Agriculture Literacy and Urban Agriculture

Brown cows do not produce chocolate milk. A phrase many people in agriculture laugh at but many people outside of agriculture believe to be true. To be more accurate 7% of Americans believe that brown cows produce chocolate milk (Dewey, 2019). This is due to something called agriculture illiteracy. Being so far detached from your producers that you fail to understand how they produce the food you enjoy. Who cares, right? You should and here’s why.

7% of Americans think chocolate milk comes from brown cows | KTXS

Being further from your producer increases carbon emissions through transportation. Ann Vileisis wrote a book called, Kitchen Literacy (2007), and it describes how the average distance from farm to fork has deepened from down the street to an average of 1,500 miles away. Now the average American consumer is only experiencing food as an “industrial product” that looks nothing like the food it contains. According to the USDA, the most popular fruit is the orange but in the form of orange juice and the leading vegetable is processed potatoes in the form of potato chips and french fries (as made from frozen and some fresh potatoes) (see also Figure 1).

Figure 1 – USDA ERS Graph

Potatoes and tomatoes are the most commonly consumed vegetablesAnother impact of agriculture illiteracy is caustic agriculture legislature. Special interest groups can move agriculture legislature quite easily because the general public is not very knowledgeable of how agriculture works. The biggest example is in California when Prop 2 in 2008 concerning egg laying hens and their living conditions. It was sold as a law to fight animal cruelty and fighting for more humane products that would only impact large corporations, not the little farming operations. After the law passed, large operations were able to adapt and smaller ones were not able to make the necessary changes and stopped operations. Prices surged on eggs raised in California and consumers gravitated away from them toward cheaper, out of state eggs raised outside of the new laws. Funny enough this is exactly what voters were warned about prior to the election (Prop 2, 2020). California egg raising operations petitioned that all eggs sold in California must be subjected to the same rules to make the market fair. They amended it in 2010 to include this new provision and it upset operations outside the state that depended on the California market share.  

New state law upends egg industry, affecting supplies and cost
Local grocery store explains to customers about the dramatic price increase.

Urban agriculture helps build an interest in agriculture in a population that would ordinarily be apathetic. It creates a tangible and real-life experience that urbanites are missing out on. When coupled with agriculture education in classrooms and after-school programs, the gap between farm and fork is cinched up and a more informed consumer is developed. Urban agriculture bonds science, math, and social studies in a package more desirable than any textbook or video could provide because a visit to even a small, but local, urban farm can make a much more lasting impression on younger minds. To know that french fries come from potatoes rather than a factory or that no cow produces chocolate milk, regardless of color, is a powerful tool for understanding potentially costly laws on the ballot and helping make a cleaner Earth by sourcing our food a little closer to home.

$115,000 Mars Food grant funds nutrition education in DC | Street Sense  Media
Elementary school children enjoying a field trip to a local urban farming operation in D.C. area.

Works Cited:

Dewey, Caitlin. “Analysis | The Surprising Number of American Adults Who Think Chocolate Milk Comes from Brown Cows.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 29 Apr. 2019,

“Proposition 2.” Institute of Governmental Studies – UC Berkeley, 19 Aug. 2020,

Vileisis, Ann. Kitchen Literacy. 2008.

“Potatoes and Tomatoes Are the Most Commonly Consumed Vegetables.” USDA ERS – Chart Detail,

Published by trevorwingett

I love AG!

3 thoughts on “Agriculture Literacy and Urban Agriculture

  1. This is a very important topic because we have been so far separated from where our food is produced for so long that it has complicated urban agriculture efforts. Residents of urban areas commonly take issues with the smells and sounds of food production as a result of the inputs such as manure and loud working early in the morning. This is regardless of how much better the produce tastes which is why selection is a more difficult task and contributes to lowering the appeal of urban agriculture despite there being incentives such as the one offered by the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act. You are correct that teaching younger kids should be a vital part of the local food movement so that they can grow up being agriculturally literate because it can be difficult for some concepts to reach older individuals who may have to vote on measures regarding urban agriculture efforts. What may be the most important point you covered is the amount of people who are unaware of just which produce their food is made of because as you alluded to the versions of these crops that many people consume are rarely healthy since they may come from fast food French fries and depending on where you live in the United States, many people consider fresh produce to be processed vegetables taken out of a can which can contribute to turning off kids from vegetables creating unhealthy eaters into adulthood.


  2. I think this you brought up some very valid points on how we are so far separated from where and how our food is produced. For many people agriculture is something they know very little about, and many seem to not care to learn more. I think, as long as the kind of food they want is available when they want it, they assume all is well in the ag. world. Reaching people on a level they care about will be necessary to raise awareness and hopefully lead to healthier eating habits and more concern over where their food is coming from.


  3. Searchers/ Synthesizers
    This video is a perfect example how people do not understand agriculture literacy. Jimmy Kimmel Live is a late night show host by comedian Jimmy Kimmel. Kimmel conducted a experiment on how well people understand the meaning of GMOs. GMO stands for genetically modified organisms, there commonly used by farmers to prevent crop loss from insects, herbicides, and plant viruses. GMOs products are commonly seen as a health risk to the public, so when people hear about GMOs they quickly assume it is bad for their health because of public opinion. This video demonstrates how majority of the people did not know the exact meaning of GMOs or what it stands for.

    Jimmy Kimmel Live, “What’s a GMO?”. (October 9, 2014). Retrieved December 13, 2020, from


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