Get to Know Your Farmer

Young farmer in corn fields
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I love eating. I think a lot about where my food comes from and the farmers who produce it.

My family predominantly lives on food we grow ourselves or which is grown locally by our neighbors. Our kids raise 4-H hogs and one always goes to the freezer each year once the county fair is over. Our other main source of protein is venison, hunted on our own property. I was taught canning and freezing by my mom, and so I continue the tradition of “putting up” food when it is in season for use in our menus in the offseason. I buy local peaches, strawberries, blueberries and other produce to can or freeze and use to make yummy dishes all year long. In this sense, I am very much a “locavore.”

The “buy local” movement has a lot of momentum and has done great things for local farm economies, not to mention the health benefits of eating food produced in season and from within your own community. But having lived abroad and traveled extensively and thought of all the farmers I know around this globe, I’ve decided there are merits to being both a “locavore” and a “globavore.”

I love being a globavore mainly because I know so many farmers in so many countries around this world. My family has hosted International 4-H Youth Exchangees (IFYE’s) and young farmers for nearly 30 years. These young farmers and IFYE’s came from over 20 different countries making our connection very meaningful and personal. In turn, members of our family have been able to travel to visit and spend time with several of these farm families on their farms in foreign lands. “Know Your Farmer”—the USDA’s program to encourage local food communities—takes a whole new definition when you’ve lived and worked with farm families around this globe.

I grew up on the edge of the Berkshire Mountains. I love New England maple syrup, made by my dear friends who still tap trees and boil sap the old fashioned way. I think of them every time I use their syrup on my pancakes or French toast.

Cabot Cheese is one of my favorite brands because I know dairy farmers in the New England area whose milk is processed into their yummy cheeses.

Our neighbors milk cows for Land O’ Lakes and the Maryland-Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative. Supporting those brands helps our neighbors.

I love Vlasic pickles. I think of my cucumber-growing, fellow Eastern Shore woman-farmer Hannah every time I eat pickles.

I buy Perdue, Mountaire, or Allen-Harim chicken.  I can’t count on my fingers and toes the number of friends I have who are poultry farmers. My friend Jen is our county extension agent and, along with her two boys, runs a chicken farm. I know how much they care for their chickens and know I am getting a quality product supporting a fellow farmer when I buy those brands.

When our freezer runs low on our own meat, I look for Leidy’s or Alderfer brand pork out of Pennsylvania. My friend Jen is a hog farmer. I’ve been to her farm. I know how she operates and look for the brand that buys her hogs.


It is not a mistake that I selected three female farmers to feature in this blog, either. I am proud to be a woman farmer along with these other strong, intelligent women. We’re not alone either. Did you know that 30 percent of U.S. farmers who grow your food are female?

When my branch of Schmidts left Germany for America, another branch of Schmidts set out for Chile. These distant cousins are now one of the largest table grape growers in that country. I think of them every time I buy Thompson seedless from Chile at my local supermarket. A relative of mine grew those grapes.

We have dear friends who farm paprika peppers in South Africa. I think of them and remember my time in South Africa every time I use paprika as a seasoning.

I was fortunate to travel to Vietnam in January 2011. I think of the rice and tilapia farmers I met when I consume either of those food items and hope they are doing well. While I don’t “know” them well, a face-to-face meeting with a farmer makes you have a better connection to how your food is produced, regardless of location.

That trip highlighted how food is globally interconnected and how important U.S. agriculture is to so many people outside our borders. Visiting Hong Kong, Vietnam and Taiwan, I understood the importance of U.S. farm exports to feed people in countries with too little land mass to feed their own population. U.S. farmers support so many people beyond our own farm-gates, supporting globavores by choice and necessity.

On the flip side, the majority of what we grow on our family farm stays within 100 miles of our property. This distance is the well-used rule of thumb for defining local by many who have hitched their wagon to the local food movement. From our farm in Maryland, 100 miles reaches to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and Washington, D.C. Whether its tomatoes to a cannery, fresh market green beans to a distributor, grapes to a winery, corn to a grain elevator, or soybeans to a tofu-maker, much of what we grow stays local. Our family farm supports many other local businesses, both as a buyer of items we need to operate our farm and as a seller of raw food or feed items to other family-owned local business.

The fabric of the rural economy is very much a locavore economy, not only of food, but of products and services to and from family farms.

Locavore or Globavore, food is about relationships.  “Local” to me can be grown thousands of miles from me, but grown by a friend or distant relative. Knowing your farmer isn’t about distance, it’s about relationships. Consumers can connect their relationship to food by patronizing farmers markets, CSAs, farm stands, creameries or wineries, and by looking for local products in the grocery. But don’t lose sight of the fact that my friend Hannah may have grown those pickles you’re crunching, my friend Jen may have raised that bacon you had for breakfast, or that my tomatoes may be in the spaghetti sauce you had for dinner last night. Just because our faces are not on the product, or you didn’t buy it direct from one of us, doesn’t mean that item wasn’t grown by a family farmer who main interest in producing a safe and healthy food for your consumption.

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Jennie Schmidt
Jennie Schmidt, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and farmer in Maryland's Eastern Shore. Read her blog, The Foodie Farmer. Follow her on Twitter.