More than ever, consumers have a growing interest in where their food comes from and how it is produced…which is great! Folks should care about where their food originates from and it makes my job as a farmer so much more important. But, I don’t ever want consumers to feel “food shamed” or have fear when it comes to grocery shopping. I always encourage people to seize the opportunity to visit a local farm and to get to know the farmers and their practices, but since that isn’t always possible, I blog. :)
I wanted to better understand my consumers and open up a conversation about food and farming. With so many food buzzwords, Ag misconceptions and bad information on the internet, I think it is pretty common for consumers to have some concerns. So, I sent out a questionnaire to a few of my non-Ag friends and did some creeping on social media to understand how consumers make their food purchasing decisions. What I found led me to produce this list:
Three Common Myths About Food and Farming
Myth #1: Organic products are safer and more nutritious
The Truth: Organic products are just as safe and nutritious as conventionally grown products.
When it comes to safety and nutrition, food is food. Organic is just another farming method, not a safety or quality term. So what is the difference (besides price)? In my opinion, not much. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that even organic farmers can use certified chemicals on their crops. The chemical must be derived from a natural source rather than synthetic, but a chemical is a chemical. There are different rules and regulations farmers must follow in order to be certified organic, but all farmers have the same goal. Whether we choose to farm organically or conventionally, farmers are dedicated to producing safe, quality products and caring for the land. Here is an article written by an organic farmer that does a great job of defining organic practices. Read this!
I support ALL farmers and understand that it takes all kinds of kinds to feed the world. I also understand that organic methods cannot yield the quantity needed to feed the growing population. We cannot feed the world with just organic methods, nor can a majority of the population afford it! It is all about consumer choice; no matter what your choice is or what you can afford, know it is safe.
Myth #2: Food with labels = greater quality.
The Truth: A label doesn’t mean diddly squat and for the most part, is nothing more than a marketing scheme.
“Grass-fed”, “Natural”, “free-range”, “Country”, “Home-grown”, the list goes on and on. You have seen these labels, perhaps you even base your purchasing choices around them. Truth be told, with or without a label all food is equal and comes from farmers who care. These labels are marketing tools that influence you to pay more for a product with a label compared to one without. (Cough, Cough, Chipotle) These feel-good buzzwords lead consumers to believe that the product comes from loving farmers who produce a greater product and implies that the label-less products are of poorer quality or come from “mean, factory farms”. In reality, a packaging label tells consumers little to nothing about where the product originated from or how the animals were raised.
For example, the cows on my family farm are not grass-fed, but I know for a fact that they are provided with plenty of space, feed, shelter and care. I also know that ALL milk and meat is antibiotic free, but labels lead you to believe otherwise. Buy what makes you happy, but don’t pay more for a silly label. If you truly want to know how your food was grown or raised, ask a farmer.
Myth #3: Smaller farms are family owned and provide better care compared to larger farms.
The Truth: 93% of farms are family owned and operated.
I think there is a misconception that large farms are run by men in suits that pack their animals into a barn and treat them like a commodity. They have so many animals, how could they possibly provide proper care for each, individual animal?!
As a farm girl who grew up on a 1,500 cow dairy farm and who currently works with her husband and in-laws to milk 500 cows, I know that farmers love what they do and pay close attention to their animals. Farmers may choose to grow their herd and their business, but they take the necessary steps to ensure that every animal and piece of land is provided with proper care and attention. For many, this means incorporating more family members or hiring employees, using technology to help monitor animals and setting up strict protocols. When your livelihood depends on the health and happiness of an animal, you take it seriously and do everything possible to run a prosperous farm.
There are bad farms that are small, good farms that are big and vice versa. Size has nothing to do with it. Most farms, no matter their size, are run by farm families who care for their land, animals, and community.
Knowing that consumers have a growing interest in animal welfare, many farmers have been participating in the F.A.R.M. (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program. It is a nationwide program that helps ensure consumers that farmers are using sustainable practices and treating animals with respect.
As a farmer, I want to thank you, the consumer, for caring. Thank you for caring about the food you eat and the farmers who grow it. Thank you for wanting to learn and grow with your farmer. It is because of great consumers, like you, that keep me and my family in the business of doing what we love.