What if I told you that America’s food system is broken? What would you say?
Would you defend it by pointing out the abundance of choices offered in today’s average supermarket, estimated to be over 45,000 items? Would you cite that per capita spending on food has dropped significantly over the last 50 years, freeing up incomes to improve quality of life? Would you talk about how American innovation is not only feeding our citizens, but is also feeding the world? Or would you quietly ask what a food system is?
While perhaps it’s not “broken,” America’s industrial food system, which dominates food sales, has developed side effects that are accelerating in severity, especially diet-related health (e.g., obesity, diabetes, asthma, allergies) and environmental (e.g., chemical toxins, soil degradation, carbon emissions) issues that can no longer be ignored.
The food industry’s insatiable drive toward cheaper, more convenient products has also disrupted the simple pleasures of cooking, eating and/or sharing meals with family and friends, turning food into an accessory, a lofty drop from once being an intimate part of our daily lives.
The good news is there is an increasingly vocal ground swell of advocates and experts working to reverse the downsides of industrial food, with the high-profile personalities becoming lightning rods for the powerful, entrenched corporate interests being challenged, which commonly label them as “elitist” or “anti-ag.” Such claims, both untrue and unfair, are designed to minimize any impact these knowledgeable voices have on public opinion and consumer spending. Look no further than industrial food’s aggressive reactions to the Food, Inc. documentary to see it in action.
One thing is clear, we can no longer allow industry to control the dialog, but fighting fire with fire, especially the use of fear to influence consumer behavior, doesn’t sit well, and would probably be less effective than other approaches. To that end I’ve attempted to define the concept of “Pro Food” based on a set of core principles that get at the heart of why I and others are dedicated to driving these principles into mainstream culture through communications and alternative food systems.
PRO FOOD IS…
- Inclusive – Everybody is part of Pro Food, since everyone can gain from its success.
- Pro Farm – Fresh, healthy, and sustainable food starts with the farmers who grow it. Without their dedication, stewardship of the land and tireless labor it is difficult to envision Pro Food getting out of the gate.
- Pro Consumer – Today’s conventional food system has invested billions of dollars in constructing a food infrastructure designed to do one thing: sell as much food as possible, as quickly and cheaply as possible. This strategy has been good for bottom lines, bad for waistlines and even worse for personal healthcare costs. Pro Food envisions bringing farm and plate together in innovative retail experiences that go beyond convenience to embrace flavor, taste, seasonal rhythms, community and health.
- Pro Cooking – Where would we be without cooking? Unfortunately for the last few generations, cooking has been left by the wayside in exchange for cheap, convenient substitutes as people became increasingly squeezed for time and energy. In many ways, Pro Food is based in the home kitchen, the best place to ensure we eat sustainably every day.
- Pro Eating – The only thing possibly more important than cooking is eating. And while Pro Food places an emphasis on awakening America’s home kitchens, it also recognizes that many institutions (schools, hospitals, corporate cafeterias) and restaurants are doing their part in bringing the same healthy, flavorful and sustainable food on to every plate they serve.
- Community-Oriented – Pro Food recognizes the simple pleasure of bringing people together around food. Information is shared, bonds are strengthened and friendships are made. It also appreciates the economic benefits it can bring to regional food economies. Sustainable food can be imported (in the absence of local options), but increasing demand being met through local channels, there will be incentive for farms and processors to participate, as well as for existing providers to transition to sustainable production. Keeping money circulating longer within regional economies is key to Pro Food efforts.
- Entrepreneurial – Building a meaningful Pro Food presence in a food system dominated by massive conventional players with deeply entrenched interests (and reach) will take a lot of hard work, innovation and old fashioned luck. Fortunately we can leverage America’s entrepreneurial spirit in systematically building the ever-broader foundation needed to move Pro Food forward.
What Pro Food ultimately becomes is up to those who recognize and embrace its ideal of healthy, sustainable food systems and make it their own. For it is up to all of us, from farmers to eaters, and everyone else who cares about the food they eat, to carry Pro Food forward and make its vision, its values a reality.
In some very interesting ways, Pro Food draws parallels with the early years of the Internet, when it was still isolated from the mainstream in government and university labs. People, especially entrepreneurs, were starting to eye the Internet as something that could revolutionize communications and collaboration, that could democratize things long centralized. At first, they had no idea what was going to stick, but began applying time, energy and money in search of winning formulas.
