Tricounty News

Commissioner's Column Core values behind farm and food system



Minnesota's agriculture community has tackled a range of challenges over the years, from disease outbreaks to market disruptions and natural disasters.Ê Recently, however, I have started to think the future of agriculture in this state may rest largely on how we respond to one particular challenge Ð our ability as farmers and farm business operators to reassure our non-farm neighbors about the core values behind our farm and food system.

Today, about 2 percent of the U.S. population lives on a farm. Whereas many non-farmers still had relatives who farmed 20 or 30 years ago, today even that indirect link is fading. This leaves many Minnesotans with no ties to modern agriculture. The workings of a modern farm are a mystery to them, and what little information they get comes too often in the form of filtered media coverage or "alert" messages from activist groups.

That situation is dangerous for farmers, not to mention the tens of thousands of Minnesotans who depend on agriculture for their jobs. Without a good understanding of how our food is produced and why it is produced that way, these disconnected consumers can be easily misled by groups seeking to misrepresent modern agriculture to advance narrow agendas. After all, it's a lot easier to fear what we don't understand.

Fortunately, there is a growing interest among consumers in knowing more about the origins of their food. I believe it is our responsibility as farmers to meet them at least halfway. That's why I am thankful to see the new campaign rolled out this month by a coalition of farm groups and with the support of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Called "Farmers Feed US," the campaign seeks to reconnect Minnesotans with the farm families that are feeding them.

Beginning Aug. 9, Minnesota residents can register for two grand prizes of "Free Groceries for a Year" courtesy of Minnesota's farmers at
Farmers Feed US is a multi-state effort designed to help today's consumer understand that even as food production systems change, farmers share their values. The program puts a human face on agriculture and reminds consumers that their food is grown by families who share a desire for safe food, a clean environment and a strong economy. Yes, some farms are larger or have different equipment than many would remember from childhood farm visits, but farmers remain deeply committed to doing what's right for their community and their customers.

I want to thank all those who worked on this program, especially the nine highlighted farmers. They are excellent examples of how 21st century agriculture works, and they are helping the rest of the state's 81,000 farmers reconnect with our non-farm neighbors. Please take a moment to check them out and enter the drawing for free groceries at the State Fair or online at www.FarmersFeedUS.org/mn.