No-spin zone (Off the Secretary’s Desk)
(Editor’s note: Douglas Fisher is the New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture.)
New Jersey has a grand history of farming that spans centuries, from the indigenous people of our state (before it was a state) to the arrival of immigrant populations, through the American Revolution and up to today.
There are so many accounts of how the lands were farmed and what they produced, it becomes apparent that before there were more industrialized operations, farming was oh-so micro-local, and was at the heart of everyday life for many residents.
A few generations ago, agriculture was in full view everywhere, in every city, town, and hamlet.
Livestock was within the municipal limits, poultry and eggs were very prevalent on the family homestead, gardens of produce grew everywhere, be it alleys or backyards.
Farms were much smaller, and it took more people being involved at least to some level in agriculture to collectively supply our population with food and other farm products needed to survive.
Only a hundred years ago, farmers composed 10 percent or more of the workforce, versus about 2 percent these days.
Farming families were so fully in view that their visibility was their story and was there for all to see.
Of course, I am speaking of much simpler times.
There was dramatic change, though, when the marketing, advertising and public relations involved in farming roared onto the scene.
Consolidations in agricultural production began to take hold and mass merchandising of farm products developed.
National brands emerged and then much of our agricultural output was funneled into this vast modern, mechanized way to supply the masses.
Importation of farm products from other countries that previously had come from local sources also tilted the balance of supply.
Competition from outside our shores turned what had been a completely local form of commerce upside down.
The industrial revolution was as much a phenomenon for agriculture as it was for manufactured hard goods and, slowly, ag in the neighborhood was changing in profound ways.
The development of supermarkets in the 1920s also had an extraordinary effect.
Both family heads of the household could be working now and limited time to procure foodstuffs necessitated a much more efficient process.
Now, as we’ve seen in 2022, though, a shift is occurring again, whereby the public is largely longing for some of the same settings where farm products are produced locally and nearby.
That is why, for instance, farmers markets continue to be so in vogue now.
Folks flock to farmers they know and trust. And we are aware of their presence again, just as it was a century ago.
“Know your farmer, know your food” and “know where your food comes from” have become watchwords for consumers these days.
However, it even goes beyond that because the public is yearning for more information and understanding on just how their produce — and meats, poultry, and dairy and egg products — are produced.
Expansive terminology is being used in asking so many questions about food concepts like sustainable, organic, regenerative, etc.
Questions about whether something is GMO- or gluten-free are now commonplace inquiries for which you on the farms are expected to come up with answers.
I heard a farmer a while back say she did not how to “spin” her farm’s story about what they produce and how they do it.
Another farmer said, “I pretty much grow organic, but not 100 percent, and I do not know how to answer the questions unless the answers given could be hybrid responses.”
Right now, in this state, most of the people living close to farms point with pride to the operations they have in their midst.
They deserve “No Spin.”
Just tell it like it truly is and let the consumer decide for themselves whether it meets all their criteria.
I always say that authenticity trumps any “story” you can concoct that tries to navigate everyone’s concerns into a one-size-fits-all answer that satisfies everyone concerned.
Look at every aspect of your operation and think how you might improve not only in production and efficiency but in caring and conscious concern for societal responsibility.
If you continue to move in that direction, you only need to be an open book.