This is where I see Pro Food today, which makes it financially exciting for those with solutions to the problems we face. I look forward to joining them and others on this exciting journey.
Every Kitchen Table is a proud supporter of Fight Back Fridays.
Rob Smart is a food entrepreneur focusing on sustainable food, regional food systems and consumer retail experiences. He blogs on alternative food systems on Huffington Post, Civil Eats and Every Kitchen Table blogs, and micro-blogs on Twitter as Jambutter.
Rob, Thanks for this post. I was going to email you to ask you to define the #ProFood hash-tag that I’ve seen around Twitter, but you beat me too it. I hope that the emphasis on Pro Food can help stale, redundant conversations move past the name calling (anti-ag, organic vs. conventional, etc) and get to a place of beneficial dialog. Well done.
Well said, Rob. Thanks for defining Pro Food.
I want to take out my pen and underscore the word INCLUSIVE in your post. To me, this is what the organic and sustainable food movements have failed to address thus far, and why Pro Food is necessary. I think many sustainable foodies are taken aback when they’re accused of being anti-farmer. Nothing could be further from the true, but when conventional agriculture is so often made into the antagonist in the “green” narrative, how are conventional farmers expected to interpret that? We may see Monsanto in our mental image of “industrial ag,” but they see themselves. So of course they feel alienated, and obviously we need some way of explaining that there’s a very welcome place for all farmers in our discussions — to teach us and share their experiences. That’s Pro Food, in my opinion.
Well done raising this issue, Rob.
Hi Rob. Nice post. Maybe I missed something (or my brain is still in D.C.)…is Pro Food a person (consultant), what we should become (us), or an organization or business?
Dave: Great clarifying question, as always. Law school taught you well. Pro Food is not a person or a business. Its not a formal organization. It is an inclusive gathering of like-minded people committed to positively changing our food system. This will be accomplished through education, communication, legislation, new businesses, etc.
In many ways, it is an evolution of existing food-related movements built on a clear set of principles, designed to move the dialog beyond the “stale, redundant conversations” and “name calling (anti-ag, organic vs. conventional, etc.)” pointed out by Stephen in earlier comment.
Rob I also posted this to Civil Eats, excellent article. I think you do a great job of summarizing what the Pro Food movement is all about. “Pro Food” is really the first moniker I’ve heard that makes sense. It’s positive and inclusive rather then negative and against something. In order to have an effective movement you need to educate and energize. You need the ability to state ‘mission’ in clear concise language and “brand” in way people can understand and participate. I think “Pro Food” does this.
Not sure the internet is best analogue I believe there are some things about the early internet that do apply and which the pro food movement could learn and adapt. I think the way mail servers came online at universities is very apt. A university could get the software for free IF they agreed to help the next university come online. It was community building one node at a time.
In thinking about Pro Food I am more struck with early days of the environmental movement. How it drove the first earth day and raised consciousness about environmental impact and achieves tangible, lasting results, of which many most people do not even track to the environmental movement.
Thanks for great article.
Now . . . what can an individual or organization do to make this happen. Maybe we need to have an international “Earth Food Day” 🙂 or some other event that people can readily understand and discuss, allows for grass roots organizing, provides participation at local level, includes all stake holders, media can understand and encourage and leads to long term change and eduction.
Excellent comment, Hungry Gardener! I couldn’t have said it better myself. And I really like the international day suggestion, but would lean toward calling it “Pro Food Day.” ;->
Seriously, it is these types of suggestions that will allow Pro Food to take the necessary form to drive change throughout the food system, from consumer spending to legislation. Seems to me that a non-profit organizing body might be in order, maybe along the lines of SlowFood. I hope others will join this discussion and make suggestions, provide guidance, etc., so we can accelerate momentum!
Ha, ha, ironic when I hit submit I thought, maybe “Pro Food Day” too. Then I thought, I like “Earth Food Day” as I think lot of people will immediately understand we are playing off earth day, and it just sounds great and has a lot of wholesome connotations, and a lot of “teaching moments” outside food — like impact on use of fossil fuels, economic impact of buy local and heath cost to individuals, business and govt. health impact of obesity, that touch on food but allow for “wider” discussion.
