You’ve seen it somewhere on your computer screen hundreds of times: “Ten Foods not to Eat!” or “Eat These Foods for (Fill in the Blank Reason)”. During the 25 years we’ve been farming, we have witnessed at least a dozen food trends that have affected our farm directly. There are of course the obvious ones: Organic agriculture was our raison d’etre. The popularity of farmers markets gave us an outlet to sell our crops. And the spread of Community Supported Agriculture was integral to the success of our farm.
There have been a number of more specific trends that we have responded to: baby greens and mezclun salad mix in the early 1990s, heirloom tomatoes a few years later. And we were already growing kale when it “blew up”. Others we decided to ignore completely, like sprouts and microgreens. We considered becoming livestock growers when pastured eggs and meat took off, but decided against it.
The popularity of low-carb diets in the early 2000s led us to permanently reduce the amount of potatoes we grow (and put in your CSA boxes) as demand for spuds dropped both from our customers and from consumers nationwide. After plummeting for several years, demand for potatoes has crept back up again and we are slowly increasing the amount we grow. But it is still nowhere near what it once was.
Thankfully Terra Firma doesn’t grow wheat, so we have avoided any impact from the popularity of gluten-free diets.
Health trends can drive massive shifts in consumption of certain foods, and farmers are pretty aware that one big, well-publicized medical study can have a huge impact on their livelihood — especially if they grow just one crop. Almond and walnut farmers are happy to be on the right side of these studies right now, but anyone who’s been around for a few decades has seen food recommendations flipflop back and forth.
Temporary spikes in demand for a particular food can cause big upheavals in agriculture as new producers flood into what may have been a fairly steady and predictable market — or a tiny niche. This is particularly true in permanent crops, which may take several years to come into a production cycle that may last for two decades. Most food trends don’t last nearly that long, especially in the #HashtagAge.
Despite all these changes and trends, one constant remains: the vast majority of Americans still eat horribly. Per capita fresh produce consumption peaked in the 1950s — a time that many foodies like to imagine as the culinary Dark Ages — and continues to drop every year. Many people eat less than a single serving of vegetables per day.
As a nation and as individuals, we would be better off if everyone ignored the latest studies and trends and just ate more fresh, whole foods as part of a balanced diet. And farmers wouldn’t lose sleep at night worrying about whether one or more of their crops was next on the list of “10 foods to avoid”.