As you have realized from my posts, knowing where your food comes from and how it is produced is something I care about. I try to buy meat and produce that reduce my environmental impact as much as possible. I recently was selected to be part of the City Moms 2015 which is a program conducted by the Illinois Farm Families. It is a unique program which gives urban and suburban mothers a chance to see how our food is produced. It is a year-long program with visits to a hog farm, soy and corn farm, dairy farm, and a beef cattle farm.
Our first meeting was at a local grocery store where we toured the store with a nutritionist to learn more about food labeling. We also had the meet a crop and beef farmer and a hog farmer and had a chance to ask them questions regarding terms that are often seen on meat packing, such as, ‘hormone free’ and ‘antibiotic free’. The most interesting part of this tour was the level of confusion around these terms and the fact that most a simply used for marketing. The tour was followed by a presentation by a nutritionist who went into further detail regarding terms seen on other food products such as ‘natural’ and ‘organic’. The one thing that these presentations did not include was a discussion of the environmental impact of farming in the U.S. I recognize we can’t all be part of a CSA and/or purchase from a local farm but it would have been nice to have discussed how to select products in the store to try to reduce environmental impacts.
Our second tour was to a family run hog farm. It was a ‘sow center’ which means they breed pigs to the weaning stage and then they are sent to a nursery and finishing farm to grow to full size. It was a relatively small operation with 750 sows. They showed us the gestation crates, the insemination process, and the farrowing rooms. It was a fascinating insight to see the production process up close and hear from the farmers directly. The family was so great to describe the entire process and open up their home to us. At lunch the matriarch of the family sat at our table and she explained their contract. I was struck by how complex the business is and the difficult decisions families must make to maintain their businesses. The farm business, like any other, is driven by demand. In the U.S. we demand pork and pork products at such low prices that production decisions have to be made to supply the consumers. Only when we consumers make different choices will production processes change.
Thus far I have really enjoyed these tours and have learnt a lot about the complexity of food production, marketing, and business. I look forward to the rest of the tours.