Sunday, January 29, 2012

Are You An Educated Consumer?

There is a clothing outlet chain that uses the slogan “an educated consumer is our best customer!” Seems there’s a lot of truth in that slogan. But, are YOU educated?

In the food industry, the agriculture industry, just about everywhere…you hear the “buzz” words.

Organic, Sustainable, Natural, Bio-dynamic, Green, Home-grown, Home-farm….the list goes on and on. Do YOU know what they mean? Do you care? Do you know where your food comes from? Do you care?

Many folks shop Farmers’ Markets because they like the freshness, the quality, the “connected-ness” of the Market. The whole “local” thing creates more confusion. Some people think that CSA’s, Farmers’ Markets and on-line buying clubs are all the same. Others think that everything at a Market “must” be organic, or better than the store, and surely no one would “spray” their crops. Do customers KNOW what they mean when they ask “do you spray?” Is it the very act of spraying with which they take issue? Or do they think that the only way “bad stuff” gets applied is through a sprayer nozzle?

When you make the choice to eat or drink something…ANYTHING, you should have educated yourself as to the pros and cons of that particular item and do a little research. Only then are you making an informed decision.

I grew up eating food from the “farm”. We raised most of our own food when I was a child. Dad had cows, pigs, chickens and rabbits that we butchered and ate. Mom always had a huge garden and we canned and froze a great deal. Later, as we got older, the animals became a memory and the garden reduced in size. But, the knowledge of WHERE food originates is deeply ingrained in my very being. Tom and I raised our girls in a similar manner. For a period of time, we only bought flour and some grain products from the store… everything else was home-grown. Meat, vegetables, eggs and dairy products were all produced here on the hill.

Both of my granddaddies grew up as farm boys on the Eastern Shore. Tom’s uncle remembers the milk cow that his mother had when Tom’s dad and his siblings were small children in the Amherst area of VA. Tom’s mother recalled summers spent at her cousin’s home…eating fresh food and drinking cream. She told stories of her own mother wringing the neck of the Sunday chicken. My grandparents lived in “the city”, but I distinctly remember the butter and egg man making deliveries. My grandmother would shop at farm markets far more often than the grocery. It seems that our family has always had some recollection on the “old ways”, even when we found ourselves living in town. It is almost beyond my comprehension when someone reveals that they have NO idea about food production.

I realize that a lot of our customers have NO idea how one goes about raising food…of ANY kind. In many cases, they really don’t care. That’s okay. But, when you want to take charge of your life and your eating….YOU must become informed….and EDUCATED.

The very basics of food production are these…In order to have food… there must be sun and earth, plants and rain (or some source of water), at the very minimum. In order for there to be an abundance of food, there must be farmers who know how to combine the sun and earth and water and plants to grow crops, either vegetable or protein.

There are many types of farming, and personally, I think that they probably all have a place in our world society. The very subject of farming practices can be amazingly divisive, and that is not my intent. Simply know that there are many ways to produce a similar product. It is YOUR responsibility, as the consumer, to understand the basics of the practices so that YOU can decide which fits YOUR priorities.

When shopping the Farmers’ Market, or any other source, ASK QUESTIONS. When asking questions, know what answers you are looking for. There are innumerable sources on-line where you can find information to educate yourself. Talk to the farmers, this is their livelihood…they have educated themselves in order to make this lifestyle work. They should be more than willing to answer your questions.

Here are just a couple of things to consider:

*Sprays are not intrinsically bad. Educate yourself as to what sprays YOU wish to avoid. To ask a grower…have you sprayed this with anything that will kill ME? … is not an appropriate question!

*Organic doesn’t mean it’s straight from the Garden of Eden. The rules for Organic certification are arbitrary and expensive to enforce.

*Sustainable is a “buzz word” that allows for a lot of latitude in the translation.

*In order to rid a crop of pests…pesticides are often used. Pesticides are always lethal. There are ORGANIC and NATURAL pesticides. Organic pesticides kill bugs just as dead as conventional ones. They also must be applied very often. Often the compound used is identical; it is just the delivery system that is different.

*Pesticides are indeed sometimes the only option. Bugs don’t read and follow “no trespassing” signs.

*Conventional farmers are not the “bad guys”. Just because a producer is not organic, do not assume that they pour on the hormones, antibiotics, killer drugs and lethal sprays.

Ultimately, the decision is up to YOU. But, for your own sake, please educate yourself.

The life you save may be your own!

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