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Agriculture / Conservation News
What is the future of the American food supply?

By Jonathan Hermonot, State Agriculture Committee

  MARCH 2010 --

What is the future of the American food supply? Consumers are becoming more educated about what they eat! They are more willing to pay for higher quality local products. This is causing the market to evolve. Whole Foods, a chain grocery store, is an example of this. Even in a sluggish economy, Whole Foods is expanding. Also, there has been more and more farmer markets started in response to consumer demand. The factors that increase the demand for locally grown food include increased support for small, sustainable and local farms, increased demand for freshness and quality, increased concern about food safety, and an increased focus that eating less processed food is healthier. Common sense regulatory oversight is needed to allow for the safe delivery of locally grown food.

Large commercial farms have come under criticism as being "factory farms". Recently a member of an animal rights organization went "undercover" as an employee on a large dairy farm in New York State with the intent to film animal abuse on the farm. The report made network news. They suggested that efficiency and profit is put ahead of animal husbandry. In reality, good animal husbandry is critical to making a profit. Even large farms that do not treat their animals well will achieve poor efficiency and will not be economically viable. But even so, consumers witnessing animals housed in these large confinement systems may search for alternative food sources. Even though large commercial farms are critical to supplying an affordable and plentiful food supply for our population, a growing niche market is expanding to offer an alternative to those that are willing to pay a premium.

Will the country see an expansion of small farms or will large production just change their business model? Small, local farms serve a niche by offering an all-natural, fresher product that is less processed. Their production costs are higher and therefore must charge a higher price. Large commercial farms are trying hard to capture some of this growing niche. For example, a large poultry producer recently began marketing all-natural, anti-biotic free chicken but were injecting the egg with antibiotics instead of feeding it to the growing bird as they typically do. They were criticized and had to stop labeling their chicken as all-natural. Large commercial farms may find it difficult to reproduce what the small farm can offer.

Large commercial agriculture is going to continue to play a vital role in our economy. Most consumers will want the choice of the $.59 per pound chicken at Walmart. But a growing number of consumers will demand higher quality foods that they can feel good about a having been raised humanely and will be willing to buy a locally grown pasture-raised chicken for $3.59 per pound. Small local farms selling their products at farm stands, CSA's, Farmer's Markets, and in other direct marketing venues will become more prevalent. In Connecticut, with a large population base, farmers have an ideal opportunity to do this.

As demand continues to grow, we need a regulatory environment that supports the direct marketing of locally grown foods. Complex processing regulations often favor large commercial enterprises that have lobbyists fighting for their interests. Small farm exemptions can help to make direct marketing viable for local farms. Connecticut Grange can help this process by promoting responsible legislation in Connecticut that supports the safe delivery of locally grown foods from Connecticut's small farms to Connecticut's many consumers.



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