As you might know, I was on a mission trip to Romania last month. Even though I have been home for a month, I am still comparing many things I saw in Romania to things here in the United States.
Food and hunger have been heavy on my mind after visiting the small villages of Florica and Valea Argovei. Having enough food to feed their families is a challenge most all of the time in these small, rural villages. I realized that there are people here in the US that face daily hunger as well. The US Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as an economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food. Seems like a straightforward definition, but it is a very complex issue no matter what country you are in. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is constantly researching and tracking world food-security. FAO claims some of the big factors that affect food security are population growth, food availability and high food prices. Among those that do the research, regulatory agencies and those in agriculture, there seems to be a consensus that more food needs to be produced for the growing population in an environmentally sustainable way. But they cannot agree how to do it.
Edelman Berland, an analyst firm, conducted studies to see what people in the United States thought about food production. In their summary, they stated, “There is a belief that farming today is not conducted responsibly. There is a preference for local, organic and urban farming, but a recognition that governments and large-scale farming have the greatest potential to address the global challenge of food security.”
I don’t agree that farmers are not acting responsibly. I believe farmers are truly trying to be the best stewards of the land that provides them a living. And there are a slew of regulations and laws to make sure they do farm responsibly. The rest of the statement is at least encouraging to me to know that most people realize that large-scale farming is a big key to solving global food insecurity.
Another area that Edelman Berland’s study was on was food and technology: “Respondents are open to using technology in a general sense to meet the need to grow more food but want specifically to minimize the use of pesticides, fertilizers and genetically modified seeds.” Again, a simple statement but a huge topic. I will be revisiting this topic in future articles but I will say this – people use science and technology when it benefits them and their own agendas. You don’t want a doctor to treat your loved one’s cancer using science and technology from 50 to 60 years ago. Agricultural research has advanced just as much as medical research has. Both are based on sound science.
Here is the summary point from Edelman Berland: “Most respondents believe that more human labor should be used in agriculture to produce more food and that increased production will have a positive impact on rural communities.” Hmm. This could work IF you are willing to pay more for your food. Someone has to pay this new labor. That is, if we can find willing Americans to work on a farm at minimum wage. Not that this is what the farmer can afford to pay but what the government will mandate that they pay.
The number of farmers in the United States keeps decreasing. The old farmers are dying and there are not enough in the next generations to take their place. How many generations do you have to go back in your family tree to find a farmer? The general population is too far removed from the farm and don’t have a clue as to what really goes into making a living off the land. “Food security exists when people have access to safe, nutritious and affordable food that provides the foundation for an active and healthy life.” (cargill.com/worldwide)
In my relatively short life, I have come to a conclusion that the US population wants safe, nutritious and affordable food, but they also want to dictate how and where farmers should do that. It’s like they assume that farmers should just do it out of the goodness of their hearts to feed the world, when in reality, they are trying to balance the books and the bank accounts to try to feed their own families while consumers and special interest groups are screaming, “You are doing it wrong!”
Something I learned on that trip to Romania is that I have never experienced real hunger. I take for granted being able to walk into a grocery store and have a vast array of affordable food. I may not be able to afford what I really want, but I can still provide a safe and nutritious meal for my family.
Mary Smallsreed is a member of Trumbull County Farm Bureau and grew up on a family dairy farm in northeast Ohio.