Know Your Farmer

For breakfast I had a typical L.A. staple: avocado toast. For lunch, a beet and goat cheese salad. And for dinner, I grilled up some chicken and veggies (I’m not much of a cook). Not once while I was savoring these foods did I stop and wonder where they came from.

The American food system has become so industrialized and mechanized that few people, unless they grow up smack dab on a farm themselves, know where their food even comes from. The average American meal travels about 1,500 miles from the farm to your plate. If you’re a foodie or into health at all, that will probably give you pause. This long travel means chances are that your food is probably transported while unripe or is heavily processed to keep it fresh. Not exactly what you want. The shorter the distance food travels to get to your plate, the fresher it is. It most cases, this means it has more nutrition to offer you.

Luckily, people are becoming more aware of the food they consume and are beginning to grow an interest in where their meals are coming from. Fresh farm to table delivery services are popping up everywhere and farmers markets are the new way to buy produce for those who have access to them.

Why is it important for a person to know where their food comes from? Well, there are a few reasons you might not have considered. Let’s take a look.

Health

First of all, understanding where your food come from can improve your health. Often, people are so detached from the production of their food that they blindly buy any produce or meat products without ever stopping to examine if in fact, one brand or method of production is better than another. They are driven by price and convenience, not health and nutrition.

Knowing where your food is coming from allows you to learn about the different chemicals, probiotics and pesticides that go into the food, which can directly affect one’s health. If you are more educated on these things, the hope is that you’ll be more likely to choose the healthier option. (In fact, according to academic research. organic food consumers are more likely to be college-educated than those who don’t eat organic food.)

One company is striving to bridge this gap between food and consumer to help promote better health.

Milk and Eggs is an online farmer’s market that connects local farms and artisanal foods with health oriented people. It’s a subscription based online farm-direct grocery store that works to provide customers with products that come straight from local farms. Using a service like this is a sure fire way of knowing where your food is coming from and hence, what you’re putting into you’re body.

Kenneth Wu created Milk and Eggs to better his family’s health. And, as a result, he’s helping to improve the health of anyone who uses his company.

“This was created to fill a personal necessity. First, I have a family history of diabetes and have been pre-diabetic for 15 years. Hence, I’ve always been health-oriented and concerned with eating correctly. Having access to fresh, locally-sourced produce, and artisanal goods is high on our family’s priorities,” Kenneth wrote in me in an email. “Second, when my son was born, my nursing wife meant our family was consuming much more food. It was so onerous during the 0 to 6 months of infancy to buy groceries that were both voluminous and healthy while in a sleep deprived, zombie-like state. Having to go to the market so often to keep up was time consuming and a hassle with two little ones. I’ve been doing e-commerce for 15 years and it baffled me why groceries and food had not gone digital yet! It was amazing, we could buy anything from TV’s and sofas to socks online, but I couldn’t buy a tomato or chicken!”

I’ve been doing e-commerce for 15 years and it baffled me why groceries and food had not gone digital yet! It was amazing, we could buy anything from TV’s and sofas to socks online, but I couldn’t buy a tomato or chicken! — Kenneth Wu

Since filling this void, Kenneth has realized that living healthily is a choice that people can either choose to put into practice, or can ignore. But, with the help of Milk and Eggs and similar services, making that choice is now easier.

“Ultimately it comes down to personal choice and as much as people talk about standards, I personally believe it’s a personal choice and standard, not right or wrong. But our hope is that as we progress and access becomes easier, people will naturally make the right choices,” he said.

Economy

There are clear benefits to your health that come from knowing where your food is from. A less clear upside to knowing your farmer is that it can actually improve the economy as well.

Supporting local farmers strengthens the regional economy and boosts your local community. When you eat locally the middle man in food production is eliminated. Transportation, packing, advertising, storage costs and more are cut down on foods because the foods are no longer being shipped far away.

Not to mention that buying directly from a farmer, such as through a farmers market, is often a cheaper option for you. And it offers a higher profit margin to the farmer than when you purchase indirectly, such as through a grocery store. According to the National Farmers Union, American farmers, on average, receive only about 16 cents of each dollar spent for food, the rest going for processing, transportation, packing, and other marketing costs. Farmers who sell food direct to local customers, however, cut out the middle man and receive a higher profit. Clearly it’s a win all around for both the farmers and the consumer.

On top of all that, buying food locally also benefits all other small businesses in a community as this means that more money is now staying in that community. It’s a ripple effect of sorts. The New Economics Foundation, an independent economic think tank based in London, compared what happens when people buy produce at a supermarket vs. a local farmer’s market or community supported agriculture (CSA) program and found that twice the money stayed in the community when folks bought locally.

“That means those purchases are twice as efficient in terms of keeping the local economy alive,” says author and NEF researcher David Boyle.

Environment

At the same time that the economy is benefitting from people knowing their farmers and where their food comes from, the environment is also being better cared for.

Just like eating locally eliminates transportation costs and improves the economy, less transport also means less carbon emissions, improving the environment as well. According to a study done at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, a local carrot has to travel only 27 miles while a conventionally sourced carrot has to travel 1,838 miles to get to your plate. Now that’s a difference!

Community
And finally, knowing your farmer improves the community you live in through respect, value and trust. When you have a relationship with, or know the names of the people who are supplying you with your food, there is a deeper sense of community all around you. You build trust with your local farmers and rely on them to provide you with satisfactory foods at all times.

Local Michigan farmer Jerry Kuehnlein says that whenever a customer takes the time to stop by and see what he’s up to on the farm, it forms a meaningful bond.

“I’ve owned and operated Kuehnlein Farms for over 45 years and during that time I’ve met so many people in my town that I would have never had the chance to get to know without my business. I’ve formed friendships with my customers that will last a lifetime and because of it, I trust them to turn to me for their crops and they trust me to always deliver quality back to them,” he said.