Production Blog

Embrace Farmer Diversity

Pam Smith
By  Pam Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Scott Trimble may be surrounded by popcorn this time of the year, but it won't be long before the fields will be calling to plant the raw ingredient needed for his tasty snacks. (DTN photo by Pam Smith)

HEYWORTH, Ill. (DTN) -- Business was exploding at Scott Trimble's place of business yesterday.

He calls himself Mr. Popcorn Guy and I found him elbow deep in concocting some of the 200 versions of the Farmer Scott's Premium Popcorn he handcrafts and sells from a Heyworth, Illinois, storefront.

Like many small towns, there aren't a lot of businesses left in Heyworth. The highway dodged the downtown when it widened to four lanes years ago. But location hasn't been a problem for Trimble. Customers (like myself) drive for miles to pick up his popped goods. He also sells pickles and local honey -- there was even homemade bloody Mary mix available. Come spring, he'll have a variety of bedding plants that he grows himself. He also grows produce.

Trimble is a farmer. He grows, processes and makes his own popcorn products -- which sells from his storefront, ships by mail or he personally delivers to retail sale points. His passion for popcorn began when he planted some strawberry popcorn as a boy. His hunger for understanding the crop only intensified when the kernels didn't deliver the strawberry flavor he anticipated.

It seemed fitting that I visited Trimble on National Ag Day, which is actually part of an entire week devoted to honoring this nation's farmers. While Trimble might not be the type of farmer I interview or typically write for each day, he is, in every sense of the word, a farmer.

So are Ted and Dawne Maddox. They grow sweet corn and vegetables smack in the middle of central Illinois, near Warrensburg. I subscribe to the Maddox Farm CSA -- that's short for Community Supported Agriculture. Come summer and into fall, I'll receive a box brimming with homegrown vegetables each week that the couple and their crews personally raise, harvest and box for my enjoyment. It comes with recipes and ideas of how to eat healthier, too.

So are Lindsay and Jared Storm. The couple raises flowers near Decatur, Illinois, as part of a business called Bushel and Peck Wildflowers. I've subscribed to receive a bouquet of their fresh-from-the-garden posies each week this summer.

So is Chase Brown, who also hails from Warrensburg, Illinois. Chase is no stranger to the pages of DTN. He helped with our View From the Cab coverage in 2016. He farms with his father, David, and uncle, Joe.

In addition to being a conventional grain farmer, Chase and his family have incorporated a meats component to the farming enterprises. He sells beef, pork and some lamb through farmer's markets. Last year, I subscribed to their meats CSA and picked up a box of locally grown cuts each week throughout my subscription period. Again, there were recipes and ideas included -- all designed to help customers understand how to use other cuts of meat.

I have a "strawberry guy." I have a preferred orchard where I buy peaches. I have a dairy company that I buy from because they purchase from family farms and sell milk in glass bottles. I have farms where I purchase pecans, maple syrup and stoneground flour.

Yes, I am a local supporter. Quality, taste and freshness are my bottom line.

Why do I bring this up? Because there was a period of time when these local suppliers nearly disappeared in my area. As a consumer, during those times, I hungered for buying choices and I am willing to take the time and spend the money to resource them. I like knowing the farmers I purchase from. I like seeing families, farms and businesses returning to rural areas by finding niches on the landscape.

That doesn't mean I don't see a value or a need for an industrialized food chain.

I recently attended a meeting where much time was spent talking about what consumers want and why. I have always maintained there isn't one consumer. My husband and I have five children and they couldn't be more different in their buying habits and the reasons for those habits vary as widely as the children.

Obviously, the purchasing choices a food and/or financially challenged family make will be different as well. Elderly and fixed income consumers are different, too. The list goes on ...

But what I frequently hear in these "dialogues" is an industry defending what sellers think consumers should want.

So if I have a wish for this National Ag Week it is that we, as an industry, come together and enjoy a big helping of tolerance. Let's embrace the diversity that Scott, Ted, Dawne, Lindsay, Jared and Chase represent.

One thing this industry has never been short on is the desire and ability to produce food. There should be a place at the table for everyone as we serve the consumer choice.

Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

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