Do farmers and ranchers want to be thanked?
"I hope these kinds of messages mean that restaurants are showing support in the other ways that matter, too: Paying those farmers, ranchers and dairies a fair price for their products."
When I arrived at my hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona, to attend the American Sugarbeet Growers Association annual meeting, one of the first things I did was scope out the options for eating. I had been up since the early morning hours for my flight, and, let's be honest, I'm usually hungry anyway.
Since it was the middle of the day and I was exploring by myself, I wasn't looking for anything fancy. The resort holding the meeting had several restaurant options, all of which were quite a world away from my normal lunch choices of leftovers, quick-serve meals and things I can prepare fast enough to get back to work. I settled on one that looked like the most casual option open at that time, the Southwest Bistro.
Given that I traveled to Arizona from North Dakota in January, it was a no-brainer that I chose to sit outside, under a canopy for shade, with a variety of birds flying by to keep me company. I of course noticed the palm trees and the cacti, so different from the snow-covered scene I'd left only hours before. But the thing that stood out to me the most was a little notation on the menu:
"We proudly support all of our local farmers, ranchers, dairies and community partners."
Growing up on a farm and ranch and marrying into another one, I've never had a doubt where all of my food comes from. I try to tamp down talk of "factory farms" and other virtue-signaling food-related conversations that come up from time to time. Food comes from farmers and ranchers. Period.
And since I know that, I forget sometimes that there are people for whom the idea of farms and ranches and dairies is very abstract. They might have grown up with a storybook featuring a farmer with blue overalls and a few of every species of animals, a garden, maybe a tractor that probably had no cab. The cows were almost certainly Holstein, and there probably were chickens hopping around in the background. But the person holding that book might not connect that to the food on their plate at a fancy resort.
I studied my salad when it came, thinking of all the farmers that probably went into making it. There was a plump, juicy chicken breast that came from a poultry producer. A variety of produce came from farmers, like crisp lettuce and other greens, onions, tomatoes, peppers and the most flavorful watermelon radishes. There were black beans, like those that grow in long, straight rows up in this region. There were corn tortilla strips that had to have their origins in a corn field somewhere. There was a pile of cheese, which had to have started out with cows on a dairy farm. And there were many more ingredients that I'm certainly forgetting, all of which started out planted or raised on a farm somewhere.
I love when places like Culver's and Domino's boast of their connections to farms and farmers. And I know I've seen some restaurants list particular farms where they get their ingredients. But what struck me as unusual about this message at Southwest Bistro was how inclusive it was: They support ALL of the local farms, ranches and dairies.
So, my question is, do farmers and ranchers want to be thanked in that way? On one hand, I thought it was kind of cool how that single sentence made me think harder about the salad I was about to devour. On the other hand, do messages like that become, at some point, more white noise, more virtue signaling about something you support in a vague, unobtrusive way?
I like to see any support for ag producers. And at the end of the day, I hope these kinds of messages mean that restaurants are showing support in the other ways that matter, too: Paying those farmers, ranchers and dairies a fair price for their products.
Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at email@example.com or 701-595-0425.