Sustainability: Know Your Farmer Know Your Food
I heard Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaking about the Know Your Farmer Know Your Food program on NPR’s All Things Considered today (Oct. 4 2009), and I heard about how Michelle Obama opened a farmer’s market steps away from White House just a month ago. This is the first time since Thomas Jefferson was president that you can find an open air fresh foods market that close to the White House. At this market Food Stamps and WIC coupons are accepted and at double their value. Vendors report accepting more WIC coupons there than at any other market in D.C. while also serving the local white collar professionals as they leave their offices.
Green lighting these farmers markets is part of the USDA’s Know Your Farmer Know Your Food push to help connect people to the source of their food. It is meant to stimulate consumers to learn more about their food and their choices and how those choices affect their health. Creating more farmers markets is also meant to help farmers.
Secretary Vilsack said that 90% of farm family income comes from off of the farm. That means that farmers can’t keep their farms on the income their farms bring. If you have any idea how hard farmers work every day on the farm it is mind boggling to imagine not making a living at what is already more hours than a full time job. I know two such farmers myself. One is hard working, efficient, and steeped in the traditions of sustainable ranching from a lifetime on the ranch starting from her earliest childhood memories. She must leave the ranch two days a week to work as a surgical nurse to keep her home. She can get a premium price for her product at the market and she has many loyal customers. What sets her back are the regulations that make small farming and ranching uncommon and prohibitively expensive. My other farmer friend grows certified organic produce she sells at the market every weekend, works the family farm with the help of her husband and some volunteers, and then goes off to work in the hospital every week as well. That these farmers/ranchers have to keep their nursing jobs to survive also translates into two jobs that are unavailable to non farmer nurses who could be doing those jobs if my farmer friends could make a living at their chosen vocations.
The Know Your Farmer Know Your Food program hopes to help stimulate rural economies, and motivate people to consider rural lifestyles and agri-business to flush money into agricultural zones. Meanwhile people like my rancher friend are working with the state of Florida and the USDA to tone down regulations built for industrial sized agriculture that stifle small family farms. Florida in particular has some of the most prohibitive regulations for small farms, ranches and processors.
I hope that the newest push in the Department of Agriculture the Know Your Farmer Know Your Food program as well as Secretary Vilsack’s concern for small farm and rural economies will translate into beneficial legislation for farmers and ranchers of states like Florida whose citizens want the fresh and local food revolution to thrive.
All you have to do to help your local farmer and rancher is to shop at the green market and taste why local food is worthy of all of this hype.
Now Go Hug A Farmer