"" What's She Eating Now?: Sustainable Farming Starts with You

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sustainable Farming Starts with You

An issue that has become very important to me of late is sustainable farming. And I don't mean sustainable farming in the buzz word, bumper sticker, causnik, I'm for puppies sort of way. I mean that in actual practice, we need to transform the food ecosystem through the choices we make when it comes to food. Sustainable farming is a trendy issue these days but one thing many lose sight of is that sustainable farming is not the responsibility of farmers alone. Consumers are an integral part of the food business, in fact its reason for existing, and it is our responsibility to demand food that has been responsibly produced and sourced, and support the producers that meet these demands. We should know where the food we eat comes from and roughly speaking, we should know how it is produced. And we should know, in the case of livestock, if it was raised in the most humane and natural manner possible. You wouldn't drink a cocktail that was made with a bottle that only said "alcohol" in block letters on the label. So too shouldn't you eat something that just says "food" on it, and if you don't know where it comes from, that it is edible is really all you know about it.

But, how you ask, in a free market economy, did we get to a place where people actually prefer to buy industrially farmed produce that is laden with chemicals and devoid of taste? When consumers have choice, why do they buy chickens that have been raised exclusively indoors with no room to even turn around? It is a complicated issue for sure, made more complicated by farm subsidies and other government programs, but at the consumer end of the supply chain, a lot of it boils down to a fundamental information asymmetry-- one of those little wrenches they taught you in Econ 101 could disrupt a market's ability to function efficiently. Other than superficial appearance, the only thing consumers really see when they shop for fruit, vegetables or meat at the average grocery store is price. They don't see the impact on our soil and water supplies from farming the way big agriculture farms. They don't see pictures on meat packages of animals raised in barns packed practically wall to wall. Leading with price, and obscuring a lot of other facts, farming industrialists have radically changed our agricultural landscape and in turn, the food that makes it to our tables.

I could go on and on about how sustainable farming is better for the earth, better for you, better for animals, and better in terms of taste. Just ask if you're curious. But my point is that it is not in the interest of the big food companies to tell you about where the food they sell comes from. So start finding out on your own and make educated choices. You, the consumer, are the tail that can wag this dog and help reverse a tragic trend in American agriculture and food. Sure, these choices may be more expensive, but how do you really feel about eating a $2 chicken anyway? My suggestion is to choose the good stuff, maybe just a little less of it.

To help you on your way to learning more, here are two short videos. Neither was chosen for shock value so don't fear any preachy animal abuse snuff like content. Just some good information. The first video is As We Sow, a short sobering documentary about farming in Iowa. The second is a look into animal farming at Stone Barns, a working farm and agricultural center just north of New York City. Take note of the difference between the pigs in both videos, which ones do you want to eat?

As We Sow

Raising Animals Green: The Stone Barns Way


  1. Yes! And, Michael Pollan and his books are also trendy right now. Eat less (and better), spend more!

  2. I'm with ya sister. I'd like to find a way to get this message out to the masses and stop it being seen a "niche" pet cause of the overeducated and wealthy. Once America can figure out a way to do that, then we'll be well on our way to changing farming.

  3. Oh also, check this out: