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How Farmers Fight New Challenges Is Key To What Makes It To Our Tables

Without innovation and adaptation, farmers face a perilous future

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What’s the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about a farm? Perhaps livestock, bales of hay, a place far removed from daily life?

“When the average person thinks about a farm, they most likely think of something from yesteryear. They don’t necessarily think about a part of our society that is vital to our food, our water, our climate and our future,” says David Haight, the VP of Programs at American Farmland Trust (AFT). That misconception around modern farms could stem from the fact that today only 1.3 percent of the American workforce is on farms, a steep drop from over 12% in 1950. It also may be why many eaters don’t connect to the sources of their food – a 2018 study found that 48 percent of Americans say they never or rarely seek information about where their food was grown or how it was produced.

But those farmers are taking on modern problems. Facing issues like land loss, extreme weather, and economic disruption, individual farms are feeling the heat. “I worry that we’re at a tipping point with agriculture,” says Dayna Burtness of Nettle Valley Farm, an independent farmer who raises her pigs on pasture.

“Farmers are on the front lines of fighting climate change, they’re helping to improve public health and they’re helping to sustain the economy,” according to Haight. “In reality, farms are a place where innovation is happening.”

For example, in response to losing land and quality soil, farmers are using cover crops and reduced tillage to help the soil to absorb water like a sponge during heavy rainfall and push it out during droughts. That means less erosion, healthier crops, pastures, and livestock, and increased resilience in the face of climate change. David Haight and Dayna Burtness both call for a landscape-level shift toward more sustainable techniques through collective action. “Land protection, healthy soil, these different practices, together they can really make a difference,” explains Haight. “Not just for farmers, but for all of us.”

These challenges not only affect farmers, they impact the collective food supply and individuals. In response, AFT has partnered with Tillamook, a farmer owned dairy company, to build the All for Farmers Coalition. It’s a collection of brands, food lovers and businesses working together to provide assistance and resources to farmers and help raise awareness of issues they are facing. This coalition supports the Brighter Future Fund, a grant program for farmers across the country to assist in successfully improving resilience, enhancing farm viability and accessing land.

Resiliency lies in the hands of the individual as well. A person doesn’t necessarily have to be an expert or know every detail about where their food originated. Supporting brands that are dedicated to helping farmers, like donating or purchasing goods from the AFF market, can have an impact.

Haight explains, “The more we do that in our own homes and we start doing that in our schools and in our hospitals and our senior centers, in all the places where we’re preparing food, that will absolutely be a part of helping to solve some of the biggest challenges we face.”

Those are challenges that Tillamook and AFT are determined to solve. For more information on how you can get involved and support farmers, go to AllForFarmers.com.

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