When considering the phrase “farm-to-table,” what images or words come to mind? Maybe words like fresh, wholesome, nutritious, clean, or safe pop into your mind. Do you picture a Norman Rockwell-type farmer dressed in striped overalls and a straw hat delivering an overflowing basket of fresh produce and meat that seems to have a glow about it? If so, that’s exactly what marketers and advertisers want to invoke in the consumer to justify the extra cost of a product without actually defining what it means to be considered, “farm to table.”
Today, in light of the current coronavirus pandemic, I believe we are thinking a bit differently about the idea of “farm to table.” We are now looking at it as more of a supply chain term. Now is an important time to truly focus and form an understanding of how our food really travels from the farm to the table.
First of all, it takes farmers and farm workers to grow and harvest the crops and meat that go into our American food chain. Yes, these are the hard-working folks, in a weather-and time-sensitive environment, who get our food production rolling. “To everything, there is a season…. a time to plant and a time to harvest.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
Next, farm products need a reliable transportation system that can move crops, produce, and animals to processing, storage warehouses or retailers. We depend on trucks, trains, planes and their operators (those who load and unload) as well as the behind the scenes people who track loads and inventory to keep the food moving.
Food processors are a vital part of our food supply chain. They may be small or large, family-owned, a cooperative or a large corporate entity. Processors may create their brands, sell to wholesalers or retailers, or move product on to other processors. Minimal processing that completely transforms the farm product into a very desirable product for consumers also happens at this level.
Additionally, we have USDA and FDA inspections and regulations to give us confidence in a safe food supply as it passes through the supply chain.
The route our food takes from farm to table can be very simple or complex. Farmers and animal producers have choices as to how they will market into the food supply chain, just as consumers also have a choice on direct-from-farm purchases or the grocery store. No matter the choice, Americans can count on a safe and nutritious food supply.
As of this writing, during this coronavirus pandemic, safe and nutritious food is still available, although we are just facing limited choices in some cases.