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4 Startling Problems with the Food System + How We Combat Them

written by

Nolan Masser

posted on

February 22, 2022

Chances are, you are here because you care about clean, healthy, responsibly-raised food. Unfortunately, our existing centralized food system is working against all of that good stuff.

The food system in America is currently designed to benefit a relative few companies. Think of it as a funnel: The corporations profiting at the top of this “funnel” state that the efficiencies of this model make food cheaper for customers like you. While there is a kernel of truth to this, it results in many significant issues, including: 

  • Pollution and erosion of our environment
  • Economic hardships for farmers and laborers
  • Food shortages and waste
  • Unhealthy, low-quality products

That’s why Red Hill Harvest is working toward a direct food model. We believe that making nutritious local food available to consumers and using regenerative agriculture will relieve these problems. Read on to learn more about these systemic issues and how we combat them.

Environmental Impact

It should be no surprise that the current food model has taken a heavy toll on the environment. For one thing, food miles (i.e., the distance food is transported from production to consumer) are exponentially higher than necessary. Since retailers opt for the cheapest products, they usually buy from conventional farms with the best prices. This means more trucks rolling in from corporate farms and therefore, more pollution.


Competing only on price also means irresponsible agricultural practices and production methods are common. For example, using harsh pesticides and herbicides and keeping animals in over-capacity barns for their entire lives. Food manufacturers, packers, and retailers encourage producers to sell below the real cost of production. We’re left trying to reverse the environmental damage from these harmful practices. 

Have you ever seen a beef feedlot? Don’t be fooled by the greenwashing you see in advertisements. Unfortunately, many corporate farms take the cheap route–at a detriment to the environment.

Economic Impact

When retailers only care about finding the cheapest option, local farmers are pushed out of the equation because they can’t afford to sell that low. Food monopolies continue to form and suppress competition.

Practices like reverse auctions, in which the sellers bid instead of the buyers, contribute to this issue. The bid always goes to the biggest packer, pinching the farmer out of a fair price.

For example, we are located within 10 miles of a warehouse for the largest retailer in the U.S. Because of our size, we had to sell through a large packer who took a cut of the already ridiculously low prices they paid. We no longer sell to that retailer because we simply couldn’t afford to. Instances like this also contribute to those unnecessarily high food miles we mentioned.

Under this centralized food system, local farmers struggle to make a living because they can barely get paid what their products are worth. And the government has to pick up the cost in subsidies to those farmers.

Food Shortages

The current food system is not resilient enough to withstand a major disruption, like a global pandemic. Sure, our centralized food system can deliver high quantities of food quickly to grocery stores. But the limited number of companies able to fulfill each step of the supply chain (i.e., farms, processors, distributors, and retailers) mean an outbreak at one facility can affect the availability and price of food nationwide. 

Oh, no!

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw the meat-processing industry struggle when workers got sick, forcing many plants to reduce or pause production. Livestock prices dropped, affecting farmers’ livelihoods. Some even had to cull animals that could not be processed. At the same time, we’ve seen widespread food shortages.

How can there be food shortages when we have too much food? Hmm…

The current concentrated food system results in limited options, but it doesn’t HAVE to be that way! A snowstorm in Colorado, fire in California, or even a pandemic should not mean people go hungry. 

Food Quality

Under our current food system, supermarkets can’t offer a vast selection of food types and be profitable. So, they offer the least expensive products to make it simpler and more cost-effective for them. 

Customers like you are left with cheap, unhealthy foods and few options for clean eating. You don’t know where or how your food is grown and processed. This contributes to many health issues we face today (e.g., obesity and food sensitivities). 

Meanwhile, farmers can’t differentiate their products. They simply need to meet minimum standards. There is no reward for producing higher-quality food. Anything they spend on more responsible agricultural practices is a lost expense. Wow…

How Red Hill Harvest is Making a Difference

At Red Hill Harvest, we believe the solution is clean, responsible farming combined with a direct food model. Is it possible to achieve this balance? Yes!

We use regenerative agriculture, focusing on healthy soil and limiting chemicals and fertilizers. These materials may make produce more visually appealing, but they reduce the nutritional value. We aim to improve the environment through our farming practices, not in spite of them. For example, animals on pasture create healthier soil and animals.

Consumers should have confidence in the food they’re buying. To us, a diversified, direct-to-consumer system means providing the cleanest, most nutritious, least-handled food directly to our customers. It also means more options and healthy competition.

As a country, we need to rely more on local food producers through channels like farmers’ markets and CSAs. A growing number of local farmers are even using e-commerce, creating convenience for customers who want to shop local and enabling farmers to expand their reach. 

A diversified food system will be the most sustainable one. As a consumer, you can make a difference and support this movement by shopping locally. Get to know the farmers in your community and learn about their food. If there’s one thing we farmers love, it’s educating people on clean eating! 

Ready to invest in local, responsibly grown food for your family? Shop our selection of grass-fed beef and fresh produce today. Have questions? Send us a note and we’ll be happy to help!

More from the blog

3 reasons why you should (NOT!) go vegan.