SlowFood USA is great suggestion. They are already working with Jenkins from Eat Ins on nationwide “Time for Lunch” eat in on 9/7 to support better foods in school. They would be great sponsor for “eat in” (local potluck in public place) as one way to participate in a Earth Food Day like event.
I am struck by range of individuals and organizations interested in this issue. Pro Food is “ripe” for grass roots organizing action!
You have delivered a clarion call to every American. What a powerful, and important document. Now let’s get the Profood movement into high gear!
Fabulous post. Just further confirmation I am %150 Pro-Food.
As someone who has spent a good amount of time in Europe (particularly Italy, France, Spain), the whole idea of “Pro-Food” is a curious concept, because they’ve been eating that way since the beginning of time. For example, in northern Italy, they cook with local butter, rather than olive oil, because the olive trees grow in the south…sensible and solid traditions still in place.
There’s great awareness of what the US and our industrialization is doing, and you do see its effects there in Europe particularly in major cities. But to think that our ways can compromise it just pains me.
Fantastic summation – thank you! Yes, we are all part of ProFood and of the solutions.
The DIY culture that we celebrate at HOMEGROWN.org is working to foster the ingenuity so often seen in food and farming of yesteryear. We believe that those who are growing, cooking, pickling, fermenting, brewing, baking and building it themselves are an important part of our future food system!
Great post, Rob. I agree with you that it is imperative that our industrialized food system evolves. However, I find it hard to believe that the inclusiveness of this movement will work for its own advantage and here is why.
Large food companies such as Nestle and Kraft (which, in my mind are the antithesis of the Pro Food movement) will probably fight against this movement as it goes totally against their interests. They focus on developing what they call “better foods” that is nothing but adding nutrients to “things” (because I wouldn’t dare to call them food) to make them seem as they are good for people. They are not looking for more sustainable ways of manufacturing their products nor trying to get our world go back to basics. On the contrary, they want people to think that the products that they manufacture are better than what nature creates (they have more nutrients, less calories, blah blah blah). Furthermore, they got huge armies of lobbyist working with every government to convince them that pushing for a sustainable food system may cause people to die of hunger in the long run [which could definitely be an outcome of a food system revolution if not handled correctly]
Anyway, I’m not trying to be pessimistic, just trying to think ahead and see what obstacles can be found in the future.
As Zachary said, let’s get this movement going at full speed!
Great post Rob and I am more than happy to spread the word and to claim the Pro Food message.
I also love that you emphasize inclusiveness, as we have chatted about, too often there is “us vs. them” mentality amongst sustainable ag. and “conventional” ag. folks, when really, I see them as farmers, the labelling has gotten in the way.
What I love about the term Pro Food is the way it automatically positions industrial food products as being “not food.” Velveeta, Twizzlers, Spaghettios–all consumable, but not food. Generally my philosophy is if it has a cute name, it’s probably not wise to eat.
The consumer has the power of the dollar – if more people are careful where they spend those dollars the likes of Kraft & Nestle will have to wake up sometime.
My dollars have been re-routed & it sure feels good.
You have something here, Rob. All excellent points.
Wondering, where do the hungry fit in? Many are on limited incomes, food stamps, or less. Many don’t have a kitchen to cook in or a table to sit at.
Besides using #profood on tweets -> how else do we (everyone) move this forward?
Thank you for moving this forward. As an activist that works on a variety of areas, it’s great to see others’ taking on areas that I am not as involved in and making a huge difference! Thank you!
Extremely refreshing, Rob. Thank you, and sign me up!
In my work, I also encounter farmers who think the industrial ag indictments are about them personally. That’s why, in our collective work to reform our food system, farmers need to be at the table from the beginning. In the end, they are the ones who will undertake the reshaping of agriculture’s footprint.
Food Alliance’s founders took the inclusive concept seriously, seeing organic as an important benchmark, but lacking all the answers, and refusing to see scale as the enemy.
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Nice work. I have pasted onto ooooby.org which has 1200+ food gardeners and locavore members. No doubt they will enjoy. Linked back to your blog.
I am disapointed, part of your #profood definition is pro farm, yet you say that our food system is flawed in part by environmental problems (e.g., chemical toxins, soil degradation, carbon emissions)
As a farmer I will vouch for my co-parts that we are environmental stewards. We all are tought to “put back into the ground at least what we take out” so therefore there is no soil degradation. We have to be licenced to apply pesticieds, use them in an environmentally safe way, and follow the labels on the pesticides we use. Furthormore, our new technologies and tillage practices are continue to reduce our carbon footprint.
