A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that if there isn't a farmers market near you, there most likely will be one soon. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of farmers markets is on the rise, increasing by 180 percent from 2006 to 2014.
Yet the conversation seems a bit incomplete when talking about this encouraging development without giving equal time to the farming and growing side. In a world so dominated by big agriculture, it is important that we remind ourselves that family farms account for almost 96 percent of the farms in the United States. It seems that more people than ever are seeking out family farm food. There is even a term for this emerging trend — "locavore," which refers to one who eats food grown locally whenever possible.
A vision of agriculture that is steeped in the past but also embraces today's technology seems to be taking hold, according to a report issued in August by the University of Iowa. It's a movement that's values-driven.
"It's about valuing the relationship with the farmers and people who produce the food and believing that how they produce the food aligns with your personal values," says Ion Vasi, University of Iowa professor and the study's co-author.
Entrepreneurs are creating new markets that connect eaters and farmers, the study says. Their actions are transforming food and agriculture from the ground up, creating a world where shopping locally is strongly connected to a sense of civic duty.
It is a movement that is global in scope. To spur investment and in support of the world's more than 400 million family farmers, the United Nations designated 2014 the "International Year of Family Farming."
For years now, small- and medium-sized family farms have struggled around the world. Family operators often find themselves just one bad harvest, one dry season or one rejected bank loan away from going out of business. In 2012, drought cost farmers in the United States some $35 billion and reduced America's gross domestic product by about 1 percent. In 2014, the drought in California caused a net revenue loss of about 3 percent of the state's total agricultural value, or about $2.2 billion, according to a Center for Watershed Sciences study.
These are but a few of the mounting economic difficulties that independent farmers face and the economic consequences when we lose them; these are the challenges when, even under the best of circumstances, they can be so easily underpriced by big agriculture. The average age of both American and African farmers is 55. Encouraging the next generation of food producers to stay with it will be a critical issue.
Why do an ever-expanding number of consumers choose the pricier varieties of products generally found at farmers markets? Because at the end of the day, they just taste better. As reported in the August issue of the journal Appetite, this is in part because of what is known as the farmers market marketing effect. If a certain food makes people feel as if they're helping the planet and their community, some folks are then wired to think the product tastes better.
And let's hope it's catching on, because if we are to make significant changes, we have our work cut out for us.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 34 percent of people ages 2 to 19 consume fast food on a given day. That means that every day, about 1 in 3 kids in the U.S. are powering down french fries, burgers, pizza or other fast-food favorites despite all the prompting to eat more healthfully. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of fast-food consumption hasn't dropped a bit in the past 15 years.
If you're looking for even more evidence that Americans' vegetable habits lean toward fries and ketchup, consider this: Nearly 50 percent of vegetables and legumes available in the U.S. in 2013 were either tomatoes (which technically are fruit) or potatoes — with lettuce coming in third — according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Though the USDA's dietary guidelines recommend that adults consume 2 1/2 to 3 cups of vegetables a day, the agency's researchers have found that only 1.7 cups per person are available. Why would this be?
"If more Americans got used to eating more fruits and vegetables, they might be demanding more of it," says Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, a food systems and health analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "But it's really hard to demand something you've not grown up with."
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.