A recent study by Vegetarian Times shows that 7.3 million people follow vegetarian diets in the U.S.A. alone, and the number is rising daily!  It’s almost understandable why this trend is rising in a world full of fake news and food mislabeling. Recently, I did some research concerning these common misconceptions. Without further adieu, here are the top three reasons people go vegan (and the truth about these polarizing issues). #1 Environmental Impact Over 90% of all meat produced in America is raised in CAFOs. (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) What is a CAFO, you ask? CAFO stands for Confined Animal Feed Operation and includes all farms that raise more than a set number of animals. For example, a CAFO of cattle is 1,000 animals, whereas a CAFO of chickens starts at 30,000. To learn more about CAFOs, click here. Large amounts of carbon emissions are released into the atmosphere in a CAFO. Feed needs to be grown, processed, and trucked in. Then, after feeding, the manure must be trucked out and spread onto farmland. This large amount of trucking and processing makes many of these CAFOs detrimental to our environment.  Arguably, the most significant environmental concern in our region (Mid-Atlantic) is the over-application of manure. If you drive through PA, NJ, MD, NY, or VA, you will see countless large poultry CAFOs. These farms generated millions of tons of manure, which was more than they could ever use to add fertility to the soils of their farms. This led to manure being over-applied, causing runoff and the pollution of streams and rivers. To help solve this problem in our community, the government (taxpayers) have financed a facility to dehydrate poultry manure to divert it away from the area. What should you do? Becoming vegan simply does not mean eliminating environmental issues. Each system of raising food has its own set of problems. Fruit and vegetable farming, processing, and trucking can be as bad as animal production. For example, most of the produce we eat on the East Coast must be shipped from California or other countries before it reaches our plate.  Click here to watch John Dutton from the show Yellowstone simple explanation on the issues of veganism.  Knowing where your food comes from is essential to combat these environmental issues. You can make a difference by sourcing your food from farmers who use green practices such as cover cropping and rotational grazing.  Cover crops pull carbon from the atmosphere into our soils, helping to counteract animal carbon emissions.  Rotational grazing leads to a healthy level of manure distribution throughout every acre without additional hauling. Invest in a farm whose practices work with nature rather than against it and whose goal is to regenerate the environment rather than sustain it.  #2 Animal Welfare In large confinement operations, animals are contained by the thousands. Although farmers must follow USDA’s requirements for sq. ft./ animal, disease can spread quickly when many animals are confined to a small area. Recently, the avian flu has been all over the news. This disease travels through wildlife and transmits to poultry through their saliva. It is a significant threat to poultry production in America.  Poultry is often raised in a confined house in a controlled environment. This environment is created to help keep the birds from getting ill from rain or cold weather. While it does a very good job of keeping them safe from the elements, it also weakens their immune systems because they are never exposed to harsh climates. When events such as the avian flu happen, problems arise because the flocks are not suited to protect themselves from this illness. We witnessed how this disease affected our local farms. A recent outbreak led to over 40,000 birds being killed due to their weak immune systems, which is a big problem for American farmers. The final and most concerning animal welfare issue in the vegan community is the treatment of animals.  Farmers often hire laborers to help with the day-to-day chores of farm life. These workers see so many animals daily that they can lose respect for the animals they care for. While every farm is not this way, we can not turn a blind eye to the fact that this mistreatment of animals does happen, and it is an issue that needs to be fixed. What should you do? This one is very straightforward. VISIT YOUR FARMER!!  Find a farmer who is willing to show you around their farm. Don’t trust a label in the supermarket; find a farmer you can trust, and be sure to ask him/her about their practices.  By visiting your farmer, you can know the food you put on your table was raised with respect and care. #3 Health  There’s no denying it: the cheapest meat you find on the supermarket shelf was likely raised using GMO feeds, antibiotics, and artificial growth hormones. These factors are beginning to appear as significant factors in the chronic disease epidemic our country is facing. Eating fruits and vegetables has undeniable health benefits for our bodies and well-being. However, vegetable and fruit farmers often use chemicals to control their fields' pests, which leads to the same problems production animal farming brings.   Another reason people are turning away from meat is for heart health, which is a legitimate concern with very fatty animals such as grain-fed beef. This fat contains cholesterol that is very high in saturated fat, causing many people with high cholesterol and heart issues to go vegan. What should you do? There’s no denying that a diverse diet is key to health. However, meat provides essential, natural nutrients not found in fruits, veggies, and nuts.  So, where do you turn for healthier meat? Stop going to the supermarket and head straight to your farmer. Buy grass-fed or pasture-raised meats, which are leaner and have less saturated fat than their grain-fed counterparts.  Grass-fed beef is becoming increasingly popular because of its higher concentration of CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid). This acid helps to aid in weight loss and lower cholesterol. You can learn more about the fantastic benefits of CLA by clicking here. Why grass-fed or pasture-raised?  The microbes in a ruminant animal's (AKA Cow’s) gut make CLA. There is a higher microbe count in grass-fed beef because the plants they eat are alive and full of bugs! Recent studies have shown a 300%—500% increase in CLAs in grass-fed beef, making it a much better alternative to manufactured supplements, often made from seed oils like safflower and corn. Knowing all of the facts is essential before you go vegan. Don’t let yourself be misled by flashy marketing campaigns or cool packaging in the supermarket trying to persuade you to buy their food. Purchase your food from farms that you can visit. Talk to your farmer and ask him/her questions about how your food is raised, and make sure they know WHY they follow the practices they follow.  It is now more important than ever to have food you can trust. Click the link below and contact us to schedule a farm visit today! Talk to a farmer you can trust today! Red Hill Harvest Phone:(570) 900-1566 Email:

Farm Stewardship at Red Hill Harvest

Last Easter, I shared the fact that we always try our best to nurture our community and environment through decisions based on our faith, ancestorial knowledge, and new information gained from experience and education. I want to share with you, exactly how we do this day in and day out on our farm.

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