Edgy Mama: One kid’s perspective on our food “system”

Eleven-year-old Birke Baehr recently was the youngest of a group of mostly teens who presented their “big” ideas at Asheville’s inaugural TEDxNextGenerationAsheville event.

Birke’s talk was titled, “What’s Wrong with Our Food ‘System’? And How We Can Make a Difference.”

I met Birke beforehand, and because I often write about kids and food and local food production, we had a lot to talk about. Birke has abundant knowledge and lots of passion about these subjects. So, for those of you who didn’t get to hear Birke in person, here’s most of his inspirational talk (I had to cut some of the speech, but the message remains powerful).

Here’s Birke:

“I am really amazed at how easily kids are led to believe all of the advertising and marketing on TV, at public schools and pretty much everywhere else you look. It seems to me like corporations are always trying to get kids to get their parents to buy stuff that really isn’t good for them or the planet.

I must admit I used to be one of them.

I also used to think that all of our food came from these happy little farms where pigs rolled in the mud and cows grazed on grass all day.

I discovered this is not true.

I began to look into this stuff on the Internet, in books, in documentary films and in my travels with my family.

I discovered the dark side of the industrial food system.

Like where it really comes from and how it’s grown, developed, packaged, marketed and eventually ends up in our refrigerators and on our dinner tables.

First, there are the genetically engineered seeds and organisms. That’s when seeds are manipulated in a laboratory to do something not intended by nature, like putting the DNA from a fish into the DNA of a tomato.

I like fish and tomatoes, but this is creepy!

These seeds are planted and then grow. The food they produce has been proven to cause cancer and other problems in lab animals.  People have been eating food produced this way since the 1990s and MOST folks don’t even know they exist!

Did you know rats fed genetically engineered corn developed signs of liver and kidney toxicity? Yet almost all the corn we eat has been altered genetically in some way. And let me tell you, corn is in everything!

They use chemical fertilizers made from petroleum that they put in the dirt to make the plants grow. They do this because they have stripped the soil of nutrients from growing the same crop over and over.

Next, fruits and vegetables are sprayed with more harmful chemicals like pesticides and herbicides to kill weeds and bugs. When it rains, these chemicals seep into the ground or run off into our waterways.

Then they irradiate our food to make it last longer so it can travel thousands of miles from where it’s grown to the supermarkets.

So, I asked myself … how can I help? How can I change these things? This is what I found out. I discovered that there is a movement for a better way. A while back I wanted to be a NFL football player. Then I decided that I would rather be an organic farmer instead. That way I can make a greater impact on the world.

I want to share with you that we all can make a difference by making different choices.
We can buy our food directly from local farmers and our neighbors who we know in real life. Some people say that organic or local food is more expensive. But is it really?

With all these things I’ve been learning about the food “system,” it seems to me we can either pay the farmer or we can pay the hospital. I know which one I would choose.

There are farmers out there like Bill Keener at Sequatchie Cove Farms in Tennessee. Bill’s cows do eat grass, and his pigs do roll in the mud. Sometimes I go to Bill’s farm and volunteer. I get to see up close and personal where the hamburger I eat comes from. I want you to know that I believe kids will eat fresh vegetables and good food if they know more about it. In every community, there are farmers’ markets popping up. Me, my brother and sister actually like eating baked kale chips.

I try to share this with other kids everywhere I go. Not too long ago my uncle said he offered cereal to my 6-year-old cousin. He asked if he wanted Organic Toasted O’s or Frosted Flakes? My cousin told his Dad he wanted the organic cereal because Birke said he shouldn’t eat sparkly cereal.

And that, my friends, is how we can make a difference. One kid at time.

Next time you’re going to buy food, think local, choose organic, and know your farmer. And know your food!”

Thanks, Birke, for sharing your vision — one kid and one kale chip at a time.


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10 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: One kid’s perspective on our food “system”

  1. Birke Baehr

    Love your article…especially the kale chip part!
    We went to a Slow Food event last night and I got to eat pumpkin lasagna and some other awesome stuff. By the way, in my TEDxNGAVL Talk I did some research and changed “petroleum” to “fossil fuels” when it comes to fertilizers. Thanks again for writing this! Let’s Rock this food thing!

  2. farmer piff

    [b]A while back I wanted to be a NFL football player. Then I decided that I would rather be an organic farmer instead[/b]

    A noble if economically limiting career choice.

  3. Annie Napalm

    We can fix that for the print version, Birke.

    Noble indeed, FP.

  4. Birke Baehr

    @FP…Joel Salatin’s doing pretty good economically besides that as a farmer you always have good food…

  5. Piffy!

    LOL. “pretty good” after years and years of very, very hard work with very small returns.

    MY buddy grossed 1,000 bucks last week. All told, that mighta been 50 bucks profit.

  6. Birke Baehr

    I guess if you are trying to discourage me from doing something that I feel called to do because I gotta work really hard to get it and there isn’t a lot of profit in it. It’s not gonna work.
    Maybe if more folks quit buying the processed junk the small local farmers might make out better. It’s up to us to turn this thing around.

  7. Piffy!

    I’m not trying to discourage you. Just give you some realistic expectations.

    There’s a reason there are far more students of agriculture than there are actual farmers.

    The best of luck to you, for sure–it’s a hard row to till, but one that will be infinately rewarding, even if some winter’s all you can eat are taters and venison (which can get tedious, trust me).


  8. Imladris Farm

    Thanks for a great presentation, Birke!

    And I think both you and FP are in the right. There’s not much money to be made here. It’s hard work, long hours, and often involves days of tasks no more entertaining than weeding for hours on end. At best you can hope to keep a roof over your family’s head and food in the cabinets. And if that scares/discourages you, Farmer Piff is doing you a favor by showing you the reality and helping you face it. Joel is indeed doing well for himself, but there are a lot extraneous factors out there, not the smallest of which is that a huge portion of his income comes from his speaking engagements ($4000-$7000 plus expenses, per engagement, and he speaks a lot!). Is that an integral part of his farm, and is it a valid way to bring in income? Oh, Heck yeah! Can each of us expect to tap that resource? Not even a few of us.

    Having said that, this life offers something else in return for your time. I can tell you what that something else is for me, but I think I’ve found it offers everyone something different. If you find yourself happy in this lifestyle, the money becomes a lesser issue…and if you don’t, all the money in the world won’t help – grin!

    Good luck, and know that we’re pulling for you!


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