October 28, 2012 by csukach
Where does your food come from? Perhaps you know. Perhaps you buy all your products direct from your local farmer.
But what about those of us who barely have time to stop by the grocery store, let alone think about where the flour that made the cookies we drop into our baskets came from?
Tom Englert, a dryland wheat farmer from Syracuse, Kan., who produces about 30,000 bushels of wheat—the equivalent of 1.8 million pounds of whole-wheat flour—a year, says understanding where one’s food comes from can be a difficult path to trace.
“Most meats and grains lose their identities when they leave the farm,” Englert explains. “I don’t know where my stuff goes. I take it to the elevator and some of it is exported overseas and some of it goes into the local food chain.”
Englert says when he takes his wheat to the local grain elevator, it’s stored and eventually sold, typically on the grain futures market. According to the USDA’s most recent report, the U.S. consumes about half the amount of wheat that it produces.
Part of the food path confusion comes from the fact that just a few companies dominate the global grain trade, moving grains all across the world.
“You’re at the mercy of the worldwide market and how they regulate that is way beyond me,” says Englert. “You know, say if Australia droughts out, then there’s less wheat in the world market and the market goes up. The same thing happened with Russia a couple of years ago.”
Indeed, global wheat prices were recently affected by Ukraine’s announcement of a ban on wheat exports due to that country’s severe drought.
So in a world of anonymous and corporate-managed grain production, what’s an average person to do to reclaim their part of the food chain?
Englert says we should not only pay attention to world markets, but should educate ourselves and do our best to understand where our food comes from when shopping in the grocery store.
“If you have a choice, read the label,” Englert says.