Three Myths About Food & Farming

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.

milk

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.

label cow

“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.

fam

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. 

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11 thoughts on “Three Myths About Food & Farming

  1. Thank you for the well wrtten explanation on the different method of Farming.I agree with you,If you want quality food (i.e Milk) its better talk to a Farmer because by spending time with them you begin to see the overall quality of their work wether in dairy Farming or growing food.It’s good also to know that not all with less label food are poor in quality.Again as in Dairy its necessary to know where the milk are coming.How I wish you mention as consumer they are entitle to visit the Farm to see for themselves the quality of the animals of the producer how they handling the milk production.Its interesting to know that 93 percent of the dairy Farms are Family own.Its not because you have a small herd your better.we need to participate .F.A.R.M- Farmers Assuring Responsible Management.Appreciate your write up ..Thank you Annaliese …keep writing …to educate us in Dairy Farming and as well as the consumer!

  2. I appreciate many of your points; you are accurate that there are good farms and bad. However, your bias against organic agriculture focuses on the “bad” of its cohort (organic chemical use, marketing buzzwords/deception, etc.). That bias also shows through in your disbelief in organic agriculture supporting a growing population. Your myth has a myth of its own; that organic ag can’t sustain 9 billion people. Recent research has debunked that one.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/organic-farming-can-feed-the-world-if-done-right-scientists-claim-9913651.html

    http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2014/12/09/organic-conventional-farming-yield-gap/

    The thing is, if we want to support a population that large we’ll need to do it by doing all that we can to support the small farmers, diversified cropping, and sustainable organic agriculture. We can’t keep pouring synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, and nasty chemicals on our problems in agriculture – that has way too many negative side effects (Dead zone in the Gulf the size of Connecticut, toxic waterways, groundwater contamination, antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, herbicide resistant weeds aka “Superweeds”). In my opinion we also need to change what we grow in this country; 80 million acres of ag land in this country are devoted to a food that we don’t eat (feed corn). We feed almost half of it to cattle and turn almost as much into fuel. How much sense does that make? Take even 10% of those same acres and turn them into a diverse vegetable rotation and we’ll have more food than we can eat.

    The problem with feeding 9 billion people is the same problem we have with feeding 7 billion people; distribution. Since we seem content to focus on pumping up our yields while doing nothing to change how we can get food to the people who want and need it, nothing will change.

    I appreciate your background and what you do. it’s good to see a large farm that cares about its animals. Stick with what you know however, conventional ag, instead of just devolving into another farmer trying to discredit organic ag. It’s like dirty politics; you won’t win hearts and minds just by saying what the other side is doing wrong, focus instead on what you’re doing right. Thank you for your input and your passion for what you do. Keep up the good work.

    • I appreciate your feedback and would like to make it clear that it was never my intent to discredit organic agriculture. The point I was trying to make is that ALL farmers are in this together and that we ALL have the same goal. No matter how we choose to farm or what tools we use, farmers are dedicated to producing a safe product while caring for the land and animals. This means utilizing sustainable practices, administering pesticides/herbicides and antibiotics ONLY when necessary (no one just “pours them on problems”; its not necessary or cost effective), and practicing land and animal husbandry. TOGETHER organic and conventional farmers can produce nutritious food for the growing population. Hopefully food distribution will improve and we can do a better job of feeding the folks that really need it. While we may not agree on everything, I would like to thank your for taking the time to comment and share your thoughts. 🙂

  3. A superb article in plain English. I’m a mom that wants to feed my large family without the guilt served up by the media/marketing industry. Thank you. We strive to provide for and feed our family the best we can and ask God’s blessing on every meal we share together. Well done!

  4. Truly appreciate your approach and manner. The tone and tenor of your piece was honest, open, and respectful. Thank you!
    My maternal grandparents and my godparents (my mother’s brother and sister-in-law) had dairies, and it was a treat for us to drive up (northern California) to spend holidays and long periods of time during summer vacation.
    We would learn by helping out with various chores; feeding the chickens, collecting eggs, feeding the calves. We were able to observe how they ran their small dairy (about 70 Holstein and Dutch Belt cows).
    The cows were rotated to different fields, while other fields were planted with alfalfa hay. This rotation allowed for unused fields to “rest” -and be planted with a crop that would then be plowed under to restore nutrients. They showed us by example the need and importance of caring for the land.
    My grandfather wouldn’t allow me and my brother to milk the cows with the machines until we had first learned to milk them by hand (we were only only Boy Scouts in our troop -and surrounding troops- to have merit badges in dairy!).
    We were taught how to bring the cows in to the milking barn. How much grain to put in front of them in the stalls. How to clean them (hose and then cloth and warm bucket of water to wash their utters). Some were “kickers”, so we had to learn how to put the kicker bar on them without scaring or hurting them (putting pressure on the hip tendon to slightly immobilize them -doesn’t really stop them from kicking, but it makes her kicks slower and shortens her range of motion). And when we were finally able to milk with the machines we were also taught how to put it on their utters slowly and gently so as not to pinch their bag. In all of this my grandfather taught us the importance of respecting the animal. (as an aside; After milking the cows in the morning and then cleaning up, my grandmother would send one of us to the milk house with a glass gallon mason jar to get fresh cold milk, for our breakfast, from the milk tank. There is nothing like it -truly one of the best memories of my childhood!)
    My Godparents also had a small dairy, and my Godfather worked -for a time, many years ago- as a foreman on a huge dairy (thousands of cows). We don’t like attributing to animals human traits or emotions, but these animals do socialize in their herds. My Godfather noted that cows in smaller groups seemed to have more “personality”, and to associate better in their herds. Those at the “mega” dairy seemed a bit stressed by the size of the herd. He left there after some time, didn’t care for the way things were done (that’s not to say that large dairies are incapable of providing the same level of care and respect to their animals).
    My family having been involved in the Portuguese community from the time I was born (my father worked his entire career with a Portuguese benevolent society/insurance company), has had the opportunity to travel the length and breadth of the state. And to visit the family dairies and farms of the Portuguese-American community. We saw in these dairies, and farms, the same respect and care for the animals and the land that my grandparents practiced.
    So again, Modern-Day Farmchick, many thanks for your blog. Wishing you continued success in getting the word out.
    Visiting

  5. Thank you for well written, the farmer’s perspective is crucial since the voices in the food debate tend to reflect the views of urban consumers. I am reblogging so more people can learn, thanks!

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