To all the hats you already wear–mechanic, boss, vet, bookkeeper, salesperson — you can now add “Educator” to the mix. For two and half days at the Women in Sustainable Ag conference the message I heard most consistently from the farmers attending was how important it was to educate their customers.
Nicolette Hahn Niman, attorney, activist and California livestock rancher shared her view of the need for consumers to more fully appreciate the “real” cost of the food on our tables. This theme was echoed by many of the workshop speakers and roundtable participants. In order for farmers to be profitable they must be able to recover their costs and earn a livable wage for themselves and their employees. Local foods and sustainable communities depend on economic sustainability.
But price is not the only thing that consumers need our help with. They need to understand how to properly cook the foods that they are purchasing. They need to relearn how to make the most of seasonal products, get reacquainted with the less familiar cuts of meat, and learn to experiment and have fun with our food.
Jill Shore Auburn, senior sustainability advisor to USDA, reminded us there is an ongoing need for education on all fronts to assist U.S. consumers on how to construct healthy, nutritious menus that feature seasonal foods and make the most of the advice provided by Michael Pollan in Food Rules. Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Laura Olsen, Green Mountain Girls Farm, mentioned that some of her customers are reporting that a CSA membership actually helps them save money on groceries because they have become more adept at resisting the ‘impulse buying’ that resulted in the purchases of unnecessary processed food products.
The ‘educator’ hat may not feel comfortable to all farmers but the message was clear. If you rely on direct market outlets then you are in a key position to help your customers make the link between how they spend their food dollar, the health of their family, and the value to their community. Take this responsibility seriously. The good news is that there is an increasing wealth of resources you can rely on to help you in this task.