Refusing to take part in the food fight - you don’t have to choose a side.

April 04, 2014

cows on pasture

Last night a woman who I like and respect quite a bit posted a rather lengthy Facebook status. She’s a mom of two, and is making all of the food choices for her family. Her post centered around her feelings of being torn between “seemingly opposing sides” of the “local, heirloom, organic, grass-fed, humanely raised, sustainable, non-GMO, antibiotic-free, free-range” farmers and those who farm using conventional methods.

It’s beyond annoying to me when one method of production is misrepresented and put down to make another look good. This tactic is being used not only by major food retailers like the burrito purveyor, but by farmers against one another. It’s this particular practice that makes me saddest, as the rift is non-productive and dangerous. I’d suggest there’s room for all types of farming methods in today’s agriculture and that they can peacefully co-exist. The reality is that there are plenty of markets for farmers today. Consumers have a variety of desires and demands, from budget to niche related. We also can’t overlook the fact that we’re facing a very real global population explosion, and it will take all farmers, large and small, organic and conventional, doing what they do best, to feed it.
 
I have neighbors who grow vegetables along a state highway, perfect for a farm stand. They have a large amount of land with fertile soil types, so they choose to raise their veggies using conventional methods and fairly large equipment. They don’t believe there’s anything wrong with organic, but their choice is based on the fact that organic production requires more labor which is not readily available to them, and more importantly, their customers are happy with the variety, quality, and quantity of what they produce. It’s the size and method that works for them.
 
I have other friends who also grow vegetables, but their farm is off the beaten path, so they’ve chosen to load a truck and sell at farmers markets or sell to the wholesale market in Chicago.
 
Another friend has a small amount of acreage and grows heirloom vegetables using organic methods because it’s what her customers want. She’s able to comply because her small scale farm is manageable for her without much extra help. Her veggies do cost more due to the cost of organic certification and market expenses, but she’s found a niche for herself and gets a premium for her products.
 
Each has chosen what works best for them, not necessarily “a side.”
 
So to consumers who are struggling with food choices amidst overwhelming labels, adjectives and headline-grabbing, myth-based marketing campaigns, I say:
  • Pick whatever works best for YOU.
  • Don’t be misled by fear-mongers and unjustified guilt.
  • Ask questions of those who are actually growing the food and discount the opinions of those who must tear down someone else’s choice to make theirs look most appealing.
  • Buy what you want given your own budget and preferences.
And remember that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing; there is no rule against buying conventional one day and organic the next. Whether you’re buying food for your family at a small farm stand, the local farmers market, Jewel, Trader Joe’s, Target, or Costco – with no adjectives or a list of adjectives as long as your arm – know that there’s a farmer at the other end who made choices, too.

Michele Aavang

Michele Aavang Woodstock, IL

Michele and her husband, Gary are full-time farmers raising corn, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat and cattle in northern Illinois. Their son has started his own dairy cattle herd recently and they have shifted how they do things on their farm in order to support him and be good stewards of the land. 

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