This is the actual email I wrote to Theo Fleury after he extended the invitation to me to email him to further discuss some issues he had with conventional agriculture, namely pesticides and Monsanto. He has since withdrawn his post from Facebook.
Dear Mr. Fleury,
Thank you for encouraging me to email you after our conversations on Twitter, I hope that this email finds you well and that you’ll be encouraged to reply back to me.
My name is Sarah and I’m a Registered Nurse, city-girl-turned farm wife and mom of two young boys. I met my future husband at the University of Alberta during my last year of nursing and his first year of Crop Sciences in the agriculture program. We joke to this day that the only way a die hard Edmonton Oiler’s fan like me and a die hard Calgary Flames fan like him ended up sticking out our relationship was because we met during the lock out of 2004. My husband admired you growing up, you were a hero of his, he’s read your book and we were both surprised to see your Facebook post today stating “I support organic ways of growing food. Do the research and you’ll find out how important these type of discoveries will help save the planet.” We fully embrace and encourage consumers to exercise their choices to purchase any kind of food they like, but unfortunately conventional methods in agriculture are highly vilified in our culture today, especially on social media. Since you have encouraged your Facebook fans to “do the research”, I wanted to share with you that I have not conducted studies personally myself, but I have done a lot of reading on the subject and trust that scientific consensus tells us that there is no one perfect production method in agriculture. This is why farmers have a variety of them to choose from, including organic. The evidence isn’t 100% clear on the “best” method, but there are a lot of good practices in both conventional and organic agriculture to help farm sustainably.
My husband is a 4th generation farmer, farming with his dad and our brother-in-law on >6000 acres of land in the Strathmore/Drumheller area in Wheatland County, Alberta. On our farm we raise wheat, canola and yellow peas and use a variety of tools on our farm. When I married into the farm 7 years ago, I didn’t really know much of anything, even though I’m only 1 generation removed from the farm, whereas most Canadians are now 3+ generations removed from the farm. I’ve had a blog for over 5 years now, and for the last 2 years I’ve focused a lot on sharing with my readers what we do on our farm. We have an open door policy and strive to share with anyone who wants to see, what exactly we do on our farm and why we do it. My husband is an avid video-taker and has shared our yearly growing season videos on YouTube for the world to see. I continue to use my social media platforms, as I did today, to reach out to people to chat about our passion, our livelihood—agriculture. There are a lot of myths and misinformation circulating online regarding what we do and how we do it for a living, and it is one of my goals as an advocate for agriculture to debunk those claims. As farmer Greg Peterson said “It is quite frustrating as a farmer to be accused of providing anything but safe and healthy food. If we knew that we weren’t, we would change our methods.”
Through our brief chats on Twitter, I am under the impression that you are skeptical of the pesticides that farmers like us use on our farm and corporations like Monsanto. Monsanto freely admits that they did a poor job of communicating their advances in biotechnology in agriculture, and unfortunately now they are playing catch up. Farmers have plenty of choices of where to buy their seeds and chemicals from, Monsanto is one of many brands to choose from. As I mentioned to you on Twitter, one of the biggest myths about agriculture of all time is the use of pesticides in organic farming. Organic farmers do have many organic-approved chemicals to use on their crops, and a lot of plants naturally produce a lot of their own pesticides as a defense mechanism. It is up to the individual farmer to be the best steward of their land and to use these chemicals and technologies responsibly.
I hope that you would take this opportunity to reply to my email so I could answer any questions you may have for me and my husband, and if we don’t know the answer we can easily connect you with a plethora of experts in the industry. We would love to invite you out and give you a tour of our farm, we are an hour east of Calgary. I also highly recommend this video by fellow Albertan and agronomist Rob Saik, I think you will find it very informative, concise and it addresses some issues I saw you express about Monsanto. If you so choose, you can get in touch with some of our friends in the agriculture and agri-business industry, they have an open-door policy as well and would love to chat with you about any agriculture concerns you have. When we went on vacation this past January we were invited to tour their Monsanto farm and research facility, and we learned a lot from down to earth people creating innovative solutions to complex issues.
