ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

What’s the real cost of cheap food?

Posted October 12, 2006

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Click here to send it to Jeff.

Dear Jeff,

I've read a lot recently about soy being bad for you, unless it's fermented or cooked a very long time. Apparently it has female-hormone-like things in it that are bad for boys, as well as slowing your thyroid, and lots of other stuff. It's possible that we all rushed into eating soy believing it was a "health food" without learning all we could about it first. Apparently, Asians ate it sparingly and mostly fermented. Of course, PR people will fight this.

Soy farmers can still capitalize on the new methods of using soy for an oil energy substitute, right? Maybe soy will become too expensive to eat anyway! And now, with all the research showing that grass-fed meats are actually good for you (of course, such meat is tricky to find and buy, with our agro-chemical company dominated food system, unless you can find a local farmer and have a big freezer) and that our veering to vegetable oils because they are "healthy" has actually harmed our health—it's frustrating! We all really do need to grow more of our own food and support farmers who are trying to do the right things, even though their prices "look" more expensive!

Debbie Murphy

Dear Debbie,

Thanks for the letter. You bring up many good points proving that we all need to be more aware of what foods we eat, how they are raised or produced and where they come from. We also need to pay more attention to where the information we are getting comes from. Growing your own food is a great starting point, however most of us can't realistically grow everything we eat. That means purchasing food, and you're right on target when you say we need to “support farmers who are trying to do the right things, even though their prices ‘look’ more expensive.” It may look that way on the surface, but when you look deeper and see how much of the “cheap” food we consume is supported through governmental subsidies, how the production methods are changing our environment and how devoid of many of the nutrients we need to be healthy they are—they're not cheap at all.