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I know my farmer, do you? – the power of food provenance

How can you be sure that your apples are really organic?  Or your beef was raised sympathetically on pristine green pasture?   Well you need to go straight to the source and ask of course.  It’s a natural evolution of our re-found love of all things farm fresh, to love a farmer too.

Provenance n. where something originated or was nurtured in its early existence.

The power of food provenance is nothing new.  But in the last few decades, big brands took over as our key drivers of status.  Now you only need a quick look at a major grocery store meat department to see that the tide has started to turn.  The idea of food traceability and authenticity is growing faster than heirloom tomatoes, as niche brands with strong provenance like Otway Pork take over. I love chatting to the growers and producers at food fairs, farm gates and markets like the boys from Pacdon Farm.  And I am certainly one of the lucky city girls.  With an extended family on the land and two teacher parents, we spent every school holiday down on the farm with Uncle Eddie (me riding below in an 80’s green nylon tracksuit).  Carting hay, feeding livestock and shearing sheep were familiar to me from a young age, as was my appreciation of how good food is produced, by good farmers.  And now my kids have the privilege of these farm visits too.


The US Department of Agriculture has recognised the benefits of forging connections between city folk and farmers and has launched a brand new progam – know your farmer, know your food.  There are a range of activities and grants available, that link back to healthy eating:

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food wants to empower consumers to be able to make smart decisions when they eat. This means understanding the importance of diet and regular exercise. It also means learning more about where your food comes from and how it gets to your plate, so that you can more closely link with your community and the hard-working farmers and ranchers that produce your food.

Make way for the celebrity farmer, the sophisticated farmer

Based on growing trends in the US my colleague dietitian, Janet Helm RD has gone as far to predict that farmers will be the new celebrity chefs.  Get set for more traceable and regional ingredients on restaurant menus and farmers popping up on the label of your mainstream products too.  Not just the token actor rolled out in a polished new pair of blundstone boots, but the actual farmer them self or at least the farming community, like the successful Australian Bega cheese ads.

One of my favourite reality TV shows was watching Jamie Oliver’s mate, farmer Jimmy Doherty and his trials and tribulations with rare breed free range pigs.  The extension concept behind the latest series for the BBC – Jimmy’s Food Factory has an interesting twist.  Jimmy takes common food ingredients like cornflakes and sugar and tries to replicate their manufacture from raw ingredients in his barn at the farm.

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting a sophisticated farmer, Enviromeat producer Jenny O’Sullivan, who has spear-headed the growth of sustainable and best practice approaches to beef production in the Gippsland region of Victoria and beyond.  A world-class on-farm environmental management system (EMS) governs decisions on Enviromeat farms. This helps farmers assess the environmental impacts of their farming activities and develop procedures to manage and reduce environmental impacts on land and water catchments.  Certified by an external auditor and compliant with the International Standards Organisation ISO14001 Environmental Quality Assurance, suppliers of Enviromeat monitor progress and improve practice in the areas of grazing management, soil and fertiliser management, weed and pest management, chemical management, biodiversity and water quality.  And the best news?  Meat Standards Australia is responsible for independent grading for tenderness and quality, so every succulent steak is guaranteed.

So how can you know your farmer?

By far the easiest place to start is to visit a farmers market or go on a regional foodie road trip like our berry picking adventures in the Otways.  You will find a dedicated, passionate group of people happy to chat.   Recently the Australia Farmers’ Market Association announced that they are developing an accreditation scheme and there is a handy DVD resource if you’re inclined to try and set up one in your own area.  You can search for farmers markets in the US and farmers markets in Australia too….you may be suprised to see just where they are cropping up.  So how about it?  Have you got a farm fresh or market story to share?

  • Frances

    Love this post Emma! I’m from Tassie and grew up seeing cows and sheep grazing on pastures, and always assumed that’s what happened everwhere. The movie Food Inc. and Michael Pollan’s writing has been quite influential on me recently and opened my eyes to what happens elsewhere. So I think it’s really important to support our local farmers. I hope they are the new celebrity- improving people’s knowledge of where their food comes from can only be a good thing!

  • Karen Kingham

    I am lost if I don’t get to my early morning Sunday farmers market for our weekly fruit and veg. We get to hear how happy the hens are that supply us with our beautiful fresh eggs and are learning to be more accepting of what the season supplies rather than just eating the same combo of fruit and veg – it also challanges my cullinary skills and makes me use my recipe books rather than just admire them from afar!

  • Michelle Broom

    Thanks for the information on the AFMA Emma, their site is great. People are often amazed when I tell them the best farmers markets I’ve been to are in the streets of LA. I lived near Santa Monica for 3 years and it was a weekly ritual to go to pick up some beautiful heirloom tomatoes or another seasonal wonder. There are farmers markets almost everyday in Santa Monica, but if ever you get a chance to go on Wednesday morning you can chat with the local chefs as they pick up supplies for their farmers market menus, and maybe even pick up a tip or two!

  • Adelaide Skeptic

    Growing up on a small property in the country with chickens, veggies and every type of fruit left me ruined for supermarket produce. When I came to be a chef in the big smoke, I never lost my love of the markets where the people and the atmosphere are half fun of the shopping. After years of studying science and nutrition I have realised that organic / farm fresh / sustainable produce is not just a personality quirk, but a deep conviction that this HAS to be the way not only of the past but also of the future. My favorite markets in SA are the Wayville farmers markets and the Willunga markets but I will still head down to Torrens Island (bulk buy) markets when I get a hankering to make my own preserves, sundried tomatoes or 3 months worth of soup! Recently I had the pleasure to be introduced to Adelaide Food Connect and all the wonderful people there. Not only do they supply me with the best organic produce in the state every week, but also provide wonderful opportunities to meet local producers and hear their stories. Their website is and I know there are branches in other capital cities. Happy food, happy people!

  • Trudi

    Well great to see the trackie out again and having just sat down to tea of our own home grown eye fillet tonight and last night polished off delicious corned beef I can’t say how much i love being a farmer and supplying my city cousins with some quality australian product. Keep up the great informative bites, Emma

  • It’s National Farmers Market week in the US right now. Check out the activities:

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