Ag Education in the Big Apple

Posted on November 26, 2012

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I just got back from a quick trip to New York so I was fascinated by the results of a new study released this month by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), which found that 54 percent of New Yorkers consider knowledge about food to be a social status symbol.

The interesting poll also found that, compared to the rest of America, New Yorkers are more interested in learning about food production, and also more skeptical of it.

I’ll break down the data and discuss what it could mean for agriculture in America.

WANTED: FOOD EDUCATION

Less New Yorkers feel informed about where their food comes from than the rest of Americans: 53 percent compared to 62 percent.  But 68 percent said they want to understand how food is produced–they just don’t feel they have the time or the money right now.  Just 59 percent of Americans feel that way.

CITY OF SKEPTICS

But New Yorkers are also more skeptical about food production than the rest of Americans.  Only 44 percent think that agriculture is headed in the right direction–a sentiment felt by 53 percent of the nation overall.  They also doubt that farmers and ranchers are committed to improving food production and more than half didn’t believe 95 percent of farms are family-owned–which, according to 2007 census data, is the case.

WHAT ARE YOU PUTTING IN MY FOOD?

Topics of special interest for New Yorkers were inputs in crops (pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers) and antibiotics used in raising farm animals.

THE FOOD DIALOGUES: NEW YORK

The survey was released in conjunction with The Food Dialogues: New York, a branch of USFRA.  This group says their mission is to help answer Americans’ questions about food production while being good stewards of the land and its resources.

SUMMARY

So what does all this mean?

Well, for one thing, it could signify the start of a larger trend in the United States.  It makes sense for the rest of the country to follow the lead of one of its most important cities.  But this also shows a surprising ignorance surrounding where food comes from.  Apparently, Americans don’t know much food–and considering the role their country plays in worldwide food production, that’s stunning.

Tim Wall wrote an article last week for Discovery called “Where Does All That Food Come From?”  In it, he said:

Even after this year’s widespread drought, one place without “made in China” labels is the grocery store. The United States takes care of its own food needs.

He pointed out how blessed we are in America to have tremendous access to high quality, affordable food.  Compared to other countries, we spend a very small fraction of our income on food.

Efforts are underway to help Americans learn more about where their food comes from.  America’s Farmers offers pages of education and even an online quiz.  A new exhibit opened last week at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. showing the evolution of food production in the United States.

The Food Dialogues launched an initiative to bridge the gap between food producers and consumers.  They have an advanced media campaign with videos, graphics and other educational tools–like this video on modern beef ranching.

And last week, The Food Dialogues named nine finalists for their “Faces of Farming & Ranching” competition.  These men and women are the result of a nationwide search that started this summer in an effort to put names and faces on the amorphous concept of food production in the U.S.  They represent the millions of folks who work every day to put food on American tables.

With all of these educational opportunities, Americans with an appetite for food education might find it easier than ever to get informed.

Whether this new interest in food production is a passing fad or here to stay, it’s good that organizations and individuals who care about ranching are seizing the opportunity to share with the nation what they do, and why it matters.

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