How You Can Help
By Sherri Dugger
I've had several opportunities to participate in interviews (No Limits and Eat Drink Indiana Radio are a couple) during which I've been asked what consumers can do to support our nation's family farmers. I've had this question asked so many times, in fact, that I decided to write the answers out. And, today, the day before Thanksgiving, when we should all take a minute to give thanks to our nation's farmers, seems a perfect day to do so.
1. Educate Yourself: Watch documentaries. Listen to podcasts. Read. If nothing else, sit down for an hour and check out this speech that Joe Maxwell, Executive Director of Organization for Competitive Markets, delivered at a recent Indiana Farmers Union convention. Maxwell succinctly and engagingly breaks down how concentrated agriculture is overcharging the consumer, underpaying the farmer, and bankrupting our rural communities. Our broken food system doesn't just affect family farmers. It affects consumers. It affects rural communities, animals, our environment, and the future for your children and grandchildren.
If you want to go further, look for these documentaries on the Internet: "Farmers for America," "Fresh," "FOOD, Inc.," "Food Chains," "American Meat," "Vegucated," "Forks Over Knives," "Fed Up," "Food Matters," "Cowspiracy," "Harvest of Shame," "King Corn," and "What the Health." There are a ton more. You may not agree with everything in these films. But they offer a good overview of what's happening in the American food system.
There are also books ... so many books. Try two: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, by Wendell Berry.
2. Buy Local. Regardless of whether you're buying organic or naturally grown or non-GMO, just get to know your local farmers and buy from them. Visit their farms. Ask questions. Frequent the farmers market. Vote with your dollars. The meats you purchase in grocery stores are likely coming from concentrated animal feeding operations. (Google that if you don't know what those are.) There is no "cheap" meat. There are externalized costs associated with animals raised in these concentrated settings for the purpose of mass consumption. These costs make themselves known by poisoning our land, our water, our air, and our bodies. You can pay the farmer a dollar more for meat raised humanely without antibiotics and growth hormones, or you can pay the extra dollars to your doctor and health insurance companies down the road. Cancer and disease rates continue to skyrocket in this country--there's a very real reason for that, and that reason has to do with the food we eat. If you live in Indiana, you have several great options for shopping locally online: Hoosier Harvest Market and MarketWagon offer locally made goods, as does Dugger Family Farm and Seven Sons Farms.
3. Speak Out. Contact your state and federal representatives. Visit the Statehouse. Let your legislators know that you care how your food is raised, how animals are treated, and about the stewardship of our land. Need help writing a letter or making a phone call? Email me at email@example.com, and I'll be happy to help.
4. Get Involved. Join organizations like farmers unions, environmental councils, food councils, and more. If you don't want to become a member, simply volunteer. Have kids? There's no better way to teach your children about food then by taking them to a local farm. Contact area farmers to find out if they offer volunteer programs or events. These opportunities will afford you and your little ones a chance to talk directly with farmers, to learn about why sustainable farming is important (and to hear about what sustainable farming actually means). Plus, volunteering helps small, local farmers get some much-needed work done around the property. If all that seems like too much, that's ok. Just share this post and others like it. Keep the conversation going.
There's more I could add, but I'll stop there. Please feel free to add comments on other ways to support local farmers. I'd love to hear your ideas.