Celebrating Diversity in Farming and Food Production

Celebrating Diversity in Farming and Food Production
My wife and I spent some time in Oregon recently, traveling around and seeing the sights. While the state’s mountains and beaches are wild and beautiful, something else struck me about the state: people in Oregon really care about food and agriculture.

Oregon, the locals like to say, is the ultimate “foodie” state. It did seem that nearly everyone we bumped into—from a bustling farmers’ market in Portland to the hilly wine country in Oregon’s southwest corner—had an opinion about food and how it’s produced today.

And once the locals discovered they were talking to Iowans, fresh in from the heart of the Corn Belt, they had questions.

From a West Coast perspective, agriculture in Iowa and the Midwest must appear monolithic and old-fashioned. When they think Iowa agriculture, they think corn, pigs and overalls.

So the Oregonians were pretty surprised to hear that Iowa, along with leading the country in corn, soybean and pork production, is dotted with farmers’ markets selling an ever-expanding array of products produced by local growers. They could hardly believe that the farmers’ market in downtown Des Moines was as big and diverse as the one in Portland, or that Iowa has a vibrant and growing wine sector.

Perhaps their biggest surprise came when we outlined the advanced technology that many farmers in Iowa use today. Most were taken aback that farmers are rapidly adopting satellite-based global positioning systems, planting high-tech seeds and continually monitor markets and other news on cell phones and laptop computers. It was a long way from the traditional image.

And folks from Oregon were also surprised to find out that farmers are using that technology to produce more food to feed a growing world population while reducing their environmental footprint. That too, just didn’t jive with what they’d heard about modern ag.

It was fun to explain that in the multi-pronged approach in Iowa agriculture, where there’s room for large, medium and small farms raising food and fuel for local consumers, as well as market halfway around the world.

That diversity just makes a lot of sense to folks who think a lot about food.

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.