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USDA doesn’t ‘know its farmer’

I stopped by USDA’s Web site Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food recently, and was a bit surprised to find the site is mostly about promoting local and regional food distribution systems.

There’s no invitation to know the cotton producer down the road, the corn farmer in the hills or the grain elevator on the river. USDA appears to be advocating that we shift a good part of our industrial model of agricultural production to the model that directly preceded it — the local or regional farmers markets.

Can we return to the days of yesteryear, when fresh food markets were ubiquitous? The Web states that the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” campaign “is a USDA-wide effort to create new economic opportunities by better connecting consumers with local producers. It is also the start of a national conversation about the importance of understanding where your food comes from and how it gets to your plate. Today, there is too much distance between the average American and their farmer and we are marshalling resources from across USDA to help create the link between local production and local consumption.”

USDA says it wants to “foster the viability and growth of small and mid-size farms and ranches, and we want to create new opportunities for farmers and ranchers by promoting locally-produced foods. We also want to build the infrastructure necessary to support a local food system, and we’ll need local partners to do that. Local and regional food systems mean fresh food, vibrant communities, a strong connection between cities and the countryside, and support for this and the next generation of farmers and ranchers.”

There is little doubt of the appeal of local farmers markets. I can purchase fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables for most of the summer, at a decent price. On the other hand, when the fresh markets close for the winter, I am completely dependent on the large-scale commercial distribution system that keeps my local Kroger store produce manager employed. By the way, he lives in my neighborhood, too.

And let’s don’t forget that each season, our local cotton producers face the risk of flood, drought, pest attacks and market devaluation to clothe people all around the world. Corn and soybean producers run the same risks to produce the feedstock for biofuels and beef, poultry and pork. U.S.-grown rice is a part of every meal in some parts of the world.

We have spent decades perfecting an infrastructure to harvest these commodities, process them into food, feed, fiber and fuel and distribute them quite economically through bulk delivery to needy people all over the world.

Yes, let’s have more farmers markets and let’s continue to get to know our local farmer. But let’s not forget — we don’t live by farmers markets alone. We need commercial agriculture too.


TAGS: Legislative
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