When You Align with Small Farmers You Drive Positive Impacts on Your Health, Environment, and Community
Do you ever feel a sense of helplessness when you hear about another endangered species? Like a newt you never knew existed? I do. I think “What’s the impact of that small animal on my life?” Don’t get your feathers ruffled just yet. I am not putting my head in the sand about the fact that we have overdeveloped many areas that were once home to such species. I am not deaf to how interconnected we are whether we know one another or not (me and that newt) or how biodiversity is how our planet maintains its resilience. But I find it difficult to get up off my duff and do something. I am sorry to the newt.
Are We Apathetic or Do We Just Need Some Direction?
What does this say about me? About us? About our future? Apathy is contagious. And yet, I have accidentally wound myself down this path to this very conversation. How do we motivate ourselves and our people to act? To do something impactful? To right wrongs? To get up off our duffs?
This is the Direction You've Been Looking For
This is how. Right here, right now. In the next 1500 words (5 minutes) or less, I will give you FIVE mindset shifts that will save small farms, including FIVE reasons to care and FIVE ways to help. Ready?
Mindset Shift #1: Make it personal. Because it is.
Do you like hot sauce? Or salt? What’s your go-to when dinner comes to the table? Ketchup? I know you. Sometimes you reach for it without thinking. It’s like an instinct or your tastebuds are used to a certain level of it; without it they are sad. Really sad. It is personal. Your personal taste.
And it should be. All your food should be.
I have this game I play sometimes. It goes like this. If you were on death row, what would your last meal be? I really should rethink my answer. It used to be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a tall, cold glass of milk, and two chocolate chip cookies. That sounds good right about now, actually. But I may replace it with a good roasted chicken. Maybe some rhubarb cake (I have this amazing new recipe I am obsessed with). That is personal.
When your kids grow up and move away from home, what meals will they miss? They all have favorites. And they are probably different from child to child. And different from your favorite food memory too. Because it’s personal.
And, I repeat, it should be. A farmer made that food (unless it’s Velveeta or something like that). For you. For your children. For your holiday traditions. In a not-too-distant decade of yesteryear (if you are not a farmer now), that food would have been raised, grown, and harvested by you. You would have known the name of the cow that is now your burger. The dirt under your fingernails would have come from that potato field. Super personal.
We have lost touch. With our farmers. With our food. Look in your cabinet. How many items in there are personal? I will give you a gold star if it’s more than one. What about your fridge? Can you name three people who contributed to your larder?
Ok, you get my point. And now you feel bad, and you don’t want to read any more of this. But hang in there. We can make it personal again. We want to. Because food tells stories. And we love stories.
What if we did this… together? Let’s pick one item from our regular grocery list. Just one. And let’s replace it with something more personal. Eggs maybe? Surely, we can find a farmer who has laying hens. Or meat? Let’s tackle that burger, why don’t we?
Don’t be intimidated. I am here with you. My kitchen shelves are far from personal! So how do we get started? Here’s a simple way to find a farmer and get to know one. Five easy steps and questions you can ask them too just in case you get tongue-tied.
Mindset Shift #2: Own the problems and the solutions. Because that's the only way you can fix them.
This is a bad-news-but-good-news story. It’s why you’re here. The bad news is that the problems we have now are our own fault. And the good news is that we can fix it. In fact, we are already working on it.
Do you ever look back in history, even just the history of our country or our own families, and feel embarrassed about how dumb we were (for all the smart things we have done)? Wars we started, bad decisions we made. SMH. We are human, that’s for sure. And that means we make mistakes and sometimes we even repeat them.
The history of agriculture in the US is a microcosm of that kind of national history. Bad mistakes. Slavery? That deplorable institution harnessed the physical power and the cultural and personal knowledge of 10 million slaves and ran national agriculture (and our economy) for 90 years. And then our national policies (failed ones like “40 Acres and a Mule” and the systemic exclusions of black Americans from agricultural development involving the USDA underscored in the Pigford v Glickman lawsuit) boxed former slaves and their descendants out of the future of agriculture (less than 1% of our small farmer population is black).
Then, in another assault against the system, farmers in the post-WWII era entered a “green revolution” rife with pesticides (initially a biological weapon of war) and crop inputs that have trapped large-scale farmers in an endless cycle of mounting expenses, depleted natural resources like soil and limited returns.
But we can fix it.
Farmers are fixing it. If they are brave. If they steel themselves for a revolution. They are reducing inputs. They are increasing crop yield. Some are leaving the profession – quitting, retiring, and even taking their own lives in outsized percentages – and new farmers are entering with regenerative intentions and high hopes for change.
This is not the same problem as that obscure newt. Yes, farming and the newt are endangered by our hands, but here the impact is very personal. It’s direct to our plates, to our bodies, for our health, to our families, communities, economies, and lives. This kind of revolution might even save the newt.
Let me give you an example of your power to fix these problems.
You have that power. It’s in your wallet. And when you make it personal, it’s a top concern for producers.
Let’s go back to that egg we were talking about. The one you are going to get from a local farmer whose name you will know, whose cell phone will be on your “favorites” list. Close your eyes and envision your egg carton. What does it say? Is there a silhouette of a hen on it? Are they cage-free? Free range? Are the eggs hand-picked just for you? Are they organic? Antibiotic-free? Fed a vegetarian diet? Grade A? Whatever it says, you did that. You shared your concerns and the food industry and farmers responded. Even the biggest, most industrial farms pivoted… for you.
And you can demand more change.
Mindset Shift #3: Recognize that it impacts every aspect of your life. Because it does.