Please consider the implications of what you are saying in the future, we (farmers) care deeply about our food, animals, crops, family, and country. Some of the simple satements that are made about agriculture are simply untrue and discrace the 2% of the population that work hard day in and out to feed the rest of our population.
Mike: I’m sorry that you have drawn the conclusion that Pro Food is somehow claiming that farmers are not environmental stewards. That simply is not true.
The entire foundation of Pro Food is dependent on farmers growing quality produce for people to eat on a daily basis, whether as is or lightly processed. You will also notice that there was no statement that what farmers grow must be organic or otherwise. As you and I have agreed in the past, there needs to be many hands and many approaches to bringing Pro Food to more people.
Having said that, I will not fall back into the types of arguments that created the need for the Pro Food concept in the first place. We have all spent entirely too much time there, and need to shift all of our energies – collectively – to improve the food we eat every day, at every meal.
I hope you and others will join the many people already moving forward on this important, even critical effort.
My comments were not bashing profood, it was only in response to the blog post. I have no problem with #profood, but you did say in this post that the current system has “side effects…..environmental (e.g., chemical toxins, soil degradation, carbon emissions) issues that can no longer be ignored” This comment is a direct attack on farmers in the industry, and I responded because I felt like I was being insulted because of it. #profood should be for uniting farmers with consumers.
You surmise that it is for produce, I disagree, I do not grow any produce on my farm. This does not mean that I cannot participate in Profood because there are several aspects from both the consumer and grower side that I feel I can take part in.
Furthormore, if you go back and read my post I never mentioned organic or otherwise, but since you brought it up, I feel that this is not the answer 2 the problem, just a market niche that is currently being filled.
again, my response was not anti #profood, but simply to defend what I do, and let you know that US farmers are environmental stewards.
Mike: My point is that Pro Food is about creating the most sustainable food systems possible, covering fresh and lightly-processed foods. Organic is part of that, and the reason I threaded it in was because of the email you sent me regarding the subject.
While my expertise is not in farming methods, I am confident that your suggestion that organic, whether certified or otherwise, is “just a market niche,” severely understates its potential, both in the U.S. and around the world. I also understand that growing the same crop in the same place for too long depletes the soil of certain nutrients. Supplementing the soil with chemical fertilizers helps the plants get what they need, and has the potential to offer high yields, but it does not build up the soil. That is the job of organic manner and the many living things that call soil home. Let me know if that isn’t the case. I’m all ears.
Finally, from the 30,000 foot view, just because the highly mechanized, highly processed, highly concentrated food system currently dominates America’s food system, doesn’t mean it has to. Pro Food offers an inclusive, positive and serious alternative to providing high quality, nutritious and flavorful foods to all that demand it. It remains pro farmer, as well as pro consumer, cooking, eating and community, which is what it will take to bring both ends of the food chain together to solve the complex challenges we face.
I believe that you are mistaken. Just because I grow commodity crops does not mean that I do not rotate my crops, this goes for most farmers. I grow many of the same crops as my great great grandfather did on this farm with the only exception is that I have replaced oats with soybeans. For the cases where somebody may plant the same crop back to back, or monocrop as I have heard you say, there is a yeild drag; therefore most farmers do not practice this unless they have a reason to such as a feed shortage for their animals, or planting in an area that is prone to flooding and only certain crops can handle it. These crops do produce organic matter, alot of times more organic matter than vegetables since we are only taking the seeds out and leaving the rest. As far as fertilizers building the soil, they definately do. When we take a soil sample we know what the soil needs then as we apply fertilizers we not only apply what this years crop is going to take out but apply extra in the areas that the soil needs it. When we take the next sample the results are better, thus the soil be built.
Commodity crops have always dominated Americas farmland, and to say they are hurting our environment is a very misleading statement! As I lead to in my email, organic farmers try hard to build their soils to, but as they increase in size it is alot harder for them to get ahold of the organic fertilizers they need to build their soils. A type of practice – either crops or animals – is only as good as the manager. Somebody raising vegetable crops could deplete the soils much faster than one that is growing traditional crops.
