Applied Activity Part 7: Globalized Food Systems and Farmer Interview

In your last Lesson and final Applied Activity, you’ll complete two separate exercises to draw on the knowledge you’ve gained from this course.

Part 1 Food Miles Exercise

In this first exercise, you’ll choose a food and explore the journey it took to get to your kitchen. Drawing on what you’ve learned in this course, you’ll apply and deepen your understanding of how the globalized food system works today. You’ll also explore distribution, access and farmer financial sustainability.

  1. Choose a food from your kitchen. It can be anything, but a processed food can be a bit trickier.
  2. Take a picture of it and upload it, with a list of the ingredients.
  3. Choose 1 or the top 4 ingredients and list them below. If the packaging doesn’t indicate the source, try to find the major areas in the world where those ingredients were farmed. Using a map application such as Google maps, try to approximate how far each of those ingredients traveled.
  4. Using the downloadable form at the bottom, complete this information:
Food Miles Ingredient 1 Ingredient 2 Ingredient 3 Ingredient 4
Line 1 Name of Ingredient
Line 2 Origin of Ingredient
Line 3 Miles from origin to manufacturer:
Line 4 Subtotal of all ingredient miles:
Line 5 Miles from final product manufacturer to distributor:
Line 6 Miles from distributer to you:
Line 7 Sum of all food miles (line 4+line5+line6)

5. Answer the following questions:

  • Added together, how many miles did your food product travel?:
  • How much of the cost do you think was transportation? What are some of the consequences of food products traveling so far?:
  • How much of what you paid for the product do you think was paid to the farmer? The farmworker?
  • How do you think the farmworkers and food workers were treated along the food chain?:
  • Who owns the final product that you bought? Is that company locally owned or owned by a larger corporation? What do you think that company does with the dollars you spent?
  • Is there an alternative to this product you could buy? Will you continue to buy it?:

Part 2 Farmer Interview

For the last part of this Applied Activity, you’ll conduct a farmer interview. Before starting, it’s good to remember that farmers are very busy folks and tend to have limited time (as you probably know!). Out of respect, it’s best to schedule a time in advance to conduct this interview, and ask your farmer when would be a good time for them to be able to sit down and talk with you for 30-40 minutes.

Here’s an idea: In appreciation for their time, ask them if you can volunteer for them in exchange for their time.

Below is a list of suggested questions for your interview. We recommend asking 10-12 of these, or some of your own questions. Please remember this is not a time to make judgments or give advice to your farmer, but to hear more about their experience. You are welcome to reflect on their answers here and with your MESA educators.

Farmer Interview: Adapted from Stephen R. Gliessman, Field and Laboratory Investigations in Agroecology:

  •  How long have you been farming?
  •  What led you to farming?
  • Why is farming important to you?
  • Are you an organic farmer? If not, are you planning to become one, why?
  • If you are an organic farmer, which ones are the most effective techniques to control “pests” and improve soil fertility?
  • What do you grow? Why?
  • What is the most difficult aspect of farming for you?
  • Have you tried any new techniques in the past few years? What are they? Have they worked or not? Why?
  • What marketing channels (farmers markets, local stores, restaurants, wholesale, etc.) have you chosen for your farm products, and why?
  • Have you shifted or considered changing, your marketing strategy in recent years?
  • To whom do you sell your crops? What proportion of your farm’s produce remains in the local region?
  • How do you cultivate relationships with your customers? Why is this important to you?
  • What do you see as the underlying cause(s) of recent changes in the economics of agriculture?
  • What do you see yourself doing on your farm in 10 years?
  • Is your farm financial sustainable? What could help your farm’s financial stability?
  • How do you find farm labor? Is this a sustainable way of finding labor?
  • Is the treatment of agricultural workers important to you?
  • What crops do you wish you could grow? Why don’t you grow that crop?

Analyze the information collected and write a two paragraph reflection emphasizing:

  1. What did you learn of this farmer
  2. In your opinion, what are the strongest points of this farmer?
  3. In your opinion, how this farmer could improve his/her/their practices?

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