Culver's Gets Farms and Food Right

My Generation

You won't find nonscientific value judgments at this fast food place. Instead? A recognition of real food from real U.S. farms. Hold the judgment.

Published on: June 24, 2013

It was a busy weekend at the Spangler household and one that culminated in a trip to Champaign after church for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to a Nabor House board meeting, Monsters University and a family photo shoot with my new favorite photographer.

The trip also included a swing through Culver's for lunch, which, given their burgers and frozen custard, is already one of our favorite places. And then we looked at the kid's meal bag.

The kids meal bag, up close.
The kid's meal bag, up close.

It was awesome.

Right there on the front of the bag: "THANK YOU FARMERS. Hey kids, farming is where every meal gets its start."

I was admittedly wary at first, wondering where the "locally sourced, organic, sustainable, humanely raised" language would appear. But I was needlessly wary.

One side panel had a four-question quiz on agriculture, which could have been taken from an Ag in the Classroom lesson. What do crops need to grow? (Soil, sun, water) How many pounds is one bushel of corn? (56) The average American farmer feeds how many people? (155)

The other side panel showed where their food comes from. Real Wisconsin dairy for the custard; Midwest beef for the burgers; Washington potatoes for the fries; Great Lakes cucumbers for the pickles; Georgia poultry for the chicken tenders.

And you know what it didn't have? Heaps of judgment, much of it misplaced. There wasn't any language about local (or someone's definition thereof), or about their version of sustainable (which rarely includes profitability for the farmer). It didn't say the meat was only from animals treated with dignity and respect. It didn't say the food was purely organic, for healthy soil.

Instead, the Culver's story recognized real U.S. agriculture. It recognized that we're already treating our animals responsibly, that we're all working our tails off to nourish the soil - organic or no. Without distinguishing between someone's definition of "sustainable farmers" and "unsustainable farmers," Culver's made the best value judgment of all: U.S. agriculture gets better every day. And more sustainable, with every bit of information we learn about our soils, our crops and our nutrients, which we then apply on every acre. And in throwing in that question about feeding 155 people, they recognized that efficiency - and well-fed people - are a good thing.

What's more: they didn't feign hypocrisy or pretend that they can get "local" lettuce raised within 350 miles in Illinois in January.

In short, they recognized us: the vast segment of agriculture that's found in the {very wide} middle between local organic farmers and the "corporate agriculture" consumers have been trained to assume exists as the opposite of small, local, organic. They recognized the U.S. agriculture that too many consumers don't even know exists.

Let me just say, if Culver's wasn't already this farm family's favorite, it would be now.