It's not easy being a farmer. Work days begin early and end late, and many of them involve unexpected challenges that require immediate, ingenious troubleshooting. Weather is often intense, resources (both human and financial) are usually limited, and demands (to improve crop yield and quality, to implement organic and other earth-friendly, consumer-friendly practices, and to do so in a way that stilll results in an affordable product for shoppers) are numerous and ever-increasing.
Despite the fact that many farmers are more visible in their communities than they have ever been, thanks largely to farmers' markets, they tend to have few opportunities to talk directly with the people who consume the food they produce about what their work and lives entail. TLK spoke to nine dairy, fruit, vegetable, and livestock farmers to ask them this question: What do you wish shoppers knew about farming? Keep their answers in mind the next time you go food shopping.
Owner of Teena's Pride, a family farm in Homestead, Florida, and Teena's Pride CSA, a community supported agriculture farm-share program in south Florida
“I wish shoppers knew that the longer produce sits on a shelf, the less nutritious it is. Produce over six days old experiences nutritional degradation, meaning its vitamins, micronutrients, and minerals decrease significantly. Vegetables and fruits are also often picked early, before they're ripe, and they begin to degrade in transit, disconnected from a light and nutrient source. That's why it's best to buy fresh and local.”
Partner, Haute Goat, a dairy farm in Campbellford, Ontario
"I wish people knew about the difference it makes when animals are happy and loved. In our case, it means that what they eat is carefully calculated to ensure their health. It means that we are literally hands-on when caring for them so we can very quickly identify any issues and deal with them quickly. It means that because they are well-loved, they really do produce more and better milk, which results in better products."
Partner, The Squeaky Bean and Bean Acre, a restaurant and farm in Denver, Colorado
“I wish people knew that frequenting their local farmers' markets helps redevelop the backbone of our food culture. Yes, the prices may be higher, but when you can shake the hand of your harvester, knowing that the product you are about to cook is the most natural food your family can consume, it's worth it!”
Owner of Pearson Farm and fifth-generation peach and pecan farmer in Fort Valley, Georgia
“I wish people knew that Georgia pecans have the highest amount of antioxidants among tree nuts, so including them as part of a healthy diet may reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease.” Pearson's claim is backed up by research. According to a USDA study, pecans have more than 5,000 micromole trolox—a measurement of antioxidants—more than 10 times the measure in Brazil nuts and more than nine times the measure in cashews.
Owner of Robson's Farm and a fourth-generation farmer in Wrightstown, New Jersey
“I wish consumers knew how long it takes produce the food they find on the grocery store shelf or the farmers' market table. There is a solid list of 'long season' vegetables. We seed celery and celeriac in our greenhouse in early February and harvest it in September through October. Pumpkins are planted around Memorial day weekend to be ready for your front porch at Halloween. Brussels sprouts are seeded in the greenhouse in June, transplanted in the field in July and then picked for your Thanksgiving feast. A lot can go wrong in the field, especially with these long season items. A lot of diligence and love go into growing your food.”
CEO of Crown Maple, an organic maple producer in New York State
“I wish people knew maple isn't just for pancakes! It's great in everything, from savory dishes, to baked goods, to cocktails.”
Farmers' Market Manager in San Diego County, and Owner and Chef, Foxy Treats
“I'm a farmers' market manager in San Diego County, and I have my own small farm where I grow ingredients for my holistic pet products line, Foxy Treats (organic treats, raw dog food, supplements, and more). Shoppers should know that when they patronize farmers' markets, they are putting money directly into the hands of the farmers, which in turn, puts money back into the local economy. When you shop locally, you're getting the freshest seasonal produce without the added shipping costs and large carbon footprint of produce being shipped from hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. Get to know your farmer, ask about their farming practices, and get reconnected to how your food is grown and where it comes from.”
Bee keeper and 10th-generation farmer at Apple State Hilltop Family Farm and Apiary in Callicoon, New York
“I wish people knew that supporting local farmers such as myself helps protect your own health. Once you lose locally grown food and local honey, all you will have are imported, less-fresh products that might be grown under poor or no regulations. For all you know, your imported products can be raised on hazardous, polluted properties, When you buy my honey, for instance, you're buying from a local 10th-generation family farmer who takes a lot of pride in raising healthy bees and harvesting all-natural, no chemicals, no pesticides honey.”
Owner, Free Reign Farm, raising farm-fresh,non-GMO meats, and value-added goat milk products, Appalachian Mountains, Tennessee
“I wish people knew that there's a difference between fast food and good food. I can raise animals and produce for market fast and cheap or I can raise them well. Just like a fast-food burger tastes cheap next to a 5-star steak, so is the difference in the quality of food farmers raise. There's just no comparison to the taste of plants and animals raised in their own time on good food, sunshine, and fresh air.”
Farmer at Johnson's Backyard Garden in Austin, Texas
"I wish that food shoppers knew that when they choose to by locally-grown organic produce, not only are they getting really fresh vegetables, they are also helping to provide community farm workers with a livable wage and enabling the protection of area farmland for generations to come."