So let me challenge you to a new kind of food resolution for 2016. Instead of just worrying about how much of it and what types of it you consume, I challenge you to also start caring about the people who are raising it - the family farmers. Below is a list of things you can do to support family farmers!
1. Stop determining the quality of farmer by the size of the farm!
Today's average family farm is MUCH larger than generations past - in 1900 the average farm size was 147 acres, today it is over 400. There are several reasons for the growth - larger, more efficient equiptment, higher costs and lower margins, technology and more.
None of these reasons have anything to do with farmers caring less or being less competent. Large farms are still owned and run by families! In fact, many farms find it necessary to grow because their children want to come back to the farm.
When my own husband wanted to come back to the farm after college, his father couldn't simply start splitting his income to support our growing family as well. Instead, the farm had to grow. We did this by adding beef cattle to the farm and by working with local landowners to pick up more rented acreage to expand our row crop operation as well.
Other families facing the same financial challenges of bringing back their children may grow by diversifying with crops or livestock. They may grow by adding more of what they are already good at it. They may grow by adding a different business dimension such as direct sales or farm tours. However they grow, know that farm growth is a decision made by and for the family farms - not one forced on them by some outside power.
2. Follow an actual farmer on social media!
Of course you should start by following us on Facebook.Find one in your state. For Missouri don't miss Country LINKed and Daddy's Tractor.
Follow some of the most popular ones - Peterson Farm Brothers, Dairy Carrie, or The Farmer's Daughter. Even check out Nurse Loves Farmer, a family farm to our north in Canada!
And when you have a question about food or farming - please reach out to an actual farmer like us, or look to CommonGround or Ask the Farmers.
3. Shop at the grocery store!
If you have the option, farmer's markets and direct buying from farms is an awesome choice! But, don't forget that shopping at your grocery store is also supporting family farmers.
Direct sales (selling directly to our consumers) is actually something that very few family farmers are equipped to do. It takes a good location and most of us are actually located ridiculously far away from the population centers. It takes time and most of us already don't have enough. It takes money. It takes a whole new set of skills that many of us don't have.
So where exactly do our products end up? At the grocery store!! While you're there, don't worry about the labels. Conventional, organic, natural, local? It does not matter - it's all equally safe and nutritious and all grown by family farms.
4. Continue to hold us accountable!
Never before in history has the general population been more removed from the farm, and never before has a generation had so many questions about what is happening on the farm.
Many farmers LOVE that the public is finally paying attention to the challenges of our industry. We want to be held accountable (and given credit) for doing our part to raise healthy food in a sustainable way. We want to be part of the conversation and we want you to actually ask US your questions about food and farming.
What we don't want is to be held accountable for the parts we cannot control such as food processing or preparation practices at a restaurant or at home. What we don't want is to be regulated based on fear and lack of understanding. What we don't want is to be left out of the conversations that our affecting our farms, our animals and our families.