions Coordinator at John Deere.