Why Large Farms Are Smaller Than You Think - Food Dialogues

Why Large Farms Are Smaller Than You Think

By Jen Haugen, RD, LD

Today we give thanks for the food on our tables and the farmers that make it possible. 

Local vs. Non-local Farmers
If you take a look at your friends on Facebook, would you say your local friends matter more than your non-local ones? Not me. I would say all of my friends are valuable. They all have a place.

Same with local and non-local farmers. Buying food from all farmers, both local and non-local, is valuable. Every farmer works hard to grow food for our families. Every farmer has a place at the table in the food world.

You see, there’s a buzz about local, but is it a food philosophy to live by? I believe as a registered dietitian and Mom, that there isn’t much of a difference.

While I grew up on a soybean and corn growing farm where we had thousands of acres of farmland, we were still a family farm. While the crops we grew went into the national industry, it didn’t mean we didn’t support the local economy or actually eat what we grew,or that safety in all forms and efficiency wasn’t a huge priority.

Did you know 97% of farms – which is actually 90% of farm land – in the United States are actually family farms? 

I participated in the Food Dialogues Minneapolis in August 2015 and this was my main  takeaway:


Sometimes we get into this sensationalistic mindset – like finding the next big thing. The idea of “local food” is happening right now.

But can I share something with you?

While I don’t have a sensational, hip, or trendy food philosophy, I do have one that we can all feel good about. It’s one that believes in nourishing our families with all kinds of fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains and all kinds of meats no matter where they come from, whether it’s the farmer at the farmer’s market or the cattle rancher raising my beef two states over, or the strawberry farmer in California.

Let’s celebrate similarities as all farmers strive to do.

Frequently Asked Questions About Local versus Non-Local Farms
Whether a farmer supports the national food industry or the local one, there’s a lot to be said about how much common ground they share:

  • Money spent near their home stays within the community?  Yep.
  • Do their business support other local businesses?  You bet.
  • Do they both pay taxes locally?  Yes.
  • Do they both invest in their community, living and working within their community, raise their families within the community and invest in the community’s future?   Of course.
  • Do both types of growers work to make things as efficient as possible?  Yes, yes, yes.
  • Is sustainability a priority for both?  Overwhelming yes.
  • Is the environment around them a priority for both?  Very much so.
  • Is the goal high quality and safe food for both their families and ours?  Totally.

What about these questions?

  • Does locally grown food have more nutrition than food that isn’t locally grown?  Not necessarily.
  • Is there a food safety difference?  No.
  • What about pesticides – are they used in both situations?  Yes, actually.

But pesticides are not flamboyantly used. Pesticide use is controlled and efficient and I encourage you to watch this very short video – produced by the women at CommonGround: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPcov49WE4Y

Here are a few more questions:

  • Do all farmers fertilize their crops in some way?  Yes, nutrient deficiencies occur and need to be corrected. Otherwise crops won’t grow.
  • What about size? Aren’t local farmers the only true family farmer?  Actually, no.

A family farm, per the USDA, is defined as one where the majority of the business is owned by the farmer and the people related to the farmer, including any relatives that do not live in a farmer’s household.

I continue to be in awe about the amount of food we have available to us all year round. What about those strawberries in January? Or spinach any day of the week? We can get them whenever we need them, thanks to the farmers all around the country growing our food when the season is right for them. Let’s thank the farmers both near and far for growing food that graces our tables. It’s delicious no matter where it comes from.

To read the full article, get the recipe for Strawberry Spinach Salad, and more from Jen, visit jenhaugen.com/large-farms-smaller-think-strawberry-spinach-salad

Jen Haugen is part of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance’s Digital Voices Council. To learn more about the program and bloggers who participate, click here.