What it really means to know your farmer

Benjamin Harrison

What does the average person understand about where their food comes from? And when they begin to realize how important that information is, can they trust farmers, agribusiness, and regulatory authorities to relay the truth?

Do farmers lie?

If farmers lie, it’s probably unintentional. I’m referring to the subset of farms that are certified organic (less than 1 percent of US farmland).

Unfortunately, organic certification is a constantly shifting goal post and increasingly
subject to the influence of Big Food.

Adding insult to injury, the behemoth bureaucracy of our own federal government struggles to keep up with the small number of organic farms currently in operation.

Farmers know what they’ve put in their soil, on their plants, and in their animals. It's virtually impossible to source organic animal feed in Arkansas, but are we having that conversation?

What about the OMRI certified plastic weed barrier tilled into the soil each season, where its chemicals are absorbed by plant roots and groundwater?

Nothing seems to work

Just buying local food won’t fix anything. It will help a farmer survive, maybe even thrive. But the onus remains on the individual to understand the myriad regulations, illegible ingredients, and confusing labels.

And while 95 percent of Americans opt for non-organic foods (the kind destroying the planet), how many of the remaining 5 percent know anything at all about their local farmer? Your farmers’ market may not even require vendors be from the same state.

So if the individual is overwhelmed and the government falls short on protecting our ecosystems, perhaps there is something of a Goldilocks Zone in our communities.


How to start a food policy council

Not everyone needs to understand agricultural practices. But when communities see how important local food is for their health and the immediate economy, impressive things tend to take shape, of which food councils are the most notable.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Develop a planning committee
  2. Assess the community’s needs
  3. Establish committee framework
  4. Take action to meet goals
  5. Evaluate
  6. Network and market the council


Help start one in your own community

Here in Little Rock, a coalition of sorts seems to be forming among Arkansas Interfaith Power & Light, The Urban Food Loop, Neighbors that Love, FareMarket, and more.

These small businesses and nonprofits have brought together farmers, environmentalists, beekeepers, health & nutrition experts, activists, entrepreneurs, scientists, and a whole lot of gardeners in Little Rock’s communities.

We’ve got our fingers crossed for the future of food here in Little Rock. To learn more, check out this slide presentation: How to establish a food policy council.

To volunteer with Arkansas Interfaith Power & Light, send us an email below, and we’ll forward you to the right folks.


Written by Benjamin Harrison

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