I suggest that you cunsolt a crop agronomist to get more information, we use agronomist just like you would use a nutritionalist to make sure that our crops get the propor nutrients, as well as to insure our soil continues to improve.
This notion that american farmers dont care about their soils or the environment is rediculous! We are out of business if the environment or our soil is not intake, therefore we hold it close to our harts and strive to be stewards of the land and our environment!
I am not qualified to discuss or debate soil and fertilizers beyond what I have already said, so I will leave it to others to respond, if they choose to. And to be crystal clear, I have never suggested farmers don’t care about soils or the environment. That is your interpretation, based on reading into my comments in the original post:
Pro Food = Pro Farm – Fresh, healthy, and sustainable food starts with the farmers who grow it. Without their dedication, stewardship of the land and tireless labor it is difficult to envision Pro Food getting out of the gate.
Farmers are the bedrock of Pro Food enabling other things to prosper, especially cooking, eating and community building.
Mike & Rob,
I think part of the problem is one of perception. Mike, we know from your tweets, that you are conscientious within your system of farming. Great. I don’t see Rob’s statement as an attack or slight thereon. But…. The majority of agriculture that the average citizen sees & may think about does not appear to be thought out, controlled, or anything but a mess.
Take an example. I live near the Skagit Valley in WA–one of the state’s most fertile growing regions. I have many farming friends on the mainland–both big & micro. As I drive into the valley & see vast clouds of top soil thrown aloft by a team of 8 tractors working a field, or notice the difference between the height of a road built in the 20’s & the field, now 4 feet lower, it makes me wonder what people who don’t know about agriculture so much think. As if the loss of all that fertility & top soil isn’t enough, I hear of potato farmers who won’t eat their own produce because of the chemicals they put on it and how it has made family members sick. Yet they keep producing spuds. I watch the huge irrigation trenches get snaked across fields & marvel at why no one wonders about the silting & stagnation down stream from the source. I see fields plowed “fence row to fence row” with no buffers or environmental wildlife zones–which might be a good thing; we have a vibrant raptor population I would hate to see poisoned by hunting field margins coated in 5 or 6 different sprays. I see numerous herds of cattle–dairy & beef–milling around over-grazed pastures, ruining the soil structure & sward.
These are not isolated instances or one farmers carelessness. This is years of observation over a large, highly productive area of agriculture. If you buy broccoli or cabbage seed for your farm or garden, chances are it came from here. But is it any wonder that Rob, or the average consumer who stops to wonder where & how food is produced, and hears reports of contamination, etc, build up an opinion one way or another?
ProFood must be ProFarmer. This isn’t about organic vs conventional. But it is about a better pro-farming image. And that has to start on the farm. Never before has farming enjoyed so much good press as now. The nation is very pro-farmer & farming. What I think, though, is that they are not pro-corporation. Farmers are beginning to get their story out. Using twitter, blogging, putting a face on food & the “industry” (which is a shitty word to use for something so fundamental as producing food, nutrition & health). But this is a double-edge sword. If farmers want to sell a pro-farm image themselves, they have to counter the corporate BS machine which has given consumers an image of sun-filled pastures, sky high corn and rivers of golden milk-Ho Ho Ho. The image & the reality are vastly different & therein lies the clash.
It isn’t good enough to stand up & say this or that is anti-farm–that’s a crutch used to hide from the truth–people are questioning agriculture. They want change, information, & assurance their food is safe, healthy & nutritious. Spreading corporate policy & media packet talking points isn’t going to go very far–it all begins to sound like used car sales talk, and we know how we’re sick of that. If everything we say looks, sounds, and feels like an advertisement people soon fast-forward….
ProFood/ProFarm starts at the farmgate. Re-thinking why we do things on the farm, thinking about how to present a better image to consumers, chefs & an out-of-control and predatory food industry can’t begin soon enough. As farmers we all seek something to complain about–the weather, the machinery, prices, customers…it’s somehow part of the job. But that does us no good. We can’t have our cake and eat it too…If Swine Flu news hits the pork industry below the belt, then why didn’t they come out swinging? Why didn’t they open up farms & show the welfare standard, care and cleanliness? If they did, it didn’t reach out here, and it didn’t show up the bad-press.
