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Protecting our food – and what that means for our plates

In a perfect world no farmer would use any chemicals. But because there are insects, weeds and diseases, our crops need protection. So, farmers use different methods to combat those pests and there are tradeoffs with each choice.

Three different perspectives. Three different practices. A Chicago mom explores firsthand. And what that means to you.

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Andrew Bowman


My farm is roughly the size of 1,300 football fields. As I see it, I’m the steward of those acres. I’m doing my best to grow the most from these acres in a sustainable way. For me it’s all about growing high-quality products that feed my family and yours.

Standing in my way every day are weeds and pests that feed on my crops. For a farm my size and with the crops we grow, it’s not practical to keep up with the weeds or insects by hand. I use herbicides and insecticides to protect my crops, but only those that are proven safe and only in the smallest amount needed to be effective.
Some folks have misperceptions about chemical crop protectants. Here’s what I want you to know about my chemical use:
  • The only chemicals I use have been proven safe by the FDA, the USDA, and the EPA after rigorous testing.
  • Before applying chemicals, the applicator must be certified for proper use and application.
  • Today’s chemicals are precise, effective and leave virtually no residue on the soil, water or crop – that’s because they are designed to break down after they accomplish their job and become inactive.
  • That’s why I’m confident I can walk through a sprayed field just days or even 72 hours later, and the products I harvest are safe to eat.
I’m a farmer. But I’m also a father. So, as I grow crops, my family’s health is the standard I weigh everything against. If it’s not good enough for my wife and 3-year-old son, then it isn’t good enough to be on your table either.

Andrew Bowman

"So, as I grow crops, my family’s health is the standard I weigh everything against."

Andrew Bowman

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When I use agricultural chemicals, I’m using products that are approved by the FDA, the USDA, and EPA. I follow strict guidelines -- to the letter. I hope every homeowner treating their lawn reads the directions and follows them as closely as I do.

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Genevieve O'Keefe


When I had a chance to talk with farmers about how chemicals are used, I came away with a better understanding – less fear about my food:

  • Both conventional and organic farmers may use chemicals to get the highest yield possible.
  • Farmers are required to attend trainings and be certified to apply any chemical.
  • GPS technology allows farmers to spray precisely, where needed, depending on weed levels.
  • 95% of what they spray is water.

Genevieve O'Keefe

"When I had a chance to talk to farmers about chemicals - I came away with a better understanding."

Genevieve O'Keefe

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One of the problems with the marketplace today is that we don’t know what we’re supposed to be afraid of, so we’re afraid of everything. So I toured a research lab to see GMOs for myself.

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A funny thing — the agricultural community has a language all its own, and it’s not unlike the rest of us when we get together with our own tribes.

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Paul Taylor


Because most of the sweet corn grown is still non-GMO due to consumer demand, we have to, unfortunately, resort to putting more insecticides on those plants to protect them from certain insects:

  • Beetles will eat the silks off of the corn, which means that ear is unable to pollinate and leaves us with bare cobs.
  • Rootworms will lay their larvae on the stalks to feed off of the roots.
  • Earworms will get into the husk and eat the end of the cob.

Once we assess the impact that the pest is having on our crop, we may spray the corn with an insecticide to control the pests and protect the plant.

Paul Taylor

"One of the best aspects of farming is taking both full responsibility and full pride in whatever happens out in my fields."

Paul Taylor

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America’s corn farmers, like Taylor, are committed to sustainable and innovative uses of corn for a better future, both for the environment and their families and communities.

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Ruth Zeldenrust


Produce plants with holes in the leaves due to pests

My garden is what you would call “supersized,” with 32 acres of fresh produce harvested from early summer to fall. We’re not certified organic, but use many of the same farming practices like crop rotation. And just because it’s marked organic, doesn’t mean pesticides aren’t used. Rest assured that everything we grow and sell is safe, high-quality, nutritious and most important: fresh from our fields.

  • For weeds, we cultivate (think of a garden hoe, but larger) and pull weeds by hand.
  • For bugs, I’d like for all my produce to be pesticide free. If I have to spot treat something, I label it and tell my customers. Like other farmers, I like to catch things early.
  • If I see white moths on the cabbage, a lifetime of experience tells me I have to get in there and get after them quickly because if I don’t, they lay eggs, eggs turn into worms and the worms poop. And no one wants to eat that, including me.
  • To kill the pests, I use Bt, an allowable pesticide for organic farms, and a naturally occurring bacterium that causes them to die after they ingest it.

Ruth Zeldenrust

"There are no mechanical harvesters on our farm, only people who handpick our produce daily."

Ruth Zeldenrust

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