Kim’s Column

10 Things I Learned While In China

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I recently had the incredible opportunity to be part of the Adisseo International Dairy Workshop in Beijing, China.  It was unforgettable and I wanted to share some pictures and the top ten things I learned while I was there. Enjoy!

#1.  It is impossible to imagine the magnitude of a city spanning 16,800 km, filled with 22 million people. You have to see it to believe it. The Beijing skyline appears to go on for infinity!

There are over 5 million cars and 10 million bikes…and very few traffic accidents. Everyone just yields to whomever is biggest and you drive with one hand on your horn.  It is common to have 5 lanes of traffic driving in 3 marked lanes…I was so thankful for a driver because the traffic stressed me out (a lot…)

#2. The Great Wall is truly something to see. However, I thought our little van was going to drive up to the wall, we’d jump out, take a picture or two, and head to the souvenir shop. It really was more like…drive to the base of the mountain and hike for two hours up the Great Wall to get to the top of the Juyoung Pass. I may have been in a sundress and cute shoes (not exactly suitable for hiking), but I made it!  And the view was worth it…

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#3. I am thankful for a skill acquired early in life while milking cows in our old tie stall barn with a gutter, and for all of the practice I have had just off many snowmobile trails in the Northwoods of Wisconsin…toilets are a luxury and something I appreciate more now!

#4.  Don’t ever take for granted the blue sky. Not everyone gets to see it as frequently as you might…

#5. Say cheese!  When your picture gets taken a thousand times a day, it’s difficult to not feel like a celebrity. Ha! Apparently seeing a 6-foot-tall blonde woman merits a requested photo, a secret photo, a photo bomb or paired selfie. I should have requested 10 RMB per photo. Check out the lenses pointed my way in the picture…most of my pictures have this common theme!  I am a generally happy person, but even my cheeks started to hurt…

#6.  Cold beverages are a treat. Most beverages served in northern China were room temperature or warm..from bottled water and warm milk to hot tea. Even the dairy case in the grocery store was limited in cold products. There were 5 little half pint bottles of milk and the rest was drinkable yogurt type things and kefir. Most of the milk was non-refrigerated boxed UHT (ultra-high temperature processed) milk.

#7.  “Don’t knock it ’till you try it” when it comes to food! The culture of food in China is deeply rooted in tradition and I have to admit that it all tasted delicious! From rumen, eel and squid, to seaweed, duck and sparrow. My favorite meal was all things lamb (shocker) and sticky rice (rice with a fruit of some sort in the middle, wrapped and steamed in a corn husk).

#8. Even after a 7,000 mile plane ride, you cannot escape mis-leading food labels at the grocery store. I loved seeing all the unique things at the grocery store and talking to shoppers there. (My favorite was the non-GMO sunflower oil and non-GMO peanut oil…when there are no GMO sunflowers or peanuts…)

#9. Agriculture EVERYWHERE has a common message of continual improvements over time in how they care for their animals and the land.  Each farmer I met was excited to share their new ideas and new changes and updates on their farms…from improving forage quality to new and improved manure handling systems. I loved seeing my favorite Bonnie Mohr print (“Attitude is Everything”) in a farmer’s office halfway around the world…

#10.  Old and new, traditional and modern, are woven together at every intersection. From the everyday hints of Communism to brand new highways with sheep grazing in the meridian while a shepherd watches over them. But by far, the BEST part of the visit was the people I got to meet along the way.

Click on a photo to enlarge.

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Is There a Right or Wrong Way to Produce Sustainable Food?

Working as a cow nutritionist, I had the benefit of visiting hundreds of farms of all types and sizes and seeing with my own eyes all methods of farming – big, small, conventional, organic, and every combination in between.

Even though each farm I have visited is unique, they all have one important characteristic in common – sustainability is a top priority. Producing a sustainable supply of food is an ongoing mission in agriculture, not an endpoint. Farmers are continually improving how they care for animals and the land to make more food with fewer resources. Continual improvements on farms are part of everyday business.

Just as consumers have choices, farmers do as well, and there is no one-size-fits-all way to grow food. Through experience and continually learning and improving, farmers are the true experts on which tools, technology and management works best on their individual farms.

It’s amazing how much agriculture has changed and improved since my grandpa was farming 60 years ago. Today, diets for livestock on individual farms are balanced for more than 60 different nutrients. I say this often – cows eat better than most people!

According to this study, the U.S. dairy industry, through improvements in nutrition, genetics and overall animal care, produces 60 percent more milk than it did in 1944, using 16.4 million fewer cows. They also:

  • Use 65 percent less water
  • 78 percent less feed
  • 90 percent less land

In my mind, farmers are the people who define true sustainability. Not only have they been practicing it for years, but they are continually looking for ways they can get better. I encourage everyone to visit a modern farm because there are so many new and exciting improvements to see. Let me know if you’re interested – my passenger seat is always open.