Know your food! Know your farmer!
Food is one of those things we need. But it seems like there’s no end to the food factors we should consider; be it, health, nutrition, environmental impact, animal welfare, ethics, sustainability… in realising the impact you have with your food consumption, being a ‘passive shopper’ isn’t an option.
How can you be entirely sure of what you’re buying?
Your farmer is the person who grows and cares for the food you eat; they are also the person you can talk to about it. Passionate producers know what went into your food, they'll have the answers to questions a grocery store can't. And if there's one thing you should be able to ask questions about, it's the food you eat.
The beauty of knowing your farmer in this way is that there is no guessing. No wondering whether something is grass-fed, all natural or sourced locally. You can ask about their use of pesticides and other practices, learn about what you are eating and drinking and this can help you decide which foods to consume, or not.
As we talk about getting to know your farmer we have to address the benefits being so much more than simply knowing the location of where your food comes from. It’s an important factor for understanding, not only what it takes to make your food and appreciate it’s cost and value, but going even deeper, it is important for our environment and your health;
Forming a personal relationship with a farmer and the animals they raise, causes you to value their livelihood and appreciate the cost of what they produce. By knowing your farmer you’re giving back on a much larger scale, it’s an investment in ‘us all’.
Knowing your farmer is all about building a relationship.
Not everyone has direct access to go out and spend a day at a farm, but nonetheless getting to know the farmers’ at your local market will help you in facilitating a connection and deepen your relationship with what you’re feeding yourself and your family.
Going to your local farmers market and buying from local producers is a good place to start, but I would encourage you to go a step further and ask to visit their farms.
You can learn about their food production practices: how they tend to their soil, their plants, and their animals. This transparency and openness are unfortunately the exact opposite of what the big food corporations are about, which is why getting to know the ‘who’ and the ‘how’ of food production is so important these days.
When you connect with local producers and begin buying more of what you eat from them you gain access to fresher, tastier, and more nutrient dense food. Additionally, since the food is not being transported long distances, less energy is required getting it to your plate. Buying from local producers also strengthens the local economy, and builds resilience into the community in which you live.
Ask the important questions.
Everyone should ask questions. It's how we grow, learn, get better, and make educated decisions.
Most farmers are proud of what they produce - and farmers are usually happy to chat with you and answer your questions, even during busy market hours. Be curious and polite, don’t turn the questions for farmers into an interrogation. Show your curiosity. Slow down. Listen and learn. Chat as you shop. Other shoppers nearby might pick up a thing or two.
Here are a number of 'first date' questions you can ask to discover whether the farmer in question is right for you and values the same things you do.
Did you grow this? This seems basic, but don’t assume that they did. If not, ask about the people who did.
What variety/breed is this? Farmers that are growing their own can usually pretty quickly name the variety/breed they are growing, and how it is grown (if they don’t tell you – ask). Also, there is a difference in flavour and quality amongst vegetable varieties and meat animal breeds, so it is good to keep track of what you like and what you don’t.
When you say ‘……’ what does that mean to you? Farmers use many complex terms (such as, organic, sustainable, ethical, free-range, etc.) to describe their farming practices. Many farms may use organic practices, but cannot afford the expense of the certification process. Some farms may use some chemicals, but keep them to a minimum as much as they can. Farmers will be honest with you – so go ahead, ask what they mean when they use these terms.
What are the ingredients in your product? At the market, there is not only produce, dairy and meat products but also homemade goods, jams, breads, etc. It’s important to ask what their ingredients are - just because it was homemade doesn’t make it organic, natural or sustainably made.
What’s the best way to cook this? Maybe I’m biased, but I think the best farmers are the ones that actually eat what they grow. Especially if it something that you are unfamiliar with, let them share their knowledge with you on how to prepare it for maximum flavour awesomeness.
Where is your farm and can I visit? Usually 30 seconds on a farm is enough for me to know if this is a farm I want to do business with. Seeing a farmer’s passion for what they do on the land, makes it very quickly evident if their values line up with my own. Be respectful of a farmer’s schedule, always give them plenty of notice when scheduling a visit, or even better go on a planned farm tour day. Farming is busy and exhausting work and if a farmer took a couple hours out of every day to give a tour—nothing would get done!
Have I told you lately that I love you? Okay, maybe you don’t need to confess your love or anything, but please oh please tell your farmer thank you for all their hard work. Sometimes we forget that this tiny little potato we are buying had this magical long life before us. The ground had to be prepared, planted, watered, bugs killed by hand, fretted over, harvested, washed, packaged, driven to market, and then sold.
Developing relationships with the people who grow your food takes time, but it is well worth the effort. Trust your gut instincts and continue asking the questions that are important to you. Whether your food choices are to benefit your health, our environment, local economy, or all of the above, we hope that we’ve convinced you to seek out small local farmers in your community and get your food from them!