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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Do you know where your food comes from?


I've been thinking about this post for a while, ruminating over it really.  (grass based farming pun intended)




{Let me first issue this disclaimer:
I grew up on a conventional farm.  I have tank mixed chemicals.  I have dug summer fallow.  I have fed feedlot calves.  I don't do those things anymore.}


There is a call to action uniting all aspects of the industrial agriculture complex.  The call “Consumers have to understand where their food comes from.”  They are on an education mission.  I wholeheartedly support this call.  (You know, being the fan of learning that I am.) 
I’ll go one step further.  I believe consumers have the RIGHT to know where their food comes from AND be able to inspect and see it first-hand.  To be an active participant in the process of feeding themselves.  
I want to know where my food comes from.  Not just some nameless, faceless "farm" out there somewhere.  But to be able to put a face, a name, a place to my food.  To know how it was grown, by whom.  I don't want to be sold via a commercial as to the wholesomeness of my food.
We don't have TV in our house, so when I travel I like to see what's out there regarding food.  Imagine my laughter when I saw a popular food processing company advertising a potpie including "vegetables from a farm" while the image on the screen was a mom strolling through the vegetable patch carrying a wicker basket and wearing an apron.  (Here's how I know it was just for the camera:  Because if you were a real mom picking vegetables, you would have ditched the basket and just picked them into your apron!)  
And then I quit laughing, because the industrial agriculture complex wants me to believe that commercial.  They want me to think that this company hires apron-wearing moms with wicker baskets to pick their vegetables.  Because the reality of underpaid and illegal immigrants doing the harvesting doesn't sell potpies.  (You may be saying "What?  That doesn't happen in vegetable production."  Think about the last bag of lettuce you bought.  This week it's priced at $1.89.  If it only costs you $1.89, in February, what are the workers getting paid to pick it?  I guarantee they aren't making minimum wage.)
The industrial agriculture complex wants to educate the consumer to understand where food comes from.  There’s a funny thing that happens when you educate someone...they start learning on their own and then they start asking questions.  Questions like:
“How was this produce raised?”
“Do you use chemical fertilizers?”
“Are there GMO ingredients in this product?”
“Do your dairy cows go outside?”
“Was this beef fed grain?”
“Are my tax dollars funding your farming operation?”
Even with a website called The Food Dialogues, I don’t think the industrial agriculture complex wanted the consumer to talk back.  Because their mission to educate the consumer wasn’t so much to do with the benefit to the consumer as it was with the justification of industrial farming methods.  (If they really wanted the consumer to see where their food comes from there wouldn't be signs in farm driveways along Hwy 10 that say "Keep Out - Disease Control Area".)
But the consumer is talking back.  They are asking questions.  And they are demanding answers.  The dramatic rise in CSAs, farmers markets, buying clubs, and small local farmers indicates that consumers are making a choice with their food dollar.
Do I want to ban chemical use and CAFOs and increase regulations?  No.  But I do want a level playing field.  I want the opportunity to join in the marketplace To offer consumers not only the knowledge of where food comes from, but the opportunity to be an active participant in the process of feeding themselves.
Do I have all the answers?  Certainly not.  But there are a lot of people who are smarter than I am who have some pretty good ideas.
Joel Salatin was recently asked:
 What can the American people do to preserve small farms? What shift in consciousness needs to occur? Is it happening?

His reply is so eloquent, so simple and so true.
“It’s very simple:  patronize them.  We don’t need government tax incentives, agencies, or pamphlets.  We need every eater to realize that whatever we have today is the cumulative result of millions of everyday choices being exercised in the marketplace.  If everyone quit purchasing junk food tomorrow, it would cease to exist.  We have the power.  We vote three times a day;  we create tomorrow’s food system and landscape with every bite we eat.  Plenty of time and money exist to make this change.  We don’t need soda, cigarettes, alcohol, $100 designer jeans with holes already in the knees or Hollywood.  If you took the time and money devoted to vapid values and spent them instead on things that will heal your body, your community, and your natural resources, we’d have a different culture.  Maybe it would be one that other cultures could respect.  Maybe we could lead the world into a new era of happiness.  How’s that for a goal?  Maybe our children could inherit a planet with more soil, more nutrition, better health, and a brighter outlook.  Awesome.”


Do I think I've changed anyone's mind?  No.  Did I make you think for a minute?  I hope so.
When you look at your plate today, do you know where your food comes from?  Does it matter?

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