Updates and Insight - Agriculture and Sustainability

Sustainability -- it's a big buzzword these days, but what does it mean when it comes to food and nutrition? Learn more about this multifaceted issue in a series of articles written by dietitian colleagues.


GMO, Conventional, Organic: Why There's More Similarity than You Think

By Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

"I grew up eating balanced meals that looked amazingly similar to MyPlate. Prepared by my mother, they were similar to the meals she ate while growing up on a farm as a fourth generation member of a Central Texas farming/ranching family. As a child, I spent a week with my grandparents  every summer, riding with my grandfather in his pickup truck, opening gates as we drove from pasture to pasture to check on the livestock. I also loved walking in my grandmother’s large garden, picking the fruits and vegetables we would eat at meals.

In those days, agriculture wasn’t controversial. Farmers were respected and appreciated for their role in supplying food for our country. Over the last decade things have changed. Passionate views on GMO, conventional and organic farming dominate food-related news and social media. But I rarely see nutrition mentioned, which surprises me as a registered dietitian nutritionist. Food is produced to feed and nourish the body. So does the way a crop is grown – by conventional, organic and GMO methods – influence its nutritional value?"

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Nutrition Starts at the Farm: A Look at U.S. Agriculture

By Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD, FAND and Scott Brown, MS, RDN, LDN

"When children are asked, “Where does milk come from?” they’ll often answer, “from the store.” With the number of famers in the U.S. having decreased dramatically from 40% of the labor force 100 years ago to less than 2% today, it’s not surprising that many people have no concept of how food is produced or where it comes from.  If, however, you have gone to a supermarket, farmer’s market, restaurant, fast food chain or other places that sell food, you have a farmer to thank. Because of farmers and those working in American agriculture we now have access to more safe and nutritious food than at any other time in history.


Think about your favorite food. Maybe it’s pizza, barbeque, avocados, butternut squash or chocolate. Now, think about where you would get it. Most of us are not out harvesting wheat for our pizza dough or picking avocados for our guacamole. We’re buying it at a local supermarket or restaurant and probably prefer it that way. Buying food nearby with little travel and effort makes life easier. The trade-off for this convenience may be a growing disconnect between what happens on the farm and how our favorite foods actually end up on our plates. Let’s take this a step further and look at how the agriculture industry has changed in the last century."

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To Market, To Market to Buy a Fat Pig

By Gail Frank, DrPH, MPH, RD, CHES

And so the bedtime story leads us into a dreamy, fun adventure before we are ‘home again, home again jiggly jig’, never thinking about the importance of pigs.   The fun side overshadows reality.   We love the cuteness of pigs and are surprised to learn that care for them on pig farms resembles the care we give our human newborns. 

Pig farmers assure that momma pigs are eating healthy adjusting daily rations for protein, vitamins and minerals, drinking plenty of water (each has her own water and food spigot) and getting plenty of naps and nighttime sleep.   She has her very own ‘birthing’ pen (we call it ‘Baby Friendly Hospitals’ in Orange County’ for humans). 

The pen protects the pig from pushy, pregnant ‘soon to be’ moms and allows her to rest whenever she wants.  Humans wear headsets during a guided tour of a pig farm just like you do in a museum to keep things quiet.  Pigs oink when they need to, but otherwise, they live a quiet existence.  With a headset you listen to explanations from trained staff about what you are seeing (we call these expert staff ‘docents’ in museums).  And, interesting to point out, all visitors must shower from head to toe and put on clean ‘nursing scrubs’. 

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Let’s Talk Modern Agriculture Top 5 Takeaways from a Philippines’ Agricultural Tour

By Sylvia Klinger, DBA, MS, RD, CPT

Farmers hold a special place in my heart. Their hard work is rarely acknowledged, yet farmers grow our food day after day with little recognition. Recently while in the Philippines, a group of dietitians and nutritionists had the opportunity to visit a corn farm. We got up close and personal with the farmers to learn about their challenges and opportunities. Below are my top takeaways from the farm visit:

  1. Farmers are embracing modern technology. Let’s be honest: who doesn’t like new tech gadgets that could make our lives easier? Farmers are no different. They love new agricultural technology, especially if it’s going to make their jobs more efficient and safer.
  2. As populations, diets, climates and economies change, farmers need to find ways to adapt their practices to meet demands. It has been particularly challenging for farmers to meet the needs without the expertise of agronomic and scientific developments, so it’s time we recognize what is needed in order to advance agriculture.

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