USFRA Food Dialogues Examines Consumers' Perception of SustainabilityMon, 01 Feb 2016 15:23:41 CST
Today's consumers, especially millennials, have a microscope on how their food is grown and sourced sustainably. Terms like local, organic and natural dominate the marketplace, but what does it all mean? One of the most tangible examples of sustainability is drastically fewer resources being used. In terms of the dairy industry, since 1944, today's farmers are using just 21 percent of the animals, 35 percent of water and 10 percent of the land required to produce the same amount of milk.
This insight was just one of many at the Food Dialogues® held recently at the Dairy Strong conference in Madison, Wis., co-sponsored by U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance® (USFRA®) and Dairy Strong. Hundreds of attendees gathered as Michael Specter, a food and science staff writer with The New Yorker, moderated a diverse panel that included a registered dietitian, a food industry sustainability expert, and a fifth-generation dairy farmer, among others, to discuss how consumers and farmers define sustainability and the various methods and technologies used on farms - small and large - to protect the environment.
In defining sustainability, the panel agreed with Steve Peterson, food industry sustainability expert and former General Mills executive, that sustainability boils down to two questions; where does my food come from? and how is it cared for? As trends continually evolve, consumers are increasingly interested in learning more about their food and engaging in a dialogue with farmers/ranchers and the agricultural supply chain. And this trend resonates with these farmers who care immensely about their customers.
"I think one of the neat things about American agriculture is that it allows us to respond to the wishes of the consumer, and that's what I'm doing as a farmer," said Greg Zwald of White Pine Berry Farm in River Falls, Wis.
With misconceptions today about sustainable production only occurring on local or organic farms, Randy Krotz, USFRA CEO, assures consumers that "sustainability is part of all food production today, and that most crops are being grown much more sustainably than they ever have been before. To improve and preserve their business, farmers and ranchers are constantly looking toward the future, while living in the present, and learning from the past."
To represent consumers' growing curiosity about their food supply, Lauren Lindsley, RDN, CD, dietitian manager for Skogen's Festival Foods, shared with attendees at the Food Dialogues that her customers are interested in hearing the story behind each family farm that supplies their food because, for Wisconsin dairy farmers, it's more than just milk that customers take off the shelf. People connect with people, and customers are now learning more about the "why" instead of accepting the "what". Today, 97 percent of U.S. farms are family-owned, according to the USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture.
For more information about USFRA or The Food Dialogues, visit FoodDialogues.com, and to view a recording of the panel discussion click here. To see photos of the Food Dialogues panel, visit USFRA's Flickr page at www.flickr.com/photos/fooddialogues.
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