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Lexicon of Sustainability

Watchword: Know Your Farmer

Watchword: Know Your Farmer
To draw attention to the best and brightest ideas in sustainability, the Lexicon of Sustainability's Food List project defines the words that are integral to a healthy, transparent, and accountable food system. Each week, we explore a new word through artwork, films, recipes, and written works. See all Food List words here. 

Know Your Farmer: Knowing your farmer is as priceless as knowing where your food comes from. In fact, knowing who grows your food locally can be more valuable than any certification or stamp of approval. As relationships among farmers and their customers grow and strengthen, so does the health of the local community. 

Farmer’s markets provide a scene for fresh, locally grown produce and products to be supplied to the community, directly from the farmers’ hands.  Understanding the motives and enthusiasm that drives each individual farmer brings to light the diversity each vendor brings to the farmer’s market. In fact, this understanding can be the very element that helps to make decisions when it comes down to a product that is certified organic or a product that is grown organically without certification.

Title: Know Your Farmer
Location: River Ridge Ranch, Ames, Iowa
Featuring: The Lexicon of Sustainability’s first class of Project Localize: Will, Paul, Kim, Bryan, Kaydee, Kait, Logan, Michael, Brittany, Drayke, and Elena

When 75 students at Iowa’s Ames High School wanted to see where their food came from, they ended up documenting an entire local food system (with their teacher’s help).

Mike Todd teaches Environmental Science, Physics, and Biology at Ames High School. His innovative teaching methods engage his students in student-driven, community-based environmental impact projects like Project Localize’s “Localizer Toolkit,” which shows students how photography and words can help a community learn more about the people and principles behind the food they eat.

To know your farmer is to know the people who make the choices about production methods and labor practices—all of which define their own value system.

Short film: "Growing With Your Farmer" by Nourish

Do you know who grows your food? Nigel Walker, founder of Eatwell Farm, explains why it’s important to know your farmer and support their livelihood.

Every farm tells a story. Knowing your farmer traces an arc from the soil to your table. One way you can build a relationship with your farmer is to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. In this locally-based economic model, community members support a farm by paying it directly for a share of its seasonal bounty. As Nigel Walker says, “When you give your money to a local farmer, that money goes to the local economy.”

How do you strive to support the farmers in your local community? Tell us in the comments below, and follow us for more on knowing your farmer throughout the week.

For the past three years, the Lexicon of Sustainability has sought out the foremost practitioners of sustainability in food and farming to gain their insights and experiences on this important subject. What began as a photography project to spread their knowledge has grown to include short films, study guides, traveling shows, a book, and a website where people can add their own terms to this ever-evolving lexicon. See more at

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