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LANSING, MI -- How can farmers, food processors and retail chains work collaboratively to provide a platform of discussion revolving around Michigan's food system? The answer is simple: work with the Michigan Ag Council to present an experience for stakeholders in today's food industry.

On May 6, the Michigan Ag Council collaborated with the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee, United Soybean Board and Michigan Beef Industry Commission to host a "Pasture to Plate" tour for 11 dietitians, bloggers and chefs. The tour highlights included a beef and sheep farm, a cattle feedlot, a meat processing and packaging facility, a grocery store and a diverse beef menu restaurant dining experience.

"I learned so much," one participant said enthusiastically. "I think the most beneficial thing I learned was why animals are fed what they are fed and that antibiotics are used mainly to keep animals healthy. I have so much more faith in farmers and the food system in general now. I also learned a bit about soy and that I don't have to be worried about GMOs."

Dietitian Kristy Hegner, MPH, RD, who blogs at Chocolate Slopes, wrote after the tour, "I'm actually a little surprised that this type of tour was not included in my dietetics program. I may need to recommend it – it was such as awesome experience!" Among her comments following the tour:

• Farmers are very transparent. We need to remember that they are just as concerned about the cows' welfare/what they are fed/what medicine is given since they eat the same food as the rest of us.

• 98% of farms in the United States are family-owned farms.

• Food safety is of the utmost importance in every stage of the food chain.

"I gained an even greater appreciation and admiration for farmers and the hard work they put in every single day through rain/snow/sleet/hail/sickness," wrote Hegner. "No matter what, they have work to be done and there are no days off. One of the farmers stated, 'they eat before we eat,' which really shows the level of care they provide to their animals."

Herb Miller, a director of the United Soybean Board who grows soybeans and feeds cattle near Niles, Michigan, observed the tour.

"As a farmer I'm pretty amazed at how little people know about modern agriculture," he said. "It was an opportunity for the few who attended to see the complete beef production cycle in a few hours. I'd like to see more people have this opportunity. I think everyone came away with a better understanding of where their food comes from. Most people don't have a lot of knowledge of practices that we're using, practices that are necessary to feed the world," Miller continued. "The more people are exposed to agriculture and realize that farmers are interested in providing a high quality product that is produced safely and humanely, the better off we will all be."

Mary Kelpinski, president of the Michigan Ag Council, explained, "Our goal for these tours is to connect bloggers, chefs and other food stakeholders directly with farmers, dietitians, veterinarians and other agribusiness professionals to address questions relating to the food system. This includes animal care and other farming practices, food safety, product branding and labeling, health, nutrition and related topics. The council serves as a hub of available resources relating to Michigan food and agriculture."

For more information, visit www.michiganagriculture.com or contact Elaine Bristol at 517.679.5573 or elaine@miagcouncil.org.

For information about soybean checkoff results, call 989.652.3294 or visit www.michigansoybean.org.

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