Knowing source of food benefits health, economy


POSTED: Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Farming has changed tremendously through the past 80 years. In 1930 the productivity of a single farmer was relatively limited in comparison with today's farming abilities. At that time, the efforts of the average farmer could feed about 15 people for a year. By 2008 each single farmer produced, on average, enough food to feed 155 people for a year.

Now, with more than 80 percent of the U.S. population living in city and suburban areas, few people have even an indirect connection with where and how their food is produced. When people think of food, they likely think mostly about grocery stores, restaurants or other food establishments. Too often the farm and farmer producing the food have never even come to mind.

QUESTION: Is it important to reconnect food consumers with a better understanding of farms and farming?

ANSWER: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the U.S. Department of Agriculture think that redeveloping this connection is important for the welfare of both the agricultural community and the health of individuals in the broader community. To help consumers understand the importance, the “;Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food”; initiative was started. The mission of this initiative is to promote a national conversation about food. In turn, by connecting consumers more closely with the farmers who supply their food, people will once again understand and more fully appreciate the importance of agriculture.

Q: What are the benefits of understanding more about food sources, especially local food sources?

A: There are economic and health reasons to promote a better relationship between food consumers and their local farmers. A better understanding of our food sources will foster an increase in buying locally, and this, in turn, will strengthen the agricultural infrastructure in that region. This relationship also has the potential to promote food production that is grown locally in more fully sustainable approaches.

Q: Will understanding more about our food sources help consumers make more healthful food choices?

A: Increasing the availability of fresh, nutritious food is a great first step. When food is fresh, it generally tastes better, and it can even provide more vitamins than similar foods that take longer to get to the consumer. The enjoyment of food is an important component of eating. An appreciation of locally produced food as being “;special”; can add to the enjoyment of eating it.

Many people don't eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables because these foods are not typically part of their food repertoire. Making a personal link with the people and places that are sources of local produce can greatly increase an appreciation for them and likely stimulate more interest in consuming more of these beneficial foods.

Q: So how important is farming and agriculture today?

A: The USDA believes, “;Consumers that are aware and can make healthy decisions while supporting the local economy will lead to healthier communities and a healthier America.”;

USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who was recently in Honolulu, sums it up well, saying, “;Maybe not every family needs an accountant or a lawyer, but every family needs a farmer.”; To read more about this initiative, go to the USDA's website.

Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., and Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii-Manoa. Dobbs also works with University Health Services.