Today’s guest blogger, Alex of I Eat Asphalt, is a passionate advocate for public health and nutrition education. A fitness and healthy eating enthusiast, her current drive is to help local farmers navigate the tricky waters of national food policy and bring the joy of fresh, sustainable food to all members of the community.

Hello Virginia Bloggers! I am so excited to be the first featured blogger, especially since I still consider myself to be a newbie to the area. I currently live in Arlington while finishing a Masters in Public Health. I have exactly 32 days left until graduation and could not be more excited. I’m planning to move to Charlottesville after graduation to pursue my love of urban agriculture and nutrition education. My blog is actually a pretty special place, in spite of the neglect it’s felt in the past year. I started blogging before I really knew what I wanted to do with life. Tomorrow is actually the two year anniversary of when I purchased my domain name. When I started I Eat Asphalt it was much more about exercise. Training for races, purchasing a road bike, with the occasional recipe or pictures of food. But having that space has allowed me to talk about issues that are dear to me, like hunger in American, the politics that control our food system, and current issues in the world of food and nutrition.

After starting my Masters at George Washington University I was incredibly lucky to fall into an internship with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association). I was brought on to work on political advocacy and education about the Farm Bill. That experience has certainly changed a lot of my perspectives, and I certainly never imagined working as a lobbyist. I also work as a nutrition educator for Arlington County, which is kind of my dream job. I play with kids and teach them about food, what’s not to love?

Last Friday I fulfilled a long time dream of mine and went on a tour of Polyface farms with two other VA bloggers.

The living legend Joel Salatin was our tour guide and was just so incredibly inspiring to me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do justice to the experience, but one of my favorite quotes was: “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing wrong. We learn from our failures and rarely do things right the first time.” 

One of the little known facts about me is that I quit my job to work on a farm before starting grad school. It was kind of a crazy decision but taught me a lot about myself and helped to shape my career path. It was also the most painful three months of my life. It has also given me a strong appreciation for all of the hard work that goes into getting food on to my plate. So, allow me to be “DC” one more time and let’s talk food policy.

The Farm Bill is the major piece of legislation that determines what we eat. Yes, the government has some say in what is available in our food system. The Farm Bill controls what crops farmers can grow, their value, and nutrition programs (like food stamps). I won’t go into too much detail about the current bill, but feel free to check out one of my older posts here and here.

The reason that the Farm Bill is particularly important is because of several titles that involve fruits and vegetables. Currently, fruits and vegetables are considered “specialty crops,” but I’d like to think they are actually food. The Farm Bill sets commodity payments, which are a type of direct income for farmers that grow crops such as corn and soybeans. The Farm Bill also includes legislation that controls how commodity farmers use their land. Commodity farmers are penalized for using their land for fruits and vegetable production, making commodity crops more lucrative. If you’ve heard any of the debates about High Fructose Corn Syrup or all of the soy that is used in processed foods, this is partially why. Corn and soy are produced in very large quantities, making them very cheap to add into processed foods, and have much more financial stability for farmers.

So in my opinion, the US has found itself in a bit of a predicament. We pay farmers to grow calories that are often “added” and punish some for growing real food. There is no perfect solution for this problem. If farmers grew more fruits and vegetables would there be enough demand to keep them in business?

I think it’s particularly important to understand some of the policies that control our food supply. Many people often say that if fruits and vegetables were less expensive, more people would buy them. This might be true, but then we have to think about the farmers that produce them. Would farmers make enough money to survive? Many produce farmers say that they do not want a traditional commodity program, but crop insurance (another type of government payment when disaster hits a farm). Crop insurance would provide a safety net for farmers and might encourage some farmers to use more land for fruits and vegetables. However, it’s hard to say how this would affect their price at the grocery store. I can say that organic produce is often more expensive because of the added labor costs and because of the small demand. Conventional produce prices could also increase if there was suddenly a large supply.

With an election right around the corner, it’s important to think about the agriculture issues in your state. Most of the produce grown in the US comes from California, but many states have small farms supported by farmers markets and local businesses. Virginia has an amazing variety of agriculture. I’m sure many people reading this are supporters of their local farmers markets and the buy local movement. I’d like to challenge all of you to take the Virginia Food System Council’s $10 challenge. If every Virginia household spent $10 per week on locally grown or produced food it would generate $1.65 billion. That’s a lot of dollars, y’all. So, go to your farmers market and spend an extra buck on local kale. Then hug the farmer who grew it.