Most of the children at this age do not have an understanding of the widespread diversity of food products that are available and the number of fruits and vegetables that come from literally around the world. In Connecticut we are use to seasonal crops like apples, strawberries, blueberries, etc. Farmers also produce sweet corn, peaches, and grapes. Connecticut also has turkey farms, milk production, egg farms and poultry.
However, many if not most of the seasonal vegetables in New England are available form other parts of our country and the world year round. Packaging, preservation and the ability to transport items by air, rail and truck keep the supply of food varied and coming. Students need to realize that people from poorer nations do not have is the variety of food. Some remote areas of the United States would also not have the same variety in their stores.
One of the other things that influence our food supply is the size and location of our community. New Haven is in the middle between Boston and New York City. There are rail lines and nearby ports where food items arrive daily. The fact that we are around one of the largest concentration of population in our country makes it economically advantageous for companies to want to sell food here. An interesting activity would be to map the area in the community and list the names of all food stores in the community: from corner groceries to delis to major food chains.
Another area to investigate is some of the products we regularly see at the store which do not come from our area or from this country. Coffee or sugar fall into this category, but possibly the best example of this is the banana. While, it is one if not the most popular fruit it does not grow in the continental United States. Students could research the banana industry and find out just how they are able to get the bananas here before they rot.
It might be useful for students to contrast how New Haven gets its food supply now and lets say two hundred years ago. Initially the society was built on agriculture. Farmers grew what they needed and could be fairly independent. Now we are very much dependent on others although the ease of buying food in the local grocery store tends to hide the really dependent nature of our food supply.
As New Haven and Connecticut changed into an industrialized community there were less and less farms and more factories in the community.
How does the farmer affect food quality?
The large fast food chains also influence the farmers and how crops and livestock are handled. To keep the crops coming and be part of the machine that feeds the nation the farmer has to make many decisions about what and how they are going to grow certain crops. As with most businesses the bottom line becomes the dollar.
In 1998 20% of the retail cost “farm value” of food produced was returned to its producers. Producers of eggs, beef, and chicken received 50% to 60% retail cost. Producers of vegetables received as little as 5%. 23
Eighty percent of the food dollar in the United States goes for labor, packaging, advertising, and other value enhancing activities. As an example the cost of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes is less than 10% of the retail value. Food companies are more likely to develop added-value products than to promote consumption of fresh fruits, and vegetables. Adding value to such foods is limited. 24
Farmers have had a more direct and detrimental affects on the food supply due to the unknown risk of heavy pesticide use. The residual affects of some of the pesticides are still present years after the application of chemicals ceased. The effect on humans, especially children, whose smaller bodies cannot handle as much of the chemicals as adults is still present. Not only are farmlands contaminated with pesticides, but also the runoff of the chemicals has found its way into the water supply often contaminating streams and rivers with potentially toxic chemicals, which in turn endanger fish they might contain.
While our government has limited or banned the use of some very potent pesticides, this has not stopped production of those chemicals. In fact many of these chemicals are sold to foreign countries that have less restrictive rules about pesticide use. This means that chemicals we ban could potentially in fruits and vegetables brought into our country through foreign importing.
Farmers may also add chemicals to the food of animals in order to increase their size or the number of eggs they lay. We now are coming to realize that many of the animals experience difficult lives before they are slaughtered. Cattle and chickens or pigs may be kept in small pens to minimize movement and keep them growing larger. Advertisers often tout the fact that hens or turkey are free-range animals.