By Brittany Jablonsky

Happy Food Day, everyone! Last week we celebrated World Food Day with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, but today, Oct. 24, is Food Day here in the United States

National Farmers Union has always believed that everyone who eats should care about their food, where it comes from, how it’s produced, and who is doing the producing. Food Day is a good opportunity for all consumers to stop and think about these issues.

Food Day is an effort led by members of Congress, chefs, academics and healthy food advocates, with a focus on the following five priorities:

1)     Promote safer, healthier diets

2)     Support sustainable and organic farms

3)     Reduce hunger

4)     Reform factory farms to protect the environment

5)     Support fair working conditions for food and farm workers

What’s the unstated key to achieving each of Food Day’s five goals? Family farmers and ranchers.

Here at NFU we often get asked to define the term family farm. Itoften gets used with some creative license by those who wish to portray a “family-owned” image without truly operating as a family farm, which can lead to confusion and mistrust of the term. Because of the United States’ diversity of agriculture, rather than using a size, commodity or production system qualifier to define what constitutes a family farm, Farmers Union members focus on the structure. In NFU’s farmer- and rancher-written policy document, our members define family farm or family-sized farm as:

[A]n economically adequate agriculture production unit that should produce, after a fair net return on investment, a family income comparable to the average net income of families in other segments of the society. That family farm is a unit utilizing land and other capital investments operated by one farmer together with his or her family who provide the stewardship and management, take the economic risk and provide the work, supervision and care of the unit. A vertically integrated and/or multinational grain and food conglomerate is not a family farm.

As the innovators behind the local food movement, family farmers are helping to solve our nation’s obesity crisis by selling directly to local schools, starting farmers markets and CSAs, and finding other ways to add value to their production while providing their friends and neighbors with safe, healthy food.

Family farmers often inherit their farms from their parents, grandparents, and the generations before them. And, just like their agricultural ancestors, family farmers don’t look at farming as simply a way to earn a living. They toil and struggle to keep their heads above water when times are tough because farming is a lifestyle, and one that they want to pass on to a future generation. And the only way to pass on this way of life is to ensure that the air, soil and water we use is healthy enough to continue to produce food for generations to come. Family farmers are the original, and best, stewards of the land.

It is a great tragedy that, in a country of excess and plenty, millions go without enough food to eat. Farmers Union members care deeply about hunger in their own communities and around the world. This concern is what led NFU in 1945 to become a founding member of CARE, a humanitarian organization fighting global poverty, and to launch in 2012 its second annual partnership with Feeding America and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to help needy families in rural communities.

Massive “factory farms” that house tens of thousands of livestock certainly don’t fall under NFU’s definition of family farms. Family ranchers, producers and growers take the utmost care of their animals, spending hours and sleepless nights checking on them during the birthing season, treating them when they are sick, and getting to know them so well they can identify each individual animal. And family producers know that healthy, humanely treated livestock will ultimately bring them more money on sale day.

Finally, family farmers support fair working conditions for food and farm workers because they themselves know what it is like to work hard for little pay, work in hazardous conditions, be unable to afford health insurance, and struggle to put food on their own family’s table.

So, in celebrating this year’s Food Day, take a moment to ponder what it means to truly be a family farmer and the invaluable role they play in making our food systems healthier, more sustainable and safer for all of us.

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