Agriculture Day in Leadership held last week

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By Dennis Morgeson

Last week we had Agriculture Day in Leadership Washington County, which is a program that has been going on here for a long time. I was fortunate to go through the program myself when I started, and now I help administer it.  Anyway, as I said, we had Agriculture Day last week. We try to have the best food for that day for obvious reasons and we try to get it locally.  Most of you may not realize that in the United States the average distance a food product has traveled before you eat it is 1,500 miles!  That’s right, on average it has gone almost sea to shining sea!
With the outbreaks of ecoli recently in Germany and Europe, there had been uproar with countries blaming countries to keep from taking responsibility for where the new strain of bacteria had originated.  Finally, I think they settled that it came from a farm in Germany selling sprouts.  We don’t eat a lot of sprouts around here, and if you don’t know what I am talking about a sprout is simply a germinated seed such as bean or alfalfa, and you eat it while it still has only the seed leaves just emerged from the seed.  Sprouts are generally a salad bar item and are rarely cooked unless it is in a stir fry such as from a Chinese restaurant.  These items have high risk because they sit in water until germinated, and it has a chance to have high bacterial content that builds up while the sprouts sprout.  We had a similar problem in this country a few years back where wild pigs crossed a lettuce patch in California and did their business on some of the leaves, which then contaminated the rinse water for pre-washed ready to eat bagged spinach and people died from ecoli!
Many of us hear scary stories about egg recalls, peanut butter recalls, steroids, antibiotics, and hormones being added to our food and we start to wonder what in the world is going on.  But we still go to the grocery store and buy the same things every week and don’t give a second thought about where our food comes from until we hear stories from other states or countries thinking that it won’t happen to us….but it could!  What are the chances of getting sick from store bought food?  All and all the risks are very low and probably lower in the U.S. than most countries, but if you take just eggs for instance I have heard that 1 in 10,000 chance that we will get salmonella from eating undercooked eggs.  That doesn’t sound like a very high chance, but when you realize you can get sick and be hospitalized or even die just from eating an egg it is a very scary thing.  Corporate farms pump chickens full of hormones to speed up egg production and size and they stand wing to wing unable to do anything but eat, drink, poop, and lay eggs.  In these systems they are stacked in crates one on top another with a buildup of manure which has very high ammonia content and they get lung infections, eye infections, and yes, salmonella and ecoli are rampant.
Now….how does the salmonella actually get into the egg?  Well, and this is gross, the increased hormones cause younger chickens to lay bigger eggs than their bodies can handle and they get tears and scrapes and an infection can set up in their “egg layer” which moves up into the bird and you get a salmonella infected egg.  Eggs are also porous to some degree and bacteria can actually pass through the shell when conditions are right.  That is enough about eggs; our entire food system has its own problems.
The real reason I wanted to write about Agriculture Day is because we always have wonderful meals prepared by Helen Osborne of Springfield.  Helen is what you would call a southern or down home cook that prepares her meals like your mom or grandma would.  If it doesn’t taste good, she ain’t goin’ to serve it!  But our meal this time was exceptionally good…why?  Well, first of all we had just about everything from local sources including sausage, eggs, strawberry preserves, honey, maple syrup, ribeye, green beans, new potatoes, blackberry cobbler, and homemade rolls and bread fresh out of the oven.  All locally grown and preserved right here in Central Kentucky and actually within 20 miles of the Extension Office with the vast majority within 5 miles!  This was as fresh as you can get and as local as you can get!
Local produce is picked when it is ready and full of flavor and vitamins.  Compare a store bought tomato to one fresh off the vine, try any fruit fresh from the bush, vine, or tree and compare it to one from the store, try a ribeye from a local Farm and compare it to one from the store that has as much as 17 percent water added.  There is no comparison!
Local foods are cleaner, healthier, better for the environment, and most of all they taste better!  If we all increase our local food consumption just think how much less fossil fuel we would be burning and paying for.  The money we use for food will stay right here at home instead of going to the Middle East!  The air will be cleaner, your kids healthier, and most of all we all will be eating the freshest best tasting food there is!  Food grown right here in Kentucky!  If you have any questions about horticulture or local foods call me at the office or send me an email at dennis.morgeson@uky.edu.