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How to help a local farmer

Johnson City Press • Apr 15, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Knowledge is power. That’s particularly true when it comes to knowing where the things we eat and drink come from.

Labeling dairy products, fruits and vegetables and meats to let people know where their food comes from and how it is produced is beneficial to both farmers and consumers.

The Tennessee General Assembly took an admittedly small step to meeting that end this month, as well as helping beleaguered dairy producers in our region. Lawmakers have passed legislation that will help state residents find milk produced in Tennessee on their grocery shelves. The bill allows the labeling of “Local Tennessee Milk” for milk actually produced in this state.

The idea is to promote the state’s milk industry, which is going through some very troubling times. Press staff writer Zach Vance reports passage of the bill comes more than a month after national dairy company Dean Foods announced it was ending its purchasing contracts with more than 100 dairy farmers nationwide, including three in Greeneville and two in Morristown.

“Concern about losing these milk contracts is on every dairy farmer’s mind, not only in East Tennessee, but the fear is moving across Tennessee that ‘we may be next’ in other parts of the state,” said state Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, who is one of the sponsors of the bill.

The legislation puts no mandates on bottlers to label their products, but it is the first step to branding Tennessee milk as the dairy industry has done successfully in states like California and Wisconsin. Milk currently sold in grocery stores do have codes printed near the top of their containers and lids identifying where the milk originated, but consumers have to locate the code and punch it into a website, like whereismymilkfrom.com, to find its location.

Agriculture plays a significant role in Tennessee, so much so it is listed (along with commerce) on the state’s seal. That’s why talk of a possible trade war with China and other countries over tariffs is disappointing to Tennessee farmers.

Tennessee’s top agricultural commodities are soybeans, corn, cattle and greenhouse/nursery products. The state is also a leading producer of tobacco and hardwood in the United States.

More Tennessee residents are looking to buy meat, vegetables and dairy foods that are produced locally and without growth hormones or preservatives. Consumers should enter into a partnership with farmers in their communities to learn how they grow the fruits and vegetables that end up on their dinner tables.

Local foodies can go to localharvest.org to learn where the freshest farm products are being grown in their area.

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