BEFORE WE TALK ABOUT AGRICULTURE AND FOOD, a little golf trivia: At which tournament did Tiger Woods make his professional debut?

The answer is the Greater Milwaukee Open, a one-time PGA tour stop that hasn’t been called by that name or its acronym since 2003 – or any other name since 2009.

Imagine my surprise then when I casually asked a non-aggie, non-foodie friend what the acronym, GMO, stood for and she immediately responded, “Greater Milwaukee Open.”

OK, anything else?

Later that day, the two of us shared a meal with several more non-aggie, non-foodie friends who had made their annual trek from the Chicago suburbs to a lake cabin in central Wisconsin.

We enjoyed typical summer fare: burgers, brats, slaw, potato salad, watermelon, cantaloupe, several bags of chips, homemade salsa and guacamole, maybe some carrot sticks and kale – who even remembers?

What I do remember is the dinner conversation.

Friend from Suburbs: Ever wonder what the stuff that isn’t corn is?

Me: What do you mean?

Friend from Suburbs: When we drove up here through the country, we were trying to decide what the stuff that isn’t corn is.

Me: I’m guessing soybeans.

Friend from Suburbs: Oh, that’s a lot of tofu.

Now my point is not to ridicule these friends for not knowing that GMO is an acronym for genetically modified organism or that it would indeed be a lot of tofu if that’s where all those beans were bound.

If anyone deserves to be embarrassed, it’s me. I’ve had ample occasion with each of these friends to share what I know. And for whatever reason, the conversation always went elsewhere.

At a minimum, I should have shared (in my own words, of course) a few basics from gmoanswers.com:

  1. A GMO is a plant developed by placing a copy of a desired gene or section of genetic material from one plant or organism into another plant.
  2. The only GMOs commercially available in the U.S. are soybeans, field and sweet corn, papaya (who knew?), canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets and summer squash.
  3. These eight GMO crops are created to improve insect resistance, drought resistance, herbicide tolerance, disease resistance and enhanced nutritional content

The mission of this blog is to encourage all of us – you, me, my co-workers and everyone else who works in agriculture and food – to help this precious, precarious system succeed in every way we can.

We need to study tirelessly what we don’t know – and share earnestly what we do. By acknowledging the essential role science and technology must have in our food futures, we can make sure an increasing number of the 4.2 million Google results for the search term, “GMO Labeling,” lead to substantive, thoughtful discussion and constructive debate.

Taking a close look at our recent research on consumer perceptions of GMOs is one small way to learn more. So is checking out our new blog regularly. We see State of the Plate as a conversation pivot point on the latest issues.

At Charleston|Orwig, our marching orders are clear: Every day, we want to contribute to the success of organizations that contribute to the success of our precious, precarious food system.

We see this as exciting, challenging and incredibly important work. Because the ability to enjoy summer spreads at lake cabins in central Wisconsin will never be a sure thing.