Safe Food on Your Plate
Growing up with parents who farmed, conversations about how our food was grown were a daily occurence. When I was younger, our small quarter-acre garden grew the produce we ate in the spring and summertime, as well as a surplus that we sold every Friday at the local farmers’ market. I knew where my food came from and how it was produced. (No need for blockchain here, as I kept daily records to be recorded later in my 4-H record book.) I was growing and eating “locally grown” food before it became mainstream.
Now that I’m a mom with two young girls plus a full-time job, my backyard garden is more of a hobby than a way to put food on our table. Like most people, I trust others to provide the food that my children eat, and I relate to the questions that many parents have about how their food is grown.
As a Food Chain and Sustainability Manager with Bayer, I work with farmers, food processors, grocery retailers, and others who are involved in the path that food takes from the farm to your plate. Similar to when I was a child, I still feel lucky to have a front-row seat to what goes into the production of our food.
Here are some of the things I consider when feeding my family:
Putting nutrition first
There are lots of ways to buy fruits and veggies. You can get them at the grocery store, online, a farmers’ market, or a local roadside stand. You may opt for conventionally grown produce, or maybe you prefer organic. We are lucky to have so many options, but it can be overwhelming given different labeling and growing techniques.
Selecting where and how your food is produced is an important personal consideration, as well as ensuring proper nutrition for your family by including a diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables. Medical and nutrition experts agree that maintaining healthy eating may reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
Fruits and vegetables are equally nutritious whether they are grown on organic or conventional farms. Many studies, including a 2012 Stanford analysis, found no nutritional difference between diets that included organic or conventional produce. I find it comforting to know that my children will get the needed vitamins, minerals and fiber no matter which option I choose, and so I can focus on what’s most important – ensuring that I’m serving plenty of healthy fruits and veggies at every meal. Getting them to eat some of those green veggies is another matter!
Counting on safe food
It’s important to focus on getting enough fruits and veggies on your family’s plate, but what about the safety of the food we eat, and things like pesticide residues in our food?
Around the world, regulatory authorities monitor our food supply. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USDA scientists routinely test to help make sure Americans have safe food. And, EPA regulations aim to protect all people, especially infants and children who may eat fresh produce. And, the USDA has a pesticide data program (PDP) that samples, tests and reports pesticide resides on ag products in the U.S. food supply, with a focus on those produces that are highly consumed by infants and children. Full background on the program can be found here.
One of the top questions I get from friends and family is, “so, if there is a pesticide residue on the food, is it safe?” EPA notes, “just because a pesticide residue is detected on a fruit or vegetable, that does not mean it is unsafe.” To put the risk of pesticide exposure into context, a child would have to consume 181 servings of strawberries in one day (that’s 1,448 large strawberries) to reach the level where adverse effects could potentially be seen from the highest pesticide residue recorded by USDA.
My background in agriculture and my job give me a first hand view of farmers and the hard work they do everyday to ensure we have healthy, high quality, abundant, affordable food. If you’ve ever had a small garden plot, you probably understand how difficult it can be grow a crop and protect them from different pests and diseases.
Farmers, whether conventional or organic, use methods called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to deal with diseases, weeds and insects on their crops. IPM is a process to address pest problems while minimizing risks to people and the environment. They typically include habitat manipulation, cultural practices, use of resistant varieties, biological controls and sometimes use of pesticides. Sometimes, tools like pesticides (synthetic and non) are needed to grow healthy crops. But it’s important to know that farmers care deeply about the safety of food (food that their own families eat) and the health of the environment (the land where they have to continue to make a living for years to come). Check out this recent story about how a young farmer began his journey in farming.
The great news is that information about how your food is grown is abundant. Ask a grower at a farmers’ market; visit a you-pick/agritourism farm; or check out a farmer’s website, instagram, Facebook or Twitter posts. And ask questions, such as how they decide if a pesticide is needed, and how often and in what quanity they apply? I think you’ll be surprised by the strategy, precision, and minute applications of today’s modern crop protection methods.
Continuing to question
I wish I could say because of my growing background as a kid that I have now have a green thumb. I forget to water, let snails feast on my basil, and don’t give my garden the attention that it needs every week. My daughter keeps picking green tomatoes, despite my reminder time and time again that they will taste better if we let them turn red on the vine. I have to remind myself that a big reason for the garden is to help my children learn how things grow and where a small portion of their food comes from.
There are always questions that arise about how something so personal to us (food) is grown and produced. Questions are good – and always welcome by any grower you talk to. As someone who grew up on a farm, has built a career through jobs in all facets of agriculture, and who now works for a large agricultural company, I believe that that your questions and concerns push all of us in the food chain to be more transparent and to better dialogue with consumers. (Check out our transparency iniatiative here.)
So please keep the questions coming.