Reflections from a trip across the country to learn from farmers and collect insights essential to all eaters
It's been hard to think about anything other than the unprecedented health concerns facing all of us, yet the question of our food system keeps coming up as people consider the fact that we can do without most things for a couple months except for food. Amid these changes, I wanted to share some thoughts from a month-long drive I took from New York to California. My goal was to learn more about precisely who grows our food and how they do it, and to talk with farmers who are thinking outside the box when it comes to sustainable practices and the future of food. As we all pause during this global health crisis, I believe it is a great time to think about how we can change our food system moving forward.
1. Farmers are Visionaries
One of the farmers I visited said it best. Art Ozias, a cattle rancher in Missouri and a former aerospace engineer, says farming is harder than rocket science because aerospace engineers work in a controlled environment while farmers must understand a wide range of complex variables: They must be biologists, mechanics, accountants, vets, and even marketing experts. On top of that, they are at the mercy of the weather, political and agribusiness interests and the shifting global economy. The farmers I spent time with amazed me in both their wisdom and forward thinking
2. Local is More than Just a Trendy Concept
Many farmers I met highlighted feeding their community as a big part of what gives them purpose. By contrast, farmers who sell into the global commodity markets have no idea where their product goes. When farmers have a relationship with their customers, that is where trust grows, and trust is the biggest part of what we have lost in our food system.
3. Food Labels are Confusing and Not Helpful
You’ve read the labels and wondered: free-range, grass-fed, organic, natural, non-GMO, and more. It has become virtually impossible to be an informed consumer, to decipher what labels represent and which to support. But I believe that by connecting to how food is grown and where it comes from, we can become better educated consumers and shift to support farmers close to our communities. Just like we all want a personal relationship with our doctor, I believe it’s time to get to know the people who grow our food.
4. Regenerative Agriculture is a Mindset and Not Just a Set of Rules
Regenerative agriculture is defined as a set of farming practices that focus on soil health and have the potential to reverse climate change. I had seen the word regenerative pop up in articles and marketing campaigns, so I wanted to understand what the term meant to farmers. Those who are adopting these methods are thinking outside of the system and are committed to bringing about big changes, which often means breaking from the generations of family tradition that came before them. This process should be welcomed by everyone, whether it's big farms or small, organic or not.