Let’s start with the money and work our way back to you. When you spend a dollar locally, buying a dozen eggs from a local farmer, that dollar circulates in your community 6 times or more. It gets reinvested. At the local mechanic shop. At the bookstore. At the school bake sale. In the veterinarian’s clinic. Conversely, if you spend that same dollar on shoes from a distant website, all you get is a pair of shoes (don’t get me wrong, I love shoes of all kinds).
Those eggs nourish you. They help you extend your nearly stale bread in a heap of French toast for your daughter’s friends following a sleepless sleepover. They knit everyone together in an OMG-this-is-so-yummy-how-did-you-make-it solidarity. Their dads call you for the recipe. You’re famous in the best way and that makes you happy. Thank you eggs. Thank you, farmer. Because of that farmer and those eggs, those families never even think of selling their old farmhouse with the squeaky floorboard. They stay, stay, stay.
Plus, those eggs are healthy. The farmer cares for the hens. She makes sure the water remains pure. For her farm. And for you downstream. More good health. No one conserves resources better than a farmer.
Mindset Shift #4: Insist on the truth. Because you deserve it.
In the age of the internet and social media and billions of armchair experts, it’s difficult to separate lies from the truth. We are skeptical and exhausted. But we must prevail. We need to unearth the truth about our farmers who suffer under the weight of many myths. And our food, especially industrialized food, holds many secrets. Some of them are on food labels (those alphabet soup words you can’t pronounce) and some of them don’t even make the list. But we deserve the truth. And we deserve real food, healthy food that’s produced with good practices that benefit the land which benefits us in a continually rebuilding cycle.
Here is an example. I like to eat oatmeal for breakfast. It sticks with me when I have a lot of work to do in the barn and the garden. I prepare it with a little milk, maybe some honey from my own beehives, and a pinch of salt. It makes me feel ready for anything.
Recently I was talking with an Illinois corn and soybean farmer who had been to a regenerative farming conference where he learned that oats top the list for the highest concentration of glyphosate (a known carcinogenic desiccant used on most GMO crops). OATS! What’s weird about that is that oats are not GMO and don’t suffer from a preponderance of weeds. Farmers don’t treat oats with glyphosate. But, when the processor has a schedule to keep and a combine coming to harvest before the oats dry naturally, the oats crops are sprayed with glyphosate which kills them and dries them to harvest-ready. Tragic really.
But once you know these hidden truths, and they are outed, you can begin to chip away at what we will and will not tolerate in our breakfasts. What’s more is that the farmers who grow their oats responsibly need to be able to do their jobs, earn a good living wage, and not have the industry poison their crops and land.
Mindset Shift #5: Go back. Because it is the way forward.
So many farmers I have spoken with and interviewed for the Talk Farm to Me podcast want you to know that they are reversing the cycles of industrial harm that have been foisted on American agriculture since WWII. They are decreasing inputs – fertilizer and pesticides alike – and listening to the land, the soil, their crops, and their animals to forge ahead with more sustainable, regenerative processes.
Don’t listen to the buzzwords on your egg carton or your beef, get into it with your local farmer. Ask questions. Be the person who is curious, wants to know, and engages with their farmers to understand what is, what is possible, what the barriers are, and what you can do to help.
Start by connecting with a farmer. That is your golden ticket. Go from there. Make your pantry more personal. Show love to your friends and family by feeding them well. Spread the stories, the truths, and your resources.
You can do it. If you want to. If you care enough.
Let me rephrase your 5 steps. Your 5 options. I mean, what if you picked one and got started? That would be enough for a parade. A small parade, but a parade, nonetheless. (Do not make me go off on a tangent about how every single animal on my farm follows me, ok?)
It’s all about you and what you want to eat. And what you care is in it or not in it. Decide that you care and act on it. Shop at the farmer's market.
It’s kinda your fault in some ways, so you just have to face the fact that you are not off the hook. That sounds harsh. But when we look back at agriculture, we can see we have made some pretty bad decisions. And we can undo them.
If you drew a stick-figure diagram of what’s most important to you in your life, you can easily see that farming – especially your access to really good small farms – impacts all of them… profoundly. Carry this with you.
You deserve the best. And the truth about what’s not the best. You do not like liars. Demand the truth. Ask questions. Share why you care.
Well, the good ol’ days have their charms. Maybe we should get rid of some of the things we have added that just don’t add up. Do we really need so many pesticides? Do our pigs have to be in confined pens? Ya feel?
You are the key to it all. Ok... WE are.
All of these steps are interrelated and once you take action (even a small one), you will inspire others to do the same. You will talk about it. You will feel good about it, selfishly. And then you will realize that you taking care of you also takes care of your family, your community, your region, and your world. All this will come from just one little step forward.
Easy Actions with a Big Impact
Don't despair. This can all be overwhelming... now that I look at the boiled-down list again. Stick with me. I don't usually lay it on so thick all at once. What I do however is provide you with some ongoing easy actions that have a big impact, little by little.
Take this little action right now and we can continue the conversation through my weekly letter. Some of it is fun (weekly giveaways and funny farm stories) and some of it is more meaty. Let's make this happen. The only way is if we stick together and keep talking.
Dana DiPrima is the founder of the For Farmers Movement. For Farmers supports American farmers by sharing their stories, replacing myths with facts, and providing them with mini-grants and other helpful resources. Dana is the host of the Talk Farm to Me podcast featuring farmers and farm issue experts from across the country. She authors a weekly letter in addition to this blog. You can subscribe here. And you can join the For Farmers Movement to support your farmers here. You can also follow her on Instagram and Threads.