Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

The Market of Food and Farmers You Know

April 18, 2012 By Doug Peterson, Guest Commentary

According to the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association, there are about 200 farmers’ markets in Minnesota, contributing delicious, Minnesota-grown and farm-fresh food to all of us. They build our local economy by getting fresh food from a farm to your table, and as a local food customer your money stays local. Buying local reduces your carbon footprint by reducing labor, transportation, energy and packaging costs.

A Minnesota Grown directory of farm-fresh food compiles a list of over 1,100 members who grow, raise or process products. This is a great resource for consumers, and Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) is lead sponsor of the Minnesota Grown directory.

Farm-fresh, local food is no longer a trend. More and more people realize the importance of buying local, and of finding a farmer you know in or near your community. Awareness has moved to hospitals, university systems, some of our local schools, to the legislature and the 2008 farm bill.

The local foods landscape is changing. Now, farm and food policy discussions have more emphasis on local foods and the local economy. It is important to be at the table in food policy discussions. If you are not at the table, you will be on the menu.

The Obama Administration has started the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This program strengthens the connection between farmers and consumers through initiatives that: Stimulate food and agriculturally-based, community economic development; promote locally farmed foods; cultivate healthy eating habits by expanding access to affordable, fresh, local food; and bridge the connection between food, agriculture, community and the environment.

MFU agrees with the Administration and the USDA’s emphasis on the need for more education regarding local food and better networking services in support of local foods.

Nine years ago, MFU produced our first annual Minnesota Cooks™ program at the State Fair. The program brings together local farmers, and Minnesota's urban and rural premier chefs to demonstrate how to use farm fresh, Minnesota-grown ingredients to create affordable and tasty foods. The program also educates consumers where to find or cook local, farm-fresh food.

The success and popularity of Minnesota Cooks™  is demonstrated by the partnership MFU developed in 2011 with tpt Almanac, which showcases our Minnesota Cooks™ chefs, and farmers on local public television station, tpt.

Looking for a more active role? You can get involved! You can help farmers’ markets and local food. You can look at the label on your shirt right now to see where it was made – why can’t we do the same with all food? Farmers Union policy calls for consumers to have the opportunity to make decisions about whether they want to purchase and serve their family food that is produced locally, regionally, from the United States, or imported. COOL, or country of origin labeling is about getting food labeled so you know where it came from. This is important to both our national and state economies—get involved by making sure that COOL is on all foods.

Some consumers may not believe a farm bill is important to them, but it is where farm and food policy is discussed; and good food and nutrition policy is fostered. The farm bill includes programs for funding beginning farmers, which allow young people the opportunity to farm, raise kids, and grow healthy food for themselves and their community. Farm bills outline procedures for weather losses: Storms can wipe out a farmer's entire crop and crop insurance is needed for farmers to recoup losses after Mother Nature strikes. Crop insurance ensures our nation and our consumers abundant food supplies at a fair price. You may not farm, but farm policy is important to you if you enjoy eating.

Farmers provide our country with food. The Farm Bill provides a safety net based on one-half of one percent of the national budget. Of that, 72 percent goes to nutrition and only 12 percent goes to farm programs that ensure the family farm and the farm-fresh food we enjoy are protected—a strong reason to want to be at the table when farm and food policy is discussed!

There is nothing better than getting food from farmers you know and where you live. Shop your neighborhood farmers’ market, and support your local Minnesota farmer and American farmers. 

Doug Peterson is president of the Minnestota Farmers Union

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.