Saturday, July 11, 2015

My thoughts on food and trust

We went grocery shopping earlier this week and Aubrey asked if she could pick out a cereal for breakfast. She wanted "cinnamon cereal," to be exact. After a few minutes in the cereal aisle, I realized neither of us really knew what kind of cereal that actually meant and we landed on Lucky Charms. For me, this is not the cereal of choice - we are typically a Honey Nut Cheerios kinda crowd, but obviously to a kid, the different shaped, colorful marshmallows are just too tempting. I had to make many threats before I would agree to buy it, that they had to actually eat all of the cereal and not just dig out the marshmallows like they have been known to do in the past.

When the kids were really little, I had some anxiety about food - and the thought of buying Lucky Charms would have given me a lot of guilt. I would be interested to know how many moms (or dads - any primary grocery shopper, really) out there go to the grocery store and don't feel some sort of pressure, or overwhelmed, or some sort of anxiety, wondering if what they are buying is going to "harm" us or our families. We are bombarded daily by all kinds of "experts" telling us how dangerous all our food is and how it will basically be the end of mankind. It's all gloom and doom and as a result of years of this, a new type of eating disorder has actually developed, called orthorexia.

But we need to remember, it's all about balance. And Americans have an incredible privilege of having an abundance of safe, reliable, affordable food choices at many different price points. How  fortunate is that!? Do we buy a box of Lucky Charms or a pack of Oreos every so often?? Absolutely! But is our fridge also stocked with lots of fresh and frozen fruits and veggies and lean protein? Absolutely! We try to tip the scales a little bit more towards the proteins, veggies and fruits, but some days, those treats and convenience items certainly are the top choice. Some days I offer fresh fruit as a snack and the kids gleefully cheer (honestly they do! If I let them, I think my kids would eat six apples a day between the three of them!) and some days they get a cookie out of the freezer - to which they gleefully cheer as well. ;)

We should celebrate all food choices - conventionally or organically grown! I'm all about letting consumers decide what they choose to put in their bodies and feed their families. I want that for myself and my kids! If you choose to eat exclusively organic or just buy whatever fits into your budget, all the more power to you! But...(knew that was coming right?) what do I also want for all consumers? That those individual choices are made based on facts and not brought on by fear inducing pieces shared around Facebook and the internet. Proponents of organic industry can be magical marketing magicians (say that three times fast!) They really draw you in and capitalize on our worst fears and nightmares with sensational headlines and scary claims and pictures (aka - portraying farmers as wearing head to toe hazmat suits when we spray our fields. Couldn't be farther from the truth...just trying to incite fear.)

When it comes down to it, food is food. The nutritional equivalent of something produced organically and conventionally is the same. A carrot is a carrot. Apples are apples. Organic production methods do not make food "healthier" for you. Whether it be the actual production method or the lack or presence of GMO's, food is food. (At this point, I have to interject and make this point....there are EIGHT products that contain GMO's. Corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and squash. So if you pay more for "organic" seeds when you plant your garden, you have fallen pray to those "magical marketing magicians" again. I've seen these seed packets in countless stores this spring and every time I shake my head. There is no such thing as organic carrot seeds, organic green bean seeds, organic cucumber seeds, etc. And when you buy something marked as organic in the grocery store, that would be pertaining to the production method - not the actual food - for most produce. And if you wash all your produce anyway, I see buying conventionally produced or organic as a non-issue. I would say it should come down to your budget.) 

There is a large movement going on in this country that we need to get back to the way farming used to be - it needs to be small, it needs to be natural and local - and organic. What does that even mean? What is the definition of natural? How local is local? How big of an operation do people consider too big? I'm guessing you would find a very broad spectrum of answers for each of those questions.

Farming used to be people growing their own food in their own gardens and making some of that stretch for a whole year by means of canning, freezing and preserving. Ideally, wouldn't it be awesome if we could all grow our own food? But that takes time - and land. With a majority of the country's population living in cities and not having the luxury of time to do such activities as canning and freezing, the effort is being made to grow more food locally, but it is impossible to support our population exclusively with that method. And....what is anyone in the upper 48 to do after, say....October until May-at the earliest? What would we eat? It's not feasible to sustain your entire diet that way.

My take is that all types of production methods are necessary to serve the marketplace. No one way is better than the other. We, personally, are not organic producers and never will be (or have plans to be, at least.) I will never bash an organic producer because there is a place in the market for their products, just like there is a place in the market for ours. Each way has its own advantages and disadvantages. It just makes me sad to see so many people fear our food.  There is no reason for fear. I know a lot of people reading this have a good base of knowledge about agriculture - like me, they have grown up in it and some still live or work in the industry. But I know there are also many who have no experience or access to people who are involved in production agriculture. I beg you, if you have questions....if you read something that scares you....if someone tells you something that scares you, if you have no one else, please ask me!! Use me as a resource! Farmers love talking about farming. But please come with an open mind to listen to a farmer's answers and their reasons. If you have not ever had the opportunity to be on a working farm, let me know! You are always welcome to come visit us. (If you are not in Minnesota, that's fine. I have ways of hooking people up across the country if you'd like!) Ride in a planter in the spring. Ride in a combine in the fall. Ride in a truck/semi. Ride in a sprayer. Hey...if you want a rock picking experience....hit me up! We'll always welcome help for that! The point is, people have lots and lots of opinions about our food supply, but too many people don't ask the people who are actually growing our food. There is no better source for answers to your questions than farmers.

I am passionate about this because farmers like us and our neighbors and like farmers all across the country are being vilified every day based on biased and bad information. The excuse of "just trying to make a profit" is one that doesn't really stick when you break it down. Farming is not something you just jump into. Farming is not cheap to get into - or stay in. Farming is probably one of the riskiest businesses one could ever be involved in. Farming is hard work - like hard labor. There are no weekends or vacation days or sick days. We (typically) don't get company benefits - health insurance is expensive!!! We care about the land because we want it to be healthy and productive for the generations that follow us. From the bottom of my heart, I don't know a single person that would use a crop production method that would knowingly endanger their health or the health of their family members. Because we eat this food too. We feed it to our kids. And I am totally confident in our ability, and the ability of all other farmers, to provide us with safe, reliable, affordable food produced by whatever method each individual farm so chooses.

I purposely left out all the hot talking points, any use of facts and figures, on both sides of this issue because when it comes down to it, none of that really matters until people come down to a basic level of trust. If someone has a really distorted view of what America's farmers are doing, we are not on a level where our explanations or reasons will matter to them. We need to all realize we are human and on some level, we all want the same things. There are all sorts of reasons that just conventional agriculture is not the answer. There are all sorts of reason across the board organic farming is not the answer. I am a mom and someone who wants to put good food into my body and the bodies of my family members. And I hope that if you have questions about your food, how it's produced, and it is really important to you, find a farmer to include in your decision making process - please don't use the internet as your sole source of information. I am lucky enough to be part of a wonderful group of women across the country that volunteer to share their experiences and stories about agriculture. We are called CommonGround - or find our Facebook page. Here you can find a multitude of women who are more than willing to share and talk about any topic you may have questions about. Conventional farming, organic farming, livestock, name it, there is someone there who's doing it and would LOVE to have a conversation with you.
We are grateful to have good eaters! We love our food!

These conversations are so important as more and more people are interested in food and how it's produced. But as people are getting more and more removed from the farm, it's more important than ever to make sure that your conversations and discussions around food involve a farmer! Happy eating!


  1. Ahhh food choices something that means so much to so many people. Great job! I would like to invite you to link up this post and maybe a couple others to the Country Fair Blog Party. It is a little party we put together each month on the 1st day of the month.