Farmers, embrace your link in the food chain

“Food, glorious food!”

The opening song from the musical Oliver! illustrates one of the most memorable themes of our culinary yearnings — simply food, glorious food!

Food is sustenance, the most basic of our physical needs. Food is also political (think ancient spice trade or modern tariffs to protect national food security); cultural (there are food anthropologists); scientific; romantic; historic. Food is tradition and nutrition; creation and conservation.

“Tell me what you eat, I will tell you who you are,” wrote Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1825. After all, he concludes, food “rules over our whole life.”

Food, so elemental, so powerful.

And so, producers of food find themselves in the center of attention today. Heroes, even. “Know Your Farmers, Know Your Food,” proclaims a new USDA initiative.

We’re not exactly comfortable with that new role, that visibility. We just want to grow plants and animals and leave the food part to the chefs.

But I don’t know if we can put our heads back in the sand. No, we’re not to blame for childhood obesity, but we can’t deny the relationship between food and health and communities. Consumers want to know more about what we grow and how we grow it.

Perhaps we need to embrace our new/old role in the food chain, engage with eaters everywhere through outreach and education. We should “own” the whole food issue.

There are intelligent people who think if you’re not grazing livestock 100 percent of the time, you’re an “industrial farmer.” There are intelligent people who think if you plant Bt corn, you’re an “industrial farmer.” There are intelligent people who influence others about their food choices, but have never been on a farm.

“The term ‘small’ and ‘family’ describe farms, which, increasingly, exist more in the fantasy provided by food advertisers,” proclaimed one individual commenting on an online article I just read this morning.

I wish that woman could talk to one of the thousands of Farm and Dairy small family farm readers who are not a figment of an ad agency’s creativity.

And I wish that more of our readers took part in that conversation, the dialogue that encourages people to ask questions, and to learn from each other. We can be the connection consumers trust.

We in agriculture know all about the production end of the food chain. We live it. But, although we eat, I don’t think we connect with other significant ways food impacts our lives.

Food, food safety, food labeling and food production are now part of everyday conversations, and farmers are rock stars. Seize the moment.

“Why should we be fated to
Do nothing but brood
On food,
Magical food,
Wonderful food,
Marvelous food,
Fabulous food,
Beautiful food,
Glorious food!”

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

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