If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a food citizen.
Take heart, because you’re one of a growing number of people who are stepping up and declaring their love of food grown well, their concern for agriculture’s impact on environmental and human health, and their hopes for a future that embraces sustainable, resilient farming.
We all eat food. But does that alone make us food citizens? Not really. In his 1977 landmark collection of essays, “The Unsettling of America,” Wendell Berry suggested that we must do more than passively consume what’s offered to us in grocery stores and restaurants. He said that people should “eat responsibly” if we want to make a difference in rural communities, in agriculture and in environmental protection, all of which were declining in the shadow of surging industrial agriculture. Eating responsibly, he suggested, means asking where your food comes from.
Years later, Michael Pollan would echo this idea when he wrote: “You can vote with your fork… and you can do it three times a day.” As with democratic citizenship, the idea of food citizenship embraces knowledge, action and connection.
The key to being a food citizen is inquiry and discovery. When you learn how that commercial tomato was grown or the cow behind a hamburger was raised, you may be repelled. But then you may also discover a little-known, nutritious variety of rice. Glenn Roberts has devoted his life to bringing organic, heirloom grains to the public. You may stumble upon a heritage-breed chicken, one of which Craig Haney, our Livestock Director, is helping to save from extinction.
Through the process of discovery comes knowledge, empowerment—and the path forward.
We’re encouraged by the rise of so many food citizens around the country and by the creation of a new urban-agrarian constituency—the alliance of city dwellers and suburbanites with farmers and rural communities—as evidenced in the spread of farmers markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA) ventures and other from-the-ground-up projects.
Keep on voting with your forks, and come see how our experiments are helping improve the way America eats and farms.
Originally published November 15, 2013