The way forward is by constantly questioning practices. Accepting criticism causes us to think about what we do and why. Openness & sharing in a real, non-scripted way allows people–customers, concerned citizens, potential future farmers–to judge for themselves what agriculture is all about. This is one reason I am so behind farm to cafeteria programs which involve students in agriculture & sourcing the foods they eat every day. I don’t know about either of you, but when I was a kid in rural CT in the 70’s I knew where at least 50% of the food we ate came from, how it was produced, and how it got to us. But then, I’m the son of farm kids. I have worked on all sorts of farms since I was 12. In most places in America that doesn’t exist any more. This is the main hurdle in connecting farms and food and a Pro image. Never before has an entire country been so disconnected from the hows & whys of its own food. Only 2% of the population understands what it takes to grow food for other people, and put food on their own table. That 2% has trouble finding labor to pick that food & make their jobs work. That is because farming is no longer attractive to the young. They aren’t waiting until summer comes to get away from school, their parents and head out to the fields with their friends to pick the rotation of berries, truck produce, corn, and then apples. The mechanization & intensification of farming has alienated a population which tripped out on low food prices & the false dream of “I don’t want my kid to have to work in a dirty field….” and the game-boy revolution.
If farmers are feeling attacked in the face of every chef & food blogger trying to promote healthy, quality, local food then there is something drastically wrong. But images are in need of changing. Questions need to be asked down on the farm. Perhaps Mike or @farmrphil are doing the right thing (and it can’t be their place to tell other farmers they are doing it wrong) but others who farm in a similar, large manner end up dragging them down a bit–one bad apple, etc. Above all, we cannot take posts like this personally, nor can we speak for the whole of agriculture or food culture in answering them. But we can take away a need and desire to improve & make things better for everyone. The new road is going to have some bumps, ruts and holes in it before it is repaved, lets endure them and fix them so we can all get to the same destination.
Great stuff, guys.
Some additional thoughts on Pro Food and whether or not we are at “tipping point”
Can Pro Food Leader Please</a)
I’m just a small-fry farmer in comparison to some of these big guys, but I’d like to chime in with my thoughts on soil & earth stewardship.
I’ve always felt it my responsibility to make the soil I am use better. Even as a child, I saw the difference between the family farms’s gray, worn down soils & our own lush home garden.
As I grew up & decided that growing things was my passion I began nurturing my own soil. I hauled load after load (by hand) from our broodmare stall to the pumpkins. I spent a week cleaning every scrap of manure & straw from the chicken barn. Then double dug my tomato holes and put the aged chicken compost in and voila 50 tomato plants went on to produce more tomatoes that we could use, process or even give-away.
I saved every coffee ground & glass of undrunk (is that word?) water and poured them onto precious plants. I wangled my way into 30 free bales of straw and mulched my garden a foot deep in it.
When I started on that patch of land it was a dry desert of weeds & gray soil that turned rock solid in mid July heat.
When I moved away in ‘98 I left a deep layer of luscious dark soil that teemed with earthworms. You could take a stick and poke it into the ground 18” down and not find hardpan.
Each week I sprayed my garden with baking soda, fish & seaweed emulsion & a tiny drop of dishsoap. This was in the late ‘80s & my neighbors thought I was nuts.
Fast forward to today: I’m still a home gardener and my soil is amazing. I trench compost, layer all leaves on the soil, wangle my way into freebie wood chip deliveries etc.
I know very little about NPK ratios & soil make-up on a commercial scale.
But what I do know – by basic trial & error is that the soil I have babied produces more. The tomatoes at the farm which are growing in reclaimed farm soil are struggling to stay hydrated & the soil literally dries the moment the water hits it. I’m using all the goat stable matter I can, but right now it’s a matter of logistics & time.
At home, I have barely watered this season and my tomatoes are growing and fruiting so much heavier.
Coincidence? I think not. The make-up of the home garden soil is broken down organic matter & it holds and releases nutrients & water as the plant needs them.
The farm soil has nothing left. It’s a wrung out sponge of dirt where living soil used to be. Can I fix it on a large scale with simple organic farming? Yes.
Can I fix it in one season and be profitable out the door? No!
But I believe that stewardship of the earth and soil is my job. When I am done with farming & I sit back and watch my sons take over the family farm I hope to leave them a legacy of beautiful living soil
Thank you, Podchef, Hungry Gardener and Rosemont Farm for your valuable contributions to the #ProFood dialog.
