Burning Question: Why Don’t Certain Farmers Eat Their Own Crops?

As small farmers, we see our food in a different way than the rest of the industry we identify with.

by Evan Folds
PHOTO: Nicole Mays/Flickr

People have a certain nostalgia for farming, and for good reason. The discovery of agriculture represents the origin and roots of humanity. But in the modern world we are farther from our food than we have ever been in history, with the average meal traveling an estimated 1,500 miles to the plate.

Farms are becoming fewer and larger. Since 1900, the number of farms has fallen by 63 percent, while the average farm size has risen 67 percent. And we don’t keep food close. In 1900, a full 41 percent of people were employed by agriculture. Today that number is only 1.9 percent.

Farming is one of the most underappreciated professions on Earth, and it’s hard work. However, it should be said that there is nothing nobler and more satisfying than eating food you grew from seed with your own hands. But as important as food is, and with as few people as there are growing it, most farmers don’t eat their own crops. Why is that exactly? Let’s take a look.

Not All Crops Are Food

Let’s start with the obvious, some crops are not edible. For instance, North Carolina ranks second nationally in Christmas-tree cash receipts and also grows a significant amount of tobacco and cotton that cannot be eaten. It is fascinating to ponder how many things we use in our daily lives that come from plants. Technically, even plastic comes from plants.

Not All Crops Are Human Food

Then there’s commodity farming. It may be hard to believe, but the majority of crops in the United States are not grown for human consumption but to fuel automobiles or feed animals. A full two-thirds of the calories grown per acre on U.S. farms are grown for livestock that estimates say could feed a billion people if the crop calories were shifted to direct human consumption.

They Lack Connection To Their Food

That brings us to animal farming. The vast majority of animal farming is done in feedlots in order to make it more efficient and profitable. A feedlot is not a pretty place, how many feedlot owners do you think are eating their own hamburgers?

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They Don’t Have Time

But some farmers simply don’t have the time. As Leah Koenig states in her article titled “Why Many Farmers Eat Like Crap”:

“As it turns out, many of today’s farmers face the deep irony of producing beautiful fruits and vegetables for consumers while subsisting on a diet that more closely resembles a McDonalds’ menu than Old MacDonald’s farm.”

The homestead and urban farming movement is bringing us closer to food and will be one of the largest growth industries in the coming decades. You don’t have to be a farmer and grow all of your own food to get involved—start a small food garden, join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, base your meal choices around seasonality and locality, ask the server at your favorite restaurant where the food comes from, visit the farmers market consistently, ask your local supermarket for local options, or switch from a major brand to a craft brand that is paying attention to your ideals when doing your grocery shopping.

As Wendell Berry said, “Ëating is an agricultural act.” This is the future of farming: an educated and engaged public working to decentralize and strengthen our food system one garden and bite at a time.

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