How did you first get into farming?
RITA: Ever since I can remember, I was helping out on my family farm in some way. It wasn’t until my second year in college that I realized how big of an opportunity it really was to be able to work full-time on my own family farm.
What kind of crops do you grow, and why is Michigan such a good location?
RITA: Across 4,000 acres I grow corn, soybeans, dry-edible navy and black beans, sugar beets and soft white winter wheat. In the thumb of Michigan*, we have great soil to grow these crops and the climate is in our favor – we get enough moisture and just the right temperatures.
How long have you been a supplier for Kellogg’s?
RITA: I believe our wheat and sugar have been used in Kellogg’s products for as long as we’ve been farming because the millers we work with supply directly to Kellogg.
What does sustainability mean to you and your farm?
RITA: To me, sustainability means that we’ll still be farming in 40 years. It means creating an opportunity for my kids to become next-generation farmers, as well as my grandkids. It means not only taking care of the land, but leaving it in better condition than when I started working it. And it means increasing soil health to produce safe crops for years to come. Our farm must grow more food with fewer resources to feed the increasing population, so our job is to find ways to raise abundant, healthy crops that are safe for feeding our family and families around the world.
Can you tell us more about the Kellogg’s Origins Great Lakes Wheat Program?
RITA: Kellogg started the program in 2015 with its partners, Star of the West Milling Company and Syngenta, to track continuous improvement in sustainable farming practices in the Saginaw Bay region of Michigan. Farmers are already using a lot of practices that help take care of the environment. By documenting those improvements with the help of its partners, Kellogg can make sure that all 10 of its priority ingredients – including wheat – are responsibly sourced.
What specific efforts does it take to get something from farm to table, responsibly?
RITA: We take great care in producing quality food. Everything that’s done in the field is recorded, so we know exactly what happens to all the food we grow. Our farm is also verified by the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program for meeting standards to implement environmentally sound practices.
How can people be certain that the grains they’re consuming are safe? What is your stance on the use of pesticides and fertilizers?
RITA: America has one of the safest food supplies in the world. Everything farmers do has been tested and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. We scout our fields regularly so we know when there is a problem, and sample our soil to identify what nutrients are needed and where. We do use pesticides and fertilizers on our farm because without them, our crops would be full of diseases – making them unsafe for people to eat. But we only use pesticides when needed. For instance, if there are diseases, insects or weeds causing issues.
What unique challenges do women farmers face?
RITA: After marrying a farmer, my biggest challenge has been juggling farming while trying to maintain our household. We can get very busy during the planting and harvest seasons – and working 80 hours a week while keeping up with housework is a tough job. But in the end, farming is my passion.
*Those familiar with Michigan may refer to it as the Mitten State. The Thumb is the pronounced peninsula, located right where you’d expect if you hold out your left hand in front of you.
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