Thursday, March 11, 2010

Know your farmer, know your food

Today, the university was visited by Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture for the USDA. Woah, what a woman! Aside from her years-long list of achievements in food and environmental policy, the lady rocks a Bachelors from MIT and is spearheading several initiatives through personal visits across the nation.
Perhaps the most pertinent of all that she brought, however, was her message -- "know your farmer, know your food." Essentially, Dr. Merrigan is working towards changes in policy that embrace local and sustainable agriculture, particularly in supporting farmers in the struggling economy. Several initiatives have been either passed or pondered within the higher parts of government, and Dr. Merrigan spoke about creating a national dialogue to attract more success stories in their efforts.

So why do farmers matter? It's simple - without farmers, we have no food. Think about it: as Merrigan stated, "Every time you buy a loaf of bread...every time you shop at a farmers' market...every time you dine at a restaurant, whether white tablecloth or Applebee's, you are connecting to the land." And it's true! Each piece of your meal had to begin from the ground up (literally) in order to make it to your tummy.

Farmers are the key to a sustainable and healthy society. A critical issue discussed in the lecture involved that of food deserts, or areas that are lacking in food providers and grocery stores. Don't think this is limited to rural areas, either; there are food deserts right here in Chicago. If we're lacking food in Chicago, a prominent and densely-populated city, what does the rest of the nation look like?! (Check out the recently-debuted US Food Atlas here.)

But supporting farmers can change this. Encouraging farming outreach allows farmers the resources to become more mobile and touch more areas, more people, and more individuals. By encouraging the embrace of agriculture, school districts and food service providers are more apt to take up salad bars and fresh produce in schools as opposed to the universal appliance known as the fryer. The possibilities are endless.

Take a look at the facts and figures at Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food and check out the benefits of supporting US agricultural efforts. Remember, "every family needs a farmer"!

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