Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food

If you read the foodie blogs, or follow the food debates, it doesn’t take long to find someone who doesn’t want you to eat something.  Whether their reasons are passionate, personal or evidence–based, the volume and clutter of “don’t eat” messages sometimes are enough to drive even the most open-minded food consumer to the point of foodie exhaustion.

There are compelling reasons, including health, fitness, social responsibility and economic development to change things about the way we eat. But despite the number of clamoring voices for change, the reality is the typical family is not likely to completely reinvent their diet or buying habits. There are ways to make incremental changes that are important to you.

Do you know who brought you this bounty?

I’m offering a calmer message, and that is to eat smarter, and one of the easiest ways to eat smarter is talk to the people who grow your food. Vegetarian or meat lover, exotic chef or locavore, the common ground we all share is that by knowing where our food comes from, we can make more informed choices.

First, some background: Who are the people who sell us most of the food we prepare at home? There are 36,000 supermarkets in the United States, and they employ an amazing 3.4 million workers. The typical supermarket has 38,718 products.

38,718 products. No wonder we’re confused about what to eat.

There is no easy way to track the origins of 38,000 products. There is a bit of hope and it comes from a USDA program called “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.” The government, with its love of acronyms, calls this “KYF2.” This program is designed to strengthen the connection between consumers and producers. By shopping at a farmers market, participating in a CSA, or buying direct from a farm gate, it gives you the beginning of understanding about what it takes to grow and raise the foods you like to eat.

For example, the KYF2 website shares these findings:

  • The number of farmers markets has more than tripled in the past 15 years, and there are now more than 7,175 around the country;
  • In 1986 there were two community supported agriculture operations, and today there are more than 4,000;
  • There are farm-to-school programs in 48 states, totaling more than 2,200 and up from two in 1996;
  • All 50 states in the U.S. have agricultural branding programs, such as “Jersey Fresh” or “Simply Kansas”;
  • As governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack started one of the first food policy councils; today there are over 100 food policy councils;
  • And the National Restaurant Association declared “locally sourced meats and seafood” and “locally grown produce” as the top two trends for 2011.

The AG Census reports that direct-to-retail and local foods sales conservatively added up to $8 billion in 2007. That is more than our total U.S. sales of cotton and rice. Direct and local sales have being a significant force in agriculture – and the KYF2 program is making it easier for us to find those farmers.

So this year, instead of reinventing your entire food life, make a small change, choose a food or group of foods and get to Know Your Farmer.

Disclaimer: This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Fritz Nordengren, MPH

Fritz Nordegren was an Assistant Professor at DMU from 2007-2014. He is an award-winning documentary storyteller and digital content strategist.

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