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Food nourishes our body, sustains us and keeps us alive. What happens when our food is treated like a commodity rather than an important source of vitamins and minerals? When large corporations produce massive amounts of food grown in monocultures run by machines and agrochemicals, the result is bad for the environment, bad for the economy and bad for the consumer. Small farms and locally grown produce are vital to retaining diversely complex foods and providing quality food production. Fortunately for all of us, small farming is beginning to have a come-back.
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Supporting Small Farms
Statistics have recently showed a minor increase in small farms for the first time since the Great Depression. After the mid 1930s, the number of farms in America drastically dropped by 5 million. According to census data, the number of American farms is up 4 percent from the numbers in 2002, showing the first growth in nearly 80 years:
- Just over 2 million farms are currently operated in the U.S.
- The number of family operated farms has spiked since 2002 from 580,000 to nearly 700,000
This huge increase in small farms may be due to the support of surrounding communities. Since 2006, the number of farmers’ markets selling food from local small family farms has doubled, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA estimated that consumers spent over $1 billion in sales in 2011 at farmers’ markets.
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Organic foods and locally grown produce are no longer strange terms to the mainstream consumer. As the public takes an interest in healthy diets and green living, they turn towards the importance of sustainable farms. As noted by Forbes and Food+Tech Connect:
A number of startups and NGOs developed mobile apps to help meet growing consumer demand for information about what’s in their food. For example, Fooducate launched a GMO app to help consumers determine which foods are made with GMO ingredients; Real Time Farms launched theFixAntibiotics Food Finder to help consumers find meat raised without antibiotics; and Center for Science in the Public Interest launched Chemical Cuisine to help people understand additives in our food. Additionally, NRDC launched the Label Lookup iPhone app. (2013 Food Trends Get Technical, Sustainable, Healthy)
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Grocery Store Standards
The consumer dictates what the stores stock on the shelves. In The Lempert Report, Phil Lempert, author of SupermarketGuru.com, notes:
As we have seen [in 2012], people are choosing their foods more holistically based on all the “food factors"; taste, ingredients, source, nutritional composition as well as asking who is making their foods along with understanding the impact on our environment and animal welfare.
We predict that 2013 will be a transitional year as on package claims proliferate and may confuse; look for supermarkets to take up the role of gatekeeper and actually demand proof (transparency!) of these claims before they will permit them to be sold on their shelves.
Interested in helping push forward this movement towards small farming? Get involved! By supporting local farmers’ markets, using technology to avoid unhealthy products and requesting your local stores to carry more locally grown foods, you encourage this change from large corporate production to family owned and operated farming. Maybe you'll even decide to join in the movement yourself. It doesn't take much effort to begin growing your own vegetables or even raising chickens in your backyard.
- Why We Should Save Small Family Farms http://www.care2.com/causes/why-we-should-save-small-family-farms.html
- The Lempert Report: Top Ten Food Trends 2013 (Trends #6 - 10) http://www.supermarketguru.com/articles/top-ten-food-trends-2013-(trends-6-10).html
- 2013 Food Trends Get Technical, Sustainable, Healthy http://www.forbes.com/sites/daniellegould/2012/12/28/2013-food-trends-get-technical-sustainable-healthy/
- USDA Census (Part I): Small Farms on the Rise in America http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20090217/usda-census-part-i-small-farms-rise-america