Dr. Cami Ryan, Social Sciences Lead, Monsanto Canada
Trish Jordan, Public Industry & Affairs Director, Monsanto Canada
Mark Wood, Multi-Season Program Lead, Monsanto Maui
Dr. Kevin Folta, Public Plant Scientist, University of Florida
And now I update this letter with my post-script…
P.S. I know it’s only been 2 days since I wrote that email and I imagine you to be a pretty busy guy, but I know you have responded to at least one person’s email since yesterday(a friend of mine), so I’m going out on a limb and assuming that you don’t plan on writing me back. I am not always the quickest to respond to my emails either, so if this is not the case, I apologize in my assumption and please feel free to write to me. I was very discouraged to see that you blocked me on Twitter yesterday, after I reached out to you to ask you what it was about conventional agriculture you have concerns with. You responded with “I don’t like monopolies like Monsato [Monsanto]”. When some fellow agriculture friends joined the conversation and asked you to clarify what Monsanto has a monopoly on, you replied “$16 billion reasons“. Monsanto is one of many companies farmers can choose to buy from, as I already stated, and an interesting fact is that Whole Foods is almost right on par with earnings to Monsanto. You then stated to my husband that you “…just want the world to be its best self that’s all.”
I can appreciate that, and as I already stated in my letter, we want to be the best stewards of our land as possible. My husband always says he wants to leave the land in better condition than he found it in. I see that you have been invited to meet with farmers in Manitoba on your book tour, and even if you never respond to me, I genuinely hope that you will take up this offer to connect with real farmers (both organic and conventional) to get the truth about the misconceptions that you have shared recently. You are a self-proclaimed motivational speaker, your tagline on your website is “To help as many people get to where they need to go“, so I’m encouraging you to be open and let farmers help you get to where you need to go with some truth about our agriculture industry.
You also have an honourary doctorate in science from the University of Guelph, and I hope that you will honour what it stands for and that you will seek the truth and follow what science has to say about conventional and organic farming. I know this doctorate is in honour of your work for mental health awareness and advocacy in Canada, and I commend you for that. I lost my father to alcoholism and that disease has significant mental health components to it, your ability to share your story with so many brings light to the seriousness of mental illness. You are admired by numerous fans, you have done so much good in the community, so once again—I truly hope you want to pursue some more information from the experts in agriculture and that the excitement you displayed on Twitter was not sarcasm. I noted on Twitter from many people in our conversation, as my husband said, that their passion comes off a bit strong at times. There is so much negativity towards farmers these days, it’s hard not to get defensive.
You did somewhat respond after a lot of back-and-forth on Twitter last night (which had nothing to do with anything I said to you) with this on Facebook:
If you are doing the right thing and have all the science to back up your claims than there is no need for you to defend what you do!!! I find if you need to defend what you do then maybe there’s more to it if you need to defend.
In all honesty I’m still confused as to how this whole ordeal has gone down, but again I state that unfortunately (not only to you), farmers do have to ‘defend’ what we do to the public, there is a huge amount of mistrust from consumers. Your statement yesterday of “By 2025 every second kid born into the world will has some sort of autism because of chemicals in our foods” is viewed as one of the many ‘attacks’ farmers see on agriculture. Trust me, I do not like playing defence, I would much rather share our story and ask questions to open dialogue, which is what I attempted to do with you. Your quote above alludes to the fact that we might have something to hide, so this is why we feel the need to defend what we do. Please correct me if I’m wrong. To be fair, mental health is important to you so you advocate for it, agriculture is of great importance to me, so I advocate for it and aim to dispel myths that I see, l like the few you have shared.
We want to share with the world what we do, and we’d love for you to be a part of that.