Healthy eating relies on farmers near and far
By Rene Pastor
It's a refrain heard in kitchens and dining rooms across the land: "You're not getting up from this table until you eat your vegetables."
To this day, most of us can still hear the echo of our mothers urging, pleading, ordering us to eat our veggies-and for goodness sake, stop trading your apple for a can of Pringles at lunch!
But a growing health trend among U.S. consumers is making it okay—cool, even—to eat healthfully, and the U.S. is finding that it's taking each and every specialty crop grower to meet the demand.
Dan Yarnick manages 300 acres outside Indiana, Pennsylvania, where he grows vegetables (beets and tomatoes mostly) as well as grain for cattle feed.
"We have noticed a movement [toward produce] and we're seeing younger people at our farm," Yarnick said. "People are willing to pay a premium for freshness and knowing their food is safe."
A report by the government's Center for Disease Control and Prevention said more than one-third of U.S. adults—around 35.7 percent—are obese. "In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight," it said.
Hodan Farah Wells, an economist with the Crops Branch, Market and Trade Economics Division in the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), said the Dietary Guidelines are an attempt to reduce diet-related diseases by educating people about food.
"The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans stress the importance of increasing the amount andvariety of fruit and vegetable intake as one component of healthy eating. In particular, the Guidelines stress increasing consumption of dark-green vegetables, orange and red vegetables, and legumes," Wells said.
"Although Americans have, on average, increased their overall consumption of vegetables and have, to some extent, increased their variety of intake, they are stillshort of the current Dietary Guidelines. Intake would need to increase by 50 percent in order to meet the current requirement."
While small, local farmers like Yarnick's are excited about the growing trend, they're going to need some help in order to meet that demand.
"We grow our vegetables in greenhouses right next to our market. We pick the vegetables just when they are ready to be eaten," a statement on Yarnick Farm's website reads. "Our tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, sweet and hot peppers, lettuces, radishes and more are for sale in our market the same day we pick them."
During the summer, the sugar and butter sweet corn is harvested and sold in Yarnick's farm market along with cabbage, field tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables.
But what about during the winter?
Across the country, Houweling's Tomatoes, located in Camarillo, California, grows a wide variety of tomatoes year-round by using hydroponic farming.
"A computerized drip irrigation system ensures each individual plant receives the optimal volume of water and nutrients; excess water is recirculated to an on-site water purification facility for reuse," the company's website explained. "With the ability to capture and store rainwater and run-off, our filtration system dramatically reduces overall water usage."
Systems like these help keep the United States in business as one of the world's leading producers of tomatoes—second only to China—accounting for more than $2 billion in annual farm cash receipts, according to the USDA.
David Bell, the chief marketing officer of Houweling's said retail figures have indeed shown rising consumption of fruits and vegetables among American consumers. "Our primary focus remains in the U.S. market. As a perishable product, proximity to the market/consumer allows for fresher better-tasting product with less food waste."
For David Bell, "close proximity" means within the U.S. For Dan Yarnick, it means within 100-mile radius of his farm.
Bottom line: whether they're from California or Pennsylvania, fresh, safe, American-grown vegetables are making their way to millions of dinner tables and school cafeterias every day because of the innovation and efficiency of our farmers. And we wouldn't trade that for anything—not even a can of Pringles.