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News & Media: Staff Columns

The role of farmers in the future of sustainable agriculture and food

Thursday, January 3, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lauren Brey, director of marketing and research
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Sustainability, whatever your definition of it may be, is a major trend in food today that is not going away.

Traditional food companies have been upset by shifting consumer eating patterns over the past decade, driven by bloggers, social media influencers and others like fitness communities (think Crossfit and the Paleo diet they promote).

Mike Lee, founder of The Alpha Labs Future Market, is working to re-envision what the future of food looks like. He believes that farmers should play a key role in addressing the trends in food today and creating a demand for sustainable agriculture.

But what can farmers do? What does a more sustainable food system look like on the food shelf?

It’s all about the story

Customers need a vivid story they can latch onto and build a movement around. This is evidenced by the changes in the traditional food system of big food companies losing market share to smaller, more contemporary brands. Much of this can be attributed to the demands of customers and the bloggers and social media influencers making demands.

 “We need more farmers getting out in front of the public to tell the stories of what's happening on the land and how it impacts the food we eat,” Lee said. “There's still a huge disconnect in understanding between the farmer and end consumer today, despite the fact that food has never been more top of mind for the masses.

“We can look at what chefs did over the past 20 years to demystify and engage the public on what happens in a restaurant kitchen as a template for what farmers might be able to do for farms.”

The new rockstars of food

“In my opinion, there's still a very vague sense of what sustainability in food actually means to the average consumer, and I don't think farmers can afford to depend on big food companies to tell that story for them,” Lee said. “Who can be the Rachael Ray or other celebrity chef from the sustainable farming community? The past 20 years has been about how chefs are rockstars, but I think we need the next 20 years to be about farmers being the new rockstars of food.”

Lee’s hope for the future is that we can raise public awareness of what actually happens on farms of all sizes and create a true understanding of what is and what is not sustainable with respect to food production. He believes we need a “pop culture” version of what some chefs are doing for the narrow, upper-class audience that will reach the mainstream.

“Ideally, this will come from a farmer or group of farmers who can rise to the occasion and tell those stories," he said.

As farmers, we know the ins and outs of food production on the ground level. We are intimately connected to the land and animals we care for. Our customers are more interested than ever before in understanding where their food comes from, and we are uniquely positioned to share that with them.

We must work to connect with our customers through our common values. Edge and our sister organization, Dairy Business Association, work to connect members with customers through social media, video stories and on-farm events. Contact me at or (920) 883-0020 x 107 with questions or ideas.

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