I couldn’t resist snapping this picture of the woman’s cart in front of me at the grocery store checkout. The young high school girl scanning the groceries commented on how expensive all the organic food is and asked the woman if she thought it was worth it. Her immediate response was, “ABSOLUTELY because there aren’t any pesticides in it. It’s the one thing I invest in for my family. I don’t have a 401K or anything else…I invest in food today because it’s most important to me.” I cringed and took a deep breath…but I couldn’t be angry with this woman for her beliefs. After all, she did have a healthy cartful of fruits and vegetables and milk that just happened to be organic. I support all agriculture and have friends who likely produced some of the food in her cart.
But I do feel sorry for her.
I feel sorry for the majority of consumers, immersed in confusion at the grocery store. With misleading labels on practically every shelf and misinformation a mere Google search away, how can I not feel sorry for them? Fear-marketing sells and hurts everyone in agriculture. If I didn’t have a front row seat every day to life on a farm, how could I buy anything but this milk? Check out the packaging, full of alluring words like “delicious”, “nutritious”, “raised with love”, “commitment to the highest standards”, “cows are part of our family”,… and none of those bad things that you have heard about are in this container…nothing “toxic.” It’s simply beautiful. The reality is that this pretty wholesale jerseys label could be on any of the milk containers at the store with or without the word “organic” or “pasture when available.” I know that all milk is safe and nutritious and comes from cows raised with a high quality of care. But at $6.99 per gallon, it’s quite obvious that pretty world! marketing sells.
But to the tune of replacing retirement plans and other investments?
How sad it is that we in agriculture have allowed others to tell our stories and define us by dividing us for profit. Mis-trust in any facet of agriculture hurts us all. As a veteran Common Ground volunteer (www.findourcommonground.com) I have had conversations with thousands of consumers and see this carnage firsthand. From the moms who feel guilty and cannot sleep at night because they can’t always afford local or organic food for their children, to the young women who have chosen to simply not eat meat or drink milk because it’s just too confusing to sort through. I have worked on farms of all types and sizes the majority of my life…large, small, conventional, organic, all family-owned and operated…and the bottom line is that American agriculture is something to be proud of. My respect and admiration for farmers extends a lifetime. I am a mom and a consumer who wants to buy safe food that is raised with high standards from people who share my values. The quality of the animal care or end product has absolutely nothing to do with some fancy food label or latest and greatest marketing campaign. There is no one-size-fits-all way to farm. From the food at a local farmers’ market or CSA to a large chain grocery store, the quality of the food produced has everything to do with the type of person the farmer is.
Farmers are simply the best humans.
I would love to see farmers stand up to the companies that market their products in a fear-based or untruthful manner. Enough is enough. Perhaps they all need to demand more help in this arena from their check-off dollars and suppliers. Farmers need to be the ones who define and represent sustainability and integrity – not a fast food chain or person behind a desk. Farmers invest their lives in producing quality safe food for their families and ours so we have nothing to fear.