How a new generation of farmers and dietitians are leading the way in taking the fear out of food.
If you think of big agriculture giants when you think of farming, you may need to re-evaluate what you know about farming. Almost 97% of American farms are family-owned.
Part of my job as a dietitian is to be a bridge between those who source our food supply and the consumer. That’s why farm tours and similar educational experiences are so important. I learned so much on a recent trip to the farmlands of Southern Georgia about the way a new generation of farmers is shaping the industry and how as young dietitians, we can shape the future of food and nutrition education to consumers.
Farmers aren’t what you think they are anymore. The way they farm and do business progresses just like the rest of the world. And that’s not a scary thing. It’s actually a great thing! I had the opportunity to learn first-hand just how it’s done from some of the most intelligent, forward-thinking people in the farming industry this week. These new family farmers are the ones feeding our nation, and they want to show you how they raise crops. They want to be transparent to build trust with consumers that are growing more suspicious every day.
In my recent travels, I got to see how advanced automated irrigation systems (developed right in my own city of Lubbock, TX) can detect the moisture level of the soil in different sections of fields and water just as much as the crops need. This technology saves farmers time and precious resources, reaching 92% watering efficiency. That’s huge when it comes to saving water!
I learned how peanuts are grown and how the surrounding habitat is preserved from Casey Cox, a young woman who will be the 6th generation to run her family’s peanut farm along the Flint River. She’s as passionate about growing safe, nutritious food for both consumers and her family as she is about preserving the farmland and the pine trees around South Georgia. She’s an amazing speaker and so kind to welcome people from all over the country to come to see how her family farms peanuts and other crops safely and efficiently.
I also learned about how the 5th generation of the Harris family has led the way in sustainability in the farming community in Bluffton, Georgia. White Oak Pastures started raising free-range poultry, cattle, and hogs among other livestock before it was trendy. They are mindful of everything they do, from using all parts of the animal to utilizing local peanuts for feeding animals, packing shipments, and composting. The way they farm has transformed the town from one of a few minimum wage workers and poverty to a thriving community of dedicated employees who make over double what they did before. It was incredibly inspiring to hear the farmers talk about how and why they do what they do.
On top of everything I learned from the farmers of Southern Georgia, I also got to participate in some eye-opening, motivating conversation with professionals of all kinds who came on the tours. From university foodservice directors and chefs to pediatricians and fellow RDs, I have soaked up so much knowledge over the past few days. I am incredibly grateful to have had the chance to learn from the diverse professionals in attendance about everything from food allergies to sustainability.
One thing that was clear to me over this trip is that I am a part of a new wave of dietitians that are helping to shape and change the way we think about food. People are becoming increasingly curious about food supply, sustainability, and their health. It’s my job to a bridge between farmers and consumers, helping to inform the public with facts instead of fear. I am part of a new generation of dietitians who continue to seek new information, think critically and question everything. It is my job as a dietitian in this culture where celebrities are giving health advice and people are scared of food, to offer the facts and interpret research, so that consumers can make informed decisions about their health and how they feed their families.
I’m grateful to live in a world where we have so many ways of communicating, where people expect transparency, and where this new generation of farmers is stepping up to help inform consumers about their practices so that we can all be at ease when feeding our families. If you’re curious about the food supply or farming, I encourage you to ask a farmer. They will be more than happy to show you how they work each day to help feed the nation.
Disclosure: My trip to Georgia was sponsored by the National Peanut Board. I was not compensated for my time or for this post