Redshirting Raises the Bar For All

In colleRedshirtingge sports, redshirting is the practice of holding back a student athlete from actual competition in order to preserve an additional year of eligibility while his or her skills improve.  In everyday life, redshirting kindergarten aged children has become an increasingly common practice among middle-class parents as they attempt to give little Jacob a competitive edge over his 5 year old peers.

Malcom Gladwell, in his book “Outliers” makes a case for this practice citing the superior development and performance of Canadian Hockey players throughout their career whose birthdays occurred in the first four months of the year versus those born in the last eight months.  He contends that because the cutoff age in youth hockey is almost always January 1, the older, more physically developed players tend to excel, which leads to more all-star team selections, better coaching, better opportunities, and so on.  Further, he documents this fact with an example where 72 percent of the roster of the 2007 Medicine Hat Tigers had birthdays in the first four months of the year.  He goes on to provide similar examples in baseball and the results appear to be consistent with those found in hockey.

As the redshirting practice proliferates, it seems that it is having the effect of just raising the bar for everyone, often at the expense of the younger ones that struggle to compete with their older classmates. Then there is the unintended consequence of having the older, more physically and mentally developed child playing down to the level of the younger ones. I have personally witnessed this over and over as a coach in organized youth sports.

Moreover, it seems that the overall stress level of young middle-class families has been elevated, due in large part, to overscheduling of their kid’s activities. The term “Soccer Mom” was born in the 1996 presidential election. It was coined by the Clinton campaign to describe the overburdened, working, middle-class, minivan driving moms.  This high octane activity level of activity has now progressed to the whole family while reducing quality family time – a time when the whole family gets together at the dinner table every evening to communicate with each other. While the marvels of technology now allow us to be always available and plugged in, text messaging has now taken the place of face to face conversations.

The pressure put on our children and grandchildren to excel should be carefully evaluated.  All too often, it is the parent’s interests and agendas that are forced upon the kids, while they dismiss the true talents and interests of the child. Not every 12 year old boy will be an all-star shortstop or a world class hockey player. We should work harder to recognize and understand where our kid’s true abilities and interests lie so that we can help channel them in the right direction.  In the process, we just may just get to know them better and even have an actual conversation from time to time.

One thing I have learned over the years with my two sons and five grandsons is that each has their own special set of skills and interests, and one size does not fit all. You learn these things as a grandparent that you were too busy to recognize as a parent.

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A brief history of food safety

Valley Voice, Feb. 25:

Recently, an article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, “Fresh Ingredients Came Back to Haunt Chipotle.”  Since going public in 2006, Chipotle has built a near cult following with its fresh fare burritos trumpeting natural ingredients and a commitment to purchase locally grown produce.  The cause of the E. coli outbreak last November that sickened 55 people remains a mystery.

This is neither an indictment on Chipotle or locally grown produce but rather a discussion of food-safety as it applies to the fresh produce supply chain.  After spending over 40 years in the fresh fruit and vegetable industry at the farming and distribution levels, I have witnessed and participated in nothing short of a quantum leap in industry practices.

One catalyst that transformed food safety practices at the farm, distribution, and retail levels was the 2006 E. coli outbreak that was traced to spinach grown and packed in California’s Salinas Valley. I will never forget that October day when the doorway to my office was darkened by two federal agents – one from the FDA and the other from the FBI. I was asked to step away from my computer and our entire office complex was subsequently placed on lockdown.

MICHAEL GERSON: The problem with Chipotle’s anti-GMO stance

The purpose of the joint FDA/FBI raid was to search for a smoking gun or any evidence of complicity to knowledge of the contaminated product and failure to act. Later in the day, the feds were convinced that our firm had not grown or handled any spinach during the period in question.  It seems that we were singled out because our firm provided food-safety guidelines and record retention services to other growers in the area that would otherwise be unable to effectively organize such a program.

As it turned out, the best guess as to the cause of the outbreak was wild pigs running through manure at a cattle ranch and then into a spinach field.

That incident was the dawn of new initiatives in food safety.  Efforts were made to reduce animal intrusion and increase sampling of product prior to and post harvest. The most notable initiative was called the Produce Traceability Initiative, or PTI.  The initiative was launched with compliance milestones intended to provide the ability to trace all fresh produce from retail back to a specific point of origin, including the farm, the field, the grower, the harvest date and so on. In fact, our firm developed the technology to trace a single head of romaine lettuce back to a 100 square feet of a field using GPS technology at the harvest point.

A whole new industry was created on the back of this initiative.  Food-safety firms popped up much like the dotcom boom 15 years ago. They eventually consolidated and we were left with two or three. The final milestone was for retailers to begin scanning bar codes on cases at arrival to their distribution centers. This never happened.  The complexity of the produce supply chain simply thwarted that final phase from being universally adopted.

Today, the price of admission for a grower to service a retail grocery chain is to have a fully staffed food safety department. This comes at a significant expense and can conservatively add 2 percent to 5 percent to the cost of product. This is a burden that many independent small farmers simply cannot afford.