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Getting Farm to Table Right

Imagine figuring out how to grow and raise your own food.

Updated 11/2020

Imagine a time when you were responsible to grow and raise everything you eat yourself.

Now, imagine being a farmer and having to get another full-time job because farming doesn’t provide enough to support your family.

Next, imagine a world where food wasn’t everywhere we look, from the lumber yard to the mall to the grocery store to sporting events to online shopping at stores and restaurants.

Transparency, authenticity, and choice are important. It’s good to want to know about and care about our food supply. I LOVE that this is part of our conversation right now. Here’s the thing. The words we choose and what we are focusing on and talking about matters. Maybe more than ever.

Farming is a noble profession.  We literally will die without food. If we think of farmers as the business people they are, growing our food, let’s think about what it takes for them to be able to farm full time and support their families, like we go off to work to earn a living.  The cool thing about their choice of work is that they not only take care of us, but they grow and raise the food that feeds their families, too.  We must consider this as we think about living “farm to table”.

On a recent farm to table trip to Italy, I started thinking about this context to the conversation as I got to meet farmers who opened up their homes to us. We also connected with artisan farmers who honor the history of food and the legacy of how different dishes came to be. We can experience and benefit from their knowledge.  They shared their way of life, raising food for us and their own families, and the realities of food and what it takes to provide it.

We heard stories not that long ago many people didn’t own their own land. They were expected to give a large portion (we were told 51% by our tour guide) of what they grew/raised to the landowners.

We met seasoned farmer entrepreneurs who started with nothing and became land owners themselves. This may seem foreign to many who prefer to rent, or to condo dwellers these days but it meant the world to people at a time when land ownership was not an option to so many. 

We talked with a couple (some of the pictures in this post are from their farm) who had a farm where they raised chickens, rabbits, pigs, cows, fruits, vegetables, and grains. Enough to feed themselves, their children and grandchildren, their animals, and whatever was left after that could be sold to people within their town. 

There is so much more to each of these stories, but for now, let’s stick with the big picture of how to think about farm to table. It’s not just a décor theme for the kitchen. It’s not just a Saturday stroll through a farmer’s market or buying that first bag of Bing cherries in the summer at the grocery store.  These are simply wonderful moments in time that are possible because of what started on a farm.

Farming is complex, challenging work, yet many people want to think of simplicity in food and farming.  The best analogy I can give you is, would you prefer a rotary phone over your smart phone? Are you wearing bell bottoms or parachute pants? Want to cavort around in a horse and buggy, or in the comfort of your air-conditioned car? Hopefully you are smiling and the lightbulb went on over your head. It’s good to have advances and learn more about how to continually do better and learn more.

Just like in every other aspect of our lives, food and farming have evolved, improved and grown in terms of options to make it better and efficient for animals, crops, farmers, and all the other experts it takes to be successful in agriculture.  Have fun with this. Be curious. Do some of these things to get your farm to table groove on just right:

Go on a farm tour (online or in person).

Research your favorite company to read their story and learn about their values and what they mean when they say “sustainability”.

Connect with your state department of agriculture.

Learn how your local grocery store supports farmers.

Ask the right experts for information. You aren’t going to a foot doctor for an eye checkup.  Build your network to include agricultural experts, from soil scientists to veterinarians to farmers themselves. Connect with the real deal. Check your sources.

Slow down and enjoy your food. Make the meal the focus of your meal (turn off the telly, stop staring at your phone and pay attention to your food).

Look at food and see the story. Consider all the people who helped make that food a reality to your day. The farmer, the workers who harvested it, the facilities who cared for it and packaged it to arrive safely in your store, the veterinarian, the plant breeder, the stocker, the retailer…I could go on but you get the point).

How will you get to know more about your food and how it got to your plate?

By Kim Kirchherr

I am a dietitian working in food and fiber (agriculture) through retail, addressing opportunities to make things better for people and planet.