Something hit me the other day – and it hurt. It hit me like a pile of bricks dropping on my big toe.
I try very hard to be an advocate for farmers and ranchers, but I have failed. Why? Because I have said things like “home-raised is better than store-bought.”
How is that a bad thing? That’s telling consumers what I have in my freezer and cabinets is “better” than what they have access to in their local store, which can reduce consumer confidence in the quality of our safe and clean food supply.
Many of you reading this are undoubtedly thinking to yourself, “Well, my meat/eggs/milk/veggies ARE better,” but HOW are they better?
I recently read a report that animals processed at custom processing facilities are typically a lower USDA grade. For example, lower than Choice for beef. In contrast, about 80 percent of the animals presented to consumers are Choice and above, so consumers are getting “better” meat than many of the producers who raise their own.
That doesn’t just apply to meat items. From our gardens and orchards, we tend to cut out bad spots on fruits or vegetables and eat it, even if it’s a little “ugly.” Trust me, none of the tomatoes I have ever grown look nearly as pretty as those in the grocery store, but I still slice them and serve them up to whoever wants them.
We recently ran out of hamburger, so I’ve been picking up a little here and there to get us through until another steer can be processed. Because we typically have our burger processed pretty lean, I do notice a bit more fat, but the flavor isn’t bad.
Beef is about the only product I don’t regularly buy at the grocery store. Milk, eggs, cheese, pork, chicken, fruits and vegetables are generally on my shopping list each week and I purchase them from stores big and small. With just a household of two these days, it makes economic sense to buy what we need when we need it and not have “bulk” amounts of any one item. Because we do eat more beef, we usually have a half a beef processed, which lasts us about 10 months to a year, depending on weight and how hungry we are.
If you look back a century or two, most people produced their food, but there were still “town folks” who depended on the local general store for their food. How did the stores get the food they offered to customers? The storekeepers bartered, traded or bought products from local farmers. Farmers also sold their products directly to customers.
Producers are also, perhaps inadvertently, pitting themselves against other producers with the “mine is better,” phrase. It comes down to what the consumer wants and what the consumer likes, and giving them options to decide for themselves and their families.
We’ve seen an upward climb in the local food movement the last decade, which is giving many farmers the option to seek new markets for their products, including grocery and specialty stores, and farmers markets and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture programs) are booming as well.
There are many misconceptions about agriculture today, and if we continue to battle among ourselves over which is the “best” method or breed, we only damage ourselves – and our way of life.
Julie Turner-Crawford is a native of Dallas County, Mo., where she grew up on her family’s farm. She is a graduate of Missouri State University. To contact Julie, call 1-866-532-1960 or by email at [email protected]