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Culver's Gets Farms and Food Right

You won't find nonscientific value judgments at this fast food place. Instead? A recognition of real food from real U.S. farms. Hold the judgment.

Holly Spangler

June 24, 2013

3 Min Read

It was a busy weekend at the Spangler household and one that culminated in a trip to Champaign after church for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to a Nabor House board meeting, Monsters University and a family photo shoot with my new favorite photographer.

The trip also included a swing through Culver's for lunch, which, given their burgers and frozen custard, is already one of our favorite places. And then we looked at the kid's meal bag.

It was awesome.

Right there on the front of the bag: "THANK YOU FARMERS. Hey kids, farming is where every meal gets its start."

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I was admittedly wary at first, wondering where the "locally sourced, organic, sustainable, humanely raised" language would appear. But I was needlessly wary.

One side panel had a four-question quiz on agriculture, which could have been taken from an Ag in the Classroom lesson. What do crops need to grow? (Soil, sun, water) How many pounds is one bushel of corn? (56) The average American farmer feeds how many people? (155)

The other side panel showed where their food comes from. Real Wisconsin dairy for the custard; Midwest beef for the burgers; Washington potatoes for the fries; Great Lakes cucumbers for the pickles; Georgia poultry for the chicken tenders.

And you know what it didn't have? Heaps of judgment, much of it misplaced. There wasn't any language about local (or someone's definition thereof), or about their version of sustainable (which rarely includes profitability for the farmer). It didn't say the meat was only from animals treated with dignity and respect. It didn't say the food was purely organic, for healthy soil.

Instead, the Culver's story recognized real U.S. agriculture. It recognized that we're already treating our animals responsibly, that we're all working our tails off to nourish the soil - organic or no. Without distinguishing between someone's definition of "sustainable farmers" and "unsustainable farmers," Culver's made the best value judgment of all: U.S. agriculture gets better every day. And more sustainable, with every bit of information we learn about our soils, our crops and our nutrients, which we then apply on every acre. And in throwing in that question about feeding 155 people, they recognized that efficiency - and well-fed people - are a good thing.

What's more: they didn't feign hypocrisy or pretend that they can get "local" lettuce raised within 350 miles in Illinois in January.

In short, they recognized us: the vast segment of agriculture that's found in the {very wide} middle between local organic farmers and the "corporate agriculture" consumers have been trained to assume exists as the opposite of small, local, organic. They recognized the U.S. agriculture that too many consumers don't even know exists.

Let me just say, if Culver's wasn't already this farm family's favorite, it would be now.

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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