Foodies nibble and expound. Foodies read cookbooks, host dinner parties and go to wine tastings. Farmers? Farmers shovel dirt, plant seeds, tend cattle, haul their bounty to contracted vendors and tend to live just above the poverty level.
The satirical foodie is a 30-something hipster wielding a smartphone and posting mouth-watering pics on Instagram. The average farmer is 58 years old and can’t afford to eat at that tony restaurant where they serve his food.
I recently attended the Urban Farming Conference in Worcester, MA to meet with food producers. From bee farmers to avid backyard enthusiasts and everything in between. I was the only blogger, actually the only reporter, at the event, and that’s too bad because there was a LOT of fantastic information. A few factoids I learned from my excursion:
- Massachusetts produces only 15% of the food it consumes.
- Intensive farming is amazing, one organization grew over 3,000 pounds of produce on 3/4 of an acre in a tough urban environment.
- It can take as much as $100,000 to ready an urban plot for food production between clean-up, soil deliveries, first plantings and plumbing for the site.
- Soil improvements have a huge impact on output. One group worked on soil improvements and doubled their produce from one season to the next.
- It is a lengthy process for farmers to cash in SNAP vouchers (food stamps). A pilot program is now running to try to make it easier for farmers.
- The definition of a farm in Massachusetts is five acres and two years in business. Urban farmers, working on small plots, can’t get tax benefits under these guidelines.
- 90.5% of farmers net an average $2,615 per year. About 45% of farmers have jobs off their farms to make ends meet.
Many foodies don’t like the term because of the broad snobby depiction above. But there is a gulf between what foodies think they know about their food and what is really happening.
How Can We Connect Foodies and Farmers?
One of the reasons True Food Movement exists is to tell stories. We want you to meet farmers and learn more about your food’s journey. Some ideas:
- Rewriting legislation that allows urban micro-farmers to receive grants and aid
- Changing subsidy guidelines, so the right farmers get federal aid, not large conglomerations
- Read a book on farming that discusses the life of a farmer and what they face daily
- Hop onto the #AgChat Twitter hashtag to see what farmers discuss daily
- Talk to the chef the next time you’re at a Farm to Table restaurant and ask him or her about their favorite farmers
- Support CSAs
Is There a Foodie vs Farmer War?
So is there a war going on? Well, no … but there is grumbling. Food literacy educates people on the proper balance of nutrition and the benefits of eating seasonally and locally. We propose expanding that to include the journey from farm to plate. We should send school kids to farms, and encourage schoolyard gardens. Adults should take it upon themselves to learn a little bit more. We are all part of a larger ecosystem, each dependent on the other. Let’s work to make it stronger, not contentious.
What do you think? Did some of the statistics above surprise you?