Ever since tractors replaced horses, and then synthetic fertilizers and potent pesticides came on the scene in the mid-20th century, modern industrial agriculture has been producing bumper crops. But at the same time, this industrial system has depleted soil, polluted watersheds and treated animals inhumanely.
Most food is preserved, packaged and delivered to markets thousands of miles away. This system not only contributes to air pollution, but also aggravates our dependence on fossil fuels. Too much of the food that arrives at grocery stores is bland and unwholesome, and the oversupply contributes to an obesity epidemic for those of us who live in the midst of plenty.
Call it “binge farming.”
Now that we’re understanding the hangover symptoms this system has created, many of us are starting to pay more attention to exactly how and where the food we buy is produced. We are recognizing that we need to consider more than just which brand is the cheapest. We want to know how our food is grown and how the animals we eat are raised. We also want our patronage to have a positive effect on the farmers who produce our food.
Our best strategy is to grow some of our food at home; for what we can’t grow ourselves, our best options are to buy directly from local producers or choose organic products from conscientious companies.
One indication that more and more of us are becoming conscientious about our food choices is the success of Organic Valley. As our article The Organic Valley Farmer Cooperative explains, this unique farmer-owned cooperative has revolutionized the food business — producing organic dairy products sustainably and marketing them at prices that are fair to its farmers. Now with more than 700 member-farmers in 22 states, Organic Valley is expanding to offer meat, eggs and other organic products.
The success of Organic Valley is based on a steadfast commitment to two guiding principles: First, the cooperative exists to benefit its farmers. Second, no one — including the farmers — benefits if the co-op’s actions harm the planet.
Every food purchase we make has consequences. Consumers choose Organic Valley products because they know they can feel good about all aspects of how the food was produced, as well as how the farmers who produced it are treated. We have the power to make better shopping choices that will force our agricultural system to sober up and act sensibly. Over the long run, Americans’ daily food choices will be a major factor in shaping the future of our society. We hope more farmers and businesses will follow Organic Valley’s lead and give consumers better choices.