Growing up in Los Angeles, California, the closest I had ever been to a farm was buying produce at farmer’s markets. Sure, I was supporting local agriculture and seeing the faces of some farm workers, but I still had no real understanding of where the food I was buying came from and who was putting in the effort to produce food that was safe, affordable and of the best quality possible. After visiting a few different farms in Indiana recently, however, I’ve realized just how important and relevant the “story” is of how food gets from the farm to my fork.
My experience touring multiple family-owned farms was truly eye-opening. How could I, a Registered Dietitian, call myself a food and nutrition expert without ever seeing where it all begins – on the farm? I witnessed more than 20 cows being milked simultaneously, held a newborn pig in my arms, and learned about every step in the process of planting and harvesting corn and soybeans. Through it all, I came to realize two very important things:
1. Every food we eat has a face that goes along with it – a hard-working farmer who is devoted to producing the best possible food for us, the consumers. Farmers do this with an incredible amount of knowledge, precision and pride for their craft. After just one day learning “Farming 101,” I was struck by the amount of work that is required to produce the food and wondered if I had previously taken that for granted. An ear of corn or a box of corn flakes doesn’t come with the history of how it got to my plate. If it did, it would be a lengthy narrative about the strategy, planning and extensive hours of labor necessary to ensure my corn is the proper color, texture and taste and most importantly, that it is safe for me to eat.
2. My new-found appreciation for the job of the farmer was coupled with the recognition of how technology has enabled farmers to do their jobs better and in turn, provide us with superior food products. Did you know that because of innovations in modern agriculture, farmers can now get the same amount of milk out of six cows instead of seven? This adds up to millions of fewer cows necessary to do the same job, which means fewer resources used and less of an environmental impact. The positive impact these sustainable farming practices can have on the world is invaluable.
While productivity is of critical importance, I also learned that technology has done a great deal to improve food safety. The owner of the dairy farm we visited explained how he uses technology to track cows’ internal temperature changes in order to catch any irregularities. Just like humans, if the internal temperature is abnormal, it could be a sign that the cow is ill and needs attention. By recognizing these signs, farmers can provide medication and prevent any milking from sick cows, improving the cow’s quality of life.
These examples from the dairy farm provide only a small window into the world of opportunities technology can offer farmers, opportunities which translate into benefits for consumers. I witnessed the great lengths farmers go to in order to produce safe, nutritious food for us and gained an enormous amount of respect for the job of the farmer. Standing there in the hog barn, I conjured up an image of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and thought to myself, “I’m definitely not in Los Angeles anymore!”
For more information on modern food production, visit: