Getting to know your food before the holidays

There is one thing in our lives that is always there; everywhere, every day, in one form or another. That is food.

America is the melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities. Consequently, it is a melting pot of recipes as well. 

This week, when we sit around the Thanksgiving table taking in that aroma of spices and herbs, I hope we see more than just food.

It is time to see beyond the array of dishes and see the path that the food before us traveled. It is time to see the path from the farm to the fork.

Harvesting, storage, processing, packaging, sales and consumption are the steppingstones of food production.

There is one crop in particular that is harvested in every single state in America. It is the golden treasure known as corn. This will be our blue print for the 6 Steps.

Now, let us depart on our adventure into the production cycle of corn… from the farm, to your fork.

The fun begins with harvesting! Ninety-five percent of all corn farms are family owned. This means that family and extended family are managing the harvest and storage of the crop.

When corn reaches full maturity in the fall, it will be harvested with a grain combine. The ears are pulled away, while the stalks are left to provide nutrients for the soil and to prevent erosion (erosion rates have decreased by 48 percent since 1982).

After harvest, corn enters into a delicate stage. If storage levels are inefficient, the crop runs the risk of high aflatoxin levels.

Aflatoxin is a dangerous fungus that is toxic to humans and other animals. Any crop displaying concentrations more than 20 parts per billion will be deemed dangerous and withdrawn from the market.

In order to combat the risk of aflatoxin development, corn needs to be stored at a moisture level of 20-23 percent. It can also be minimized through early detection and prevention of certain pest species that are known to increase the crop’s vulnerability to the fungus.

Processing is similar to an ear of corn going to apply for a job. Depending upon the corn’s quality, it will be processed into a product that uses its potential to the fullest efficiency.

Corn is used for more than 4,200 products in today’s society — livestock feed, ethanol, cornbread, soda, even latex paint and diapers. Then of course, there is corn on the cob, corn-based casseroles, cornmeal and many others.

In 2008, more than 49 percent of all corn produced was utilized as livestock feed. With the average kernels on a corn ear equaling 800, and approximately 72,800 kernels in a bushel of corn, that’s a lot of livestock feed.

Packaging and sales of the corn are just like getting it dressed up for an interview. Except now the people looking to hire are the consumers.

Packaging is all about what the product is going to be used for. Feed corn will be packaged differently from corn used in cooking or cornmeal. Sales are where things like labeling come into play.

In your local market, pay close attention to Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). This is very important, because many out-of-season crops are imported. The food safety standards between nations often have a very strong difference and quality can never be 100 percent guaranteed.

With corn, this is usually not a dilemma, since corn is a main staple crop and grown throughout the United States.

Another interesting fact about sales: as of 2013, for every $1 gained from the sale of an agricultural product, $2.45 is generated elsewhere in the American economy.

Imagine this: $100,000 of corn sold would generate $245,000 in the economy. With the working class feeling the dwindling weight of its wallets, every dollar pumped into our economy is truly needed.

The final stop on our journey from farm to fork is consumption. As you sit around your Thanksgiving tables, with your family all around you; with those you hold dear by your side and the football game lighting up the TV screen, breathe in deeply the aromas around you and think about the path that your food took to get to you.

Think about the harvest, the storage, the processing, the packaging, the sales and the consumption. Also remember to thank your local farmer.

Happy Thanksgiving!

About the author

Montanna Tarkington was raised in Tulare County by her grandparents. She is pursuing a degree in agriculture business. Her areas of expertise are gun rights and agriculture.