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.
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).
Another 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.
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.
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, www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/06/15/seven-percent-of-americans-think-chocolate-milk-comes-from-brown-cows-and-thats-not-even-the-scary-part/.
“Proposition 2.” Institute of Governmental Studies – UC Berkeley, 19 Aug. 2020, www.igs.berkeley.edu/library/elections/proposition-2.
Vileisis, Ann. Kitchen Literacy. 2008.
“Potatoes and Tomatoes Are the Most Commonly Consumed Vegetables.” USDA ERS – Chart Detail, http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/gallery/chart-detail/?chartId=58340.