The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ new Strategic Plan, and the Foundation’s Second Century initiative, make it imperative that all food and nutrition practitioners know and understand more about agriculture. Each of the three main areas of our Strategic Plan (Prevention and Well-Being, Health Care and Health Systems, and Food and Nutrition Safety and Security) calls for the Academy to make a national and international impact relating to the production of—and access to—a safe, sustainable food supply.
Where does our food come from? How can we ensure our clients, patients, communities, and planet have enough nutritious food to feed growing populations? Two members living on opposite sides of the country are involved on a daily basis with agriculture, and explain why a knowledge of farming is so valuable for practitioners in our profession.
Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND, founder and president at Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, in Carmichael, CA, grew up on a large family farm in northeast North Dakota. Jennie Schmidt, MS, RD, a full-time farmer in Maryland, grew up in a farming area of Western Massachusetts and met her future husband (a farmer) around the same time she was heading to Botswana on a 4H exchange program.
Foundation of Our Food System
“If RDNs [registered dietitian nutritionists] want to be food and nutrition experts, we must also have a basic understanding of where our food comes from,” Miller says. “We need to understand the differences and similarities among various agricultural production methods. We need to appreciate crop protection methods that enhance sustainability, including the financial sustainability of farmers. We need to explore the practices that promote soil health. And we must recognize and respect the research and innovation that makes modern agriculture sustainable agriculture.”
Schmidt adds, “Farming is the beginning of the food continuum along which our RDN career operates. It has been said ‘Three times a day, we need farmers.’ How many careers can make that claim? It’s as plain and simple as that, and yet far more complicated are the intricacies of farming, food production, and the supply chain between farmers and RDNs. As experts in food and nutrition, RDNs need to understand the entire food system from ‘farm to table’—from the actual farm.”
Schmidt says being an RDN has made her a better farmer. “I use the same science, chemistry, and biology knowledge in humans and apply it to soils and plants. Having been trained in nutrition education also helps me ‘teach’ farming and food production to the audiences with whom I get to share my story, most often my RDN peer group.”
Miller spends substantial time educating RDNs on agriculture issues, and is a founding member of the Foundation’s RD Farmer and Agriculture Committee of Experts, a group of 12 RDNs from across the country who, since 2012, have given presentations to state meetings, created webinars, and contributed to the creation of infographics and other education materials to educate members about issues related to modern agriculture. “We have presented at nearly every state affiliate’s annual conference, reaching thousands of dietitians, interns, and students so our profession is better able to address questions and concerns about where our food comes from and how it is produced,” she says.
Schmidt says her perspective of being both a farmer and an RDN enables her to participate more fully in discussion and policy issues regarding food and agriculture. She is proud of her recent appointment to the Global Farmer Network, and her representation of farmers at the presentation of the 2017 World Food Prize in October 2017. “Attending the World Food Prize was full circle for me as a farmer RD because it highlighted the global issues of food production, access to technology, and hunger. We clearly have not solved the issue of hunger and its web of issues, from food production to waste, distribution, controlling post-harvest loss, and accessing technology that improves the resiliency of our food system. Solving these issues will allow the food and agriculture sector to produce safe food while reducing our environmental impact—providing for people while protecting our natural resources.”
Through the Academy’s Strategic Plan, we will reach beyond borders to share information, insights, and inspiration for creating a world where people and communities flourish because of the transformational power of food and nutrition. In that world, let’s embrace the research, technology, and tools that enable farmers to be successful. Combining nutrition and agriculture into a profession is a natural fit!
Published online: January 30, 2018
© 2018 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.