Distinguish Between Farmer and Food Producer
As I was a writing a piece about food policy (nothing like trying to wrap-up agricultural policy in 500 words when the Farm Bill itself is 1,770 pages), a clear distinction stood out between a “farmer” and a “food producer.”
To me, and I think to many of us, “farmers” are those who work the land. They’re the ones who get dirt under their fingernails and whose eyes light up when conversation turns to compost. But while that may be the portrait for the people growing your food, it isn’t necessarily the portrait of the people who own America’s farmland or who are producing your food.
Let’s start out with some basics. First, nearly half of the country—over 1 billion acres—is farmland. Yet only 4% of the owners own nearly 50% of that farmland. And according to data from the USDA, there is a very high correlation between sales volume and how directly involved the owner/operators are with the actual land. Take, for instance, small-scale family farms (which make up 90% of the number of farms in the US). Their owners do 70% of the labor themselves. Bump up to a very large-scale family farm or a non-family farm and the number drops to only 19%.
This means that as farms grow into bigger and bigger businesses, the ones who own and operate them are more likely to be managers and marketers and accountants and less likely to be actual farmers. In other words, they move along the continuum from “farmer” to “food producer.”
This week, if you’re curious, Google the company behind the label on your produce or packages and see if you can find dirt under their fingernails.
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Pasta with Asparagus and Prosciutto
This pasta recipe is springtime in a bowl–use the freshest asparagus you can find. You’ll be amazed by how much richness and flavor just one egg yolk can bring to a dish.
1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti
1/4 cup water
Sea salt, to taste
1-1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and sliced on the bias into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced and then sliced crosswise into narrow ribbons
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chicken stock
1 tablespoon minced parsley
Prepare pasta according to package directions, cutting back 2 minutes on cooking time. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
While pasta is cooking, bring 1/4 cup salted water to a boil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add asparagus, cover and cook for 3-5 minutes or until asparagus is just crisp-tender. Drain into a colander and return pan to heat.
Swirl in oil and when hot, add garlic and prosciutto. Sauté for 1 minute and add asparagus back to pan. Continue cooking another 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until asparagus just begins to char in places and garlic and prosciutto have crisped.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons reserved pasta water, egg yolk, Parmesan cheese and chicken stock.
Return drained pasta to pot over medium-low heat. Add egg mixture and toss. Add asparagus mixture, salt to taste and toss again. Cook 2 minutes or until sauce thickens and starts to stick to pasta, adding additional pasta water by tablespoon intervals if sauce seems dry. Toss with parsley just before serving.