Agriculture. For some people this is a dirty word (pun intended) and for others it defines who they are. Agriculture is defined as the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products. I think we can all agree that we need these products to survive. So why is the process of what we eat and use to cloth ourselves, provide shelter and countless other things that rely on plant and animal products bring about a wide range of emotions? Because it is a large part of our identity. We all have an image of what comes to mind when you think of Agriculture, for some it is a big green pasture, for others it’s plants in a greenhouse, and to some it’s even a commercialized factory. These perceptions dictate what people eat and choose to purchase.
Since World War II people have been getting farther away from their agricultural roots. In 1900, 40% of people lived on a farm by 2000 that number decreased to 5%. The fact of this story is that less people are growing food. On one hand that has allowed for people to focus on other things which has led to amazing discoveries and advancements in society, but more and more people don’t know about agriculture and where their food comes from. Some people “know enough to be dangerous” and make quick judgement without understanding the whole picture.
What drives these perceptions and snap judgments?
Marketing……….and marketing is scary!
Marketing campaigns today feed off fear and emotions to evoke a certain response. Self-proclaimed experts on social media are quick to share their thoughts. And people often take these campaigns and so-called experts as fact. However, I would encourage you to read fact-based information from all viewpoints and for families to investigate their food together.
UF IFAS Extension is known for its education based and researched backed information so a great starting point in getting the real truth about your food is attending Extension program or reading UF IFAS’s vast library of publications. When purchasing a house, you look at every detail as well as the big picture. So, learn about the logistics of where your food comes from. Is it grown in Florida? Learn about the seasonality of foods and what that means for where they might come from. Or, learn about how that plant or animal grows. What care does it need in order to be fruitful? How long did it take for the seed to become a plant that bears fruit or vegetables? How many miles did it have to travel from the farm to the grocery store to your kitchen? What are the USDA definitions between natural and organic? Why are chickens raised in cages and if they are free range how do farmers protect them? All are these are interesting and really important facts to help your family better understand your food.
In 1988, the National Research Council found that “Most Americans know very little about agriculture, its social and economic significance in the United States, and particularly, its links to human health and environmental quality.” Socially reasonable and economically justifiable agriculture is something we all need to think about as well. Our state currently has 21.5 million people. By 2035 it is expected to be 30 million people. How are we going to grow more food on less land? We do it by being more efficient. This is not just for farmers and ranchers. Right now in Florida, we use over half of our drinking water to water lawns. We all have a part in growing food even if we are not growing food. The first step in taking that responsibility is educating yourself on where and how our food system works.
In the end, what you decide to buy shows what you support and shows what you know.
This makes it ever more important that youth receive this same knowledge about our food systems. Youth need to know there are still many places in the world where kids are malnourished from not having the ability to access the same things we do. We need youth to understand what food security looks like worldwide so when their time comes they can help find new ways to feed more than the 9.7 billion people that are expected to be on earth in 2020. Youth are the future of our agriculture system and their proper education is critical to meeting the demands of the future. So, make sure your beliefs are based on science and impactful examples on our youth. It is easy to be afraid of the things we don’t know or understand.
The Alachua Extension Office is offering a virtual Sustainable Agriculture Camp where we are discussing different plants and animals and how they can be grown in an efficient manner by a farmer and in your backyard. This camp has a live session every Wednesday from 9-11am in May and June. If you can’t make it during those times, you can check out the information in a self paced Google Classroom which will be available in July.