How will We Sustain the Food on Our Tables and the Farmers Behind It?

By: Mariah Casmey

As I’ve grown up, my mom would always tell me stories about growing up on the farm. She would tell us tales of a large family of kids working hard from sun-up to sun-down, tending the cows, weeding the garden, driving the equipment, picking rocks from the field. In short, an endless number of tasks and work that required the entire family to pitch in to be successful. Even if you weren’t working the soil directly, you were hard at work in the home pickling, preserving, baking, and all other sorts of tasks vital to the farm. And what the farm has boiled down to over the years has been food. As my mom and her siblings moved out, the farm largely turned over to my grandparents, but our family still preserves these traditions around food. At every major holiday, anything that warrants celebration (be it a high school graduation, a new baby, or even just everyone being at the farm around the same time), everyone pitches in to bring some homemade food for the dinner table. This tradition doesn’t just exist within our larger family. At home, my mom has raised me with a love of cooking and food. She has given me a passion and curiosity for food, and we have learned together through countless successes and failures in the kitchen. But at the end of the day, food is an extremely important part of my life. However rarely in my life has it crossed my mind to think about where my food comes from. My goal with this program is to learn more about that system that has given me and my family so many amazing meals and memories, but also how that system can be developed sustainably so that others can enjoy these food traditions.

 

The program is only two days in, but I already feel like I’m learning so much. So far, we have visited two farms, a smaller organic cidery homestead and a larger organic grains and beans farm. One quick first thing I noticed writing that, I used to think “farms are farms”, but now I feel the need to qualify the word “farm” (or use something like “homestead”) to better describe that individual operation. These two locations that we visited were vastly different, for reasons apart from the crops they grew. The different methods, and ideals behind how to grow sustainably really stood out to me at these two locations; with sustainability meaning not only environmental sustainability (as most people think within the sustainable agriculture movement) but also in business or economic sustainability. The cidery was a developing business hoping to find success in tapping into a niche market of organic cider. Their business plan is to sell a value-added commodity (cider) instead of trying to compete in the competitive market for apples to hopefully have a more sustainable business. However, talking with the owner of the cidery made me question how sustainable these small farms that work so hard to be sustainable are from the business perspective. The larger grain farm also brought this into question. Currently, it isn’t even these smaller farms that are struggling to make a sustainable business, but larger farms also face an uncertain market price, debt, and the unpredictable weather brought on by climate change as they try to make a steady income. And often, that income isn’t very much.

 

One theory we’ve heard on how to make farming more sustainable for farmer’s business and income is to raise the price that people pay for their food to represent the true cost of the food. This however, makes me question whether everyone can afford to pay this cost. Perhaps there is a niche wealthy market who can and want to pay this price to support a system that might be better for the planet. But not everyone can afford healthy nutritious food as it is or simply cannot afford the price hike for organic produce. Which makes me think this isn’t an issue that farmers alone can solve, or it might be even bigger than agriculture. But I do think there is hope, with all the different people involved and interested in this field, I think all these unique farms have different perspectives, insights, and clues to making agriculture and humans more sustainable on the Earth and its resources. As I look ahead at the rest of the program, I’m excited to learn from all the insights that can be found in the vast field of agriculture and on a personal side, to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for food and the systems that produce it.

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