While attending the 2017 Animal Ag Alliance in Kansas City this month, I was surrounded by more than 250 people who work in some capacity in agriculture. Despite our backgrounds, geographical accents, where our industries are headed and our personal beliefs, we could all agree on one thing—choice is good. That’s never been more important than today when there are people in America, including Iowans, who can’t always afford the choices you may have.

My grandparents used to joke back and forth about whose family was worse off when they were growing up. My late Grandpa Charlie would say, “We were so poor, after dinner we washed ‘dish.’” To which my Grandma Lila would reply, “at least you had a dish!” Many things have changed since their childhood in the 1930s and 40s—how food is prepared, how it is grown, where we find it and how much of our income we use to buy it.

For example, when Grandpa Charlie was young cows in the United States produced 10.6 billion gallons of milk per year, and your choice was whole milk, whole milk or—wait for it—whole milk. Today, cows produce 21 billion gallons of milk each year with options in the cooler ranging from whole, fat-free and flavored.  

Similar leaps and bounds have been made in egg production since my grandparents shopped at the local grocer. In 1935, the USDA recorded production of 2.16 billion dozen eggs. With improvements in animal health and housing, poultry now produce 83 billion dozen eggs a year with selections of conventional to “cage-free” and “free-range.”

Today’s family farm can do much more with less while protecting the land and water, which is amazing considering the population is two and half times more than 1935 and still growing. We as consumers can see the resourcefulness and innovation of farmers reflected in our food prices and selections, although we may not be aware how this benefits us individually.

The other day, I walked into my local grocery store and picked up a carton of eggs for $.79, making this one of the least expensive sources of protein you can buy. One foot away from the conventional eggs was a dozen of organic eggs selling for $4.88. While some families can afford and enjoy those eggs, there are other families who might find this product burdensome on their wallet. With nearly 20 percent of Iowa youth experiencing hunger, it’s important to remember to keep those choices viable, without causing divide.

Case in point, the conference closed with a speaker who was not a farmer nor did she grow up on a farm or study agriculture in school. She is a consumer who used to be homeless. The state she resides in has passed legislation which limits the way farmers raise livestock, and a study done by that state’s land-grant university demonstrated how these changes will cost consumers $250 million. Because of her firsthand experience trying to feed herself and her children, she’s concerned for others like her who struggle to purchase food, empowering her to reach out to others and teach them about how farmers are raising well-cared for animals.

While I think it’s important to be an educated consumer and be able to recognize misleading food labels and the difference between organic and conventional food, I think it’s more important to simply like what you like and buy what you can buy without disparaging a product or a farming practice which brings choice for financially-strapped families or affluent ones. Food is grown by farmers not just for enjoyment but to fulfill our body’s needs, something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

We’re fortunate in Iowa to have a safe, affordable food supply—and choices. I’ll continue to purchase foods that look fresh, please my taste buds, give me the nutrition I need to be productive and fit my budget, whether that’s locally-grown organic lettuce or the new GMO apple that doesn’t brown. I might even try some of my Grandpa Charlie’s favorites of corned beef and cabbage or rabbit stew, and I hope you will enjoy your choices as well.

By Caitlyn Lamm. Caitlyn is Iowa Farm Bureau's public relations specialist.