Organic and Conventional: Food and Friends

My Generation

Amid research on what consumers think about food and agriculture, a "real life" friend was made.

Published on: October 29, 2012

I spent an afternoon in Chicago last week, listening as three organizations presented their latest research on what consumers think about food and agriculture.

My official report on the story is here, but the conversations of the day have stuck in my mind. When I go to something like this, I generally like to sit with people I don't know because what better way to meet people, right? So I chose a table and sat down. As it turned out, I'd sat right next to Lori Loughlin of the Illinois Farm Bureau - woops! But still great to visit with her. But on around the table was Emily Zweber. I've mentioned Emily and her family's operation before and while we are social media friends, I'd never met her in "real life." And that was a treat.

Emily was genuine and well-spoken. After the research was presented, each table was to brainstorm ways to present a particular agricultural message. Ours happened to be on raising animals in confinement and Emily happens to come from an organic dairy farm in Minnesota. I loved hearing how they decided to switch to organic. In part, it was because they farm near a metropolitan area and couldn't put up any more buildings due to zoning ordinances. By the late 2000s, they were "90% organic" and decided to go the rest of the way and become certified.

To my very practical way of thinking, it all makes sense. They farm next to a booming metro market, they can receive a premium, they can host tours, they can sell direct-from-farm freezer beef, they didn't have a good option for expanding their conventional operation, and it all came at a time of booming organic demand.

Emily is also very careful to share what they do and that it works for them, without bashing conventional farming methods, even - and especially - when she's asked by consumers if her beef is healthier than conventional beef. That's refreshing and it goes both ways; conventional ag needs to take care not to bash organic farming as well. Because behind the label is a real family, who has real reasons for the decisions they've made.

We can respect that. We should respect that.