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Food is more than sustenance: it's social

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While food production provides life-and-death sustenance for many around the globe, it is also a social medium in the developed world. American agriculture could do well to understand the social aspect of agricultural demand while not losing sight of food production's life-giving qualities.

I recently had the opportunity to interview California Rice Commission CEO & President Tim Johnson and CRC Legal Counsel George Soares. Both have an interesting perspective on the focus agriculture could use to remain viable in California’s highly urbanized climate.

Soares says relationships are pivotal to what he does for the CRC and a host of other agricultural organizations he represents in California’s political circles.

While not a direct result of CRC efforts, Sacramento held its first-ever Farm-to-Fork event in September. Events such as this are a great way for agriculture to become the leader in discussions about the role agriculture plays in our lives. The CRC is just one group working to make those connections through its relationship-driven focus.

What a golden opportunity for California agriculture – much of which is grown, irrigated and processed within a short drive of California’s capital city – to draw the connection between the culinary delights people enjoy and the farms upon which they are produced.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Farm-to-Fork was borne out of a desire by chefs in the river city to meet the demand of a growing foodie movement in the region. Wikipedia defines “foodie” as a “person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and alcoholic beverages.” Foodies are said to seek new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating out for convenience or hunger. In other words, food is more than sustenance: it’s social.

Wikipedia further claims that the term “foodie” is more favorable than words such as “gourmet” or “epicurean,” which some argue simply mean “snob.”

According to the Farm-to-Food website, its mission is “to bring awareness to the Sacramento region’s local food production, consumption and sustainability as well as the contribution and exportation of sustainable products to the rest of the nation and world.”

This should be the mission statement of every agricultural organization in California.

It gets better. The vision statement reads as follows: “Communicate a regional identity that celebrates the local sustainability and food production of the Sacramento region by featuring the farmers, chefs and culinary community that make the Sacramento region the Farm-to-Fork capital of America.”

California agriculture could do well to have that as its sole focus rather than focusing only on “education” as the means to bridge the divide between the 1 percent that produces agriculture and the 99 percent that doesn’t.

How would California’s issues related to water allocation and availability, or the food choices in the local schools – just two timely examples of many others we could discuss – be better served if the single-minded focus of agriculture was building relationships with their neighbors rather than flicking people upside the head by telling them in a sarcastic tone that the food grown in America is the safest on the planet?

As a point of conversation, maybe it’s time for agriculture to drop words like “educate” from its lexicon because of the premise it carries with it that one side is smarter than the other. Using the word “foodie” as an example, perhaps consumers have long tired of having agriculture “educate” them about their food choices.

Consumers are smart. They know good food when they taste it, but we in agriculture can’t provide it to them unless we understand them; and we can’t understand them without building the all-important relationship with them.

 

Questions or comments: Please e-mail me at tfitchette@farmpress.com

 

Follow me on Twitter @ToddFitchette

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