The 16th annual small farm conference and consumer insights

A sheep and goats rotational grazing plot at UMES

The 16th Annual Small Farm Conference occurred November 1-2 on the beautiful and extensive campus of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES). The conference convened local farmers, state and federal governmental stakeholders, representatives from academia, students and more for informational sessions on a myriad of topics such as: Finding Land to Farm, Farm Finance Essentials, Marketing Channels for Your Farm Business, Poultry Processing, and Pasture Management. In addition, an Exhibitor and Vendor trade show took place during the conference, showcasing agricultural agencies,  sustainable jewelry designs, and farmers selling baked goods and produce. Throughout the conference, salient food system topics were discussed and analyzed such as: clean water and air, quality soil, wildlife, carbon emission, food security, and energy conservation. The conference was also informative in regard to federal legislation and included remarks from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) representatives on how the policymaking process impacts everyone from the local farmer to the consumer, such as through the new 2018 Farm Bill.

Newly planted trees at UMES. Trees produce oxygen and reduce harmful greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide.

As consumers, we eat to live. There were several key consumer insights from the Small Farm Conference. In 2018, about 1 in 9 Americans were food insecure, meaning they did not have consistent access to food for a healthy life (USDA, 2018). Food insecurity affects approximately 37 million Americans, which includes 11 million children from rural to urban communities (Feeding America, 2019). In addition, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDES), by 2030, food demand is predicted to increase by 50%, with world population growing from 6.9 billion in 2010 to 9.1 billion in 2050 (UNDES, 2019). The challenge the agricultural sector faces is efficiently and sustainably serving the needs of this proposed increase in world population, by making more food available from the field, to the fork of the consumer. Another important data point is that about 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted every year— equivalent to 30% of food produced; this means that water used to produce this food was wasted as well (UNDES, 2019).

At ViP Consultancy, we are appreciative of our involvement in stakeholder engagement efforts elevating policy and advocacy discussions on: access to healthy food, public health concerns, ecologically-sensitive farming methods, and how consumers can be environmentally sustainable such as through recycling at home. If you are reading this, you are already educating yourself which is a beneficial step to being a conscious consumer (or producer). As a conscious consumer, it is important to think about the significance of the food system— from production to waste management, and how it impacts us not only as individuals, but also our environment. At the UMES Small Farm Conference, we were reminded that to shift toward a sustainable food system, collective action and public-private partnerships are key to promoting ecologically-sensitive agriculture practices, improving food security, enhancing food waste management, and elevating the importance of environmental sustainability.

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