You have enriched my knowledge and expanded my thoughts on how to move forward in solving the complex challenges we face, in terms of the food we eat and how it impacts our everyday lives.
Cheers to each you,
Great article thank you!
I think this is the perfect time to ‘grow’ this movement by encouraging farmers that there is a market for goods they produce in a healthier, more environmentally friendly way.
In the dairy industry (just an example), mailbox milk price is very low, just a fraction of the cost it takes the farmer to produce milk. I believe that by slightly changing their production system, most independent dairy farmers would fit into the Pro-Food movement. However, this is a huge step for them to take. It requires capital (and right now, dairy farmers do not have much of this) and more importantly, a leap of faith. In the current system, most dairy farmers sell their milk to coops. These coops guarantee a market for a farmers milk so a farmer does not end up with large amounts of perishable, hard to move product. The solution needs to be able to offer farmers the same amount of stability to their market. This is a hard challenge that I hope Pro-Food will address.
In short, for some farmers, this is the time they are looking for an alternative. It may be the perfect time to capitalize on the economic downturn.
Pro-Farmer: In addition to your great “screen name,” I am thankful you added your perspective on farmers thinking regarding change.
A great Pro Food example of how dairy farmers in Vermont are moving away from commodity milk can be found at Jasper Hill Farm (http://www.jasperhillfarm.com), located just outside Hardwick, Vermont. You may be familiar with Hardwick, as it has been written up as one of America’s great new food towns in the New York Times, Gourmet Magazine and Eating Well Magazine.
Jasper Hill has built a cave system for aging cheeses. Their anchor tenant, Cabot Creamery, who’s headquarters is just down the road, ages its award-winning Clothbound Cheddar at Jasper Hill, which allowed them to raise the money to build an even bigger facility. What Jasper Hill offers is a turnkey solution for local dairy farmers that create cheese from their milk. They then deliver it to Jasper Hill, who manages the rest of the value-add process, including aging, packaging, labeling and shipping.
Jasper Hill’s goal is to increase the number of farms by making such businesses viable and secure.
A great example of Pro Food innovations helping bring maximum value to farmers growing and/or raising food that consumers are increasingly demanding. Read more.
I want to investigate something like this for our goat milk. I’d love to make cheese but putting in a facility is way out of reach for us.
The Kehler Brothers (Jasper Hill Farm) have a long-term, idealized vision of recreating caves in other regions to help local farmers. The realities of building out the first cave will take some time, but I would beat they would share ideas with you or others in your area that are interested in replicating. Let me know if you are interested in an introduction.
Rob, love the post, love Pro Food, as you know I will happily participate. If I’d coined the phrase, I would have named it Celebrate Food! The key is to celebrate the food that farmers, truckers, and in the case of meat, slaughterhouses and butchers, bring to our markets or even directly to our tables. If we consumers start asking (if not demanding) to know who raised our food and how and are given the opportunity to more directly reward producers who create fabulous TASTING, not just sustainably and humanely raised foods, we will create a positive, self-reinforcing feedback loop that will be a win for the farm/producers, livestock, land, and consumers.
Rebecca’s raised an important point with regard to affordability. Since I’m more familiar with meat (esp. beef) I’ll focus there but I think the principles can be applied more broadly. As with many manufacturing processes, there is a high degree of specialization in the beef industry. By the time grocery beef has reached the plate, it may have passed through as many as 12 hands. Someone is making a bit of margin at each stage. If we can reduce the number of steps both on the production and distribution/retail side, we can capture some of that margin and pass it downstream to reward talent and/or reduce prices. This is a 30,000 ft. view and solutions will likely vary by market and may not be enough to go the whole way, but I think it can get us close to the target of making fresh, clean, great tasting food available to all.
Carrie: Excellent contributions, as always. Whether this is called Pro Food, For Food, Celebrate Food, or whatever, is not for me to decide. And I candidly don’t care so much about that name. What is critically important are the principles, which stay the same after the community fine tunes them. For example, Rebecca’s thoughts on making Pro Food = Pro Access, to ensure all can participate regardless of their socio-economic status needs to be more clear throughout.
As for the value chain and who gets what cuts of consumer food expenditures, I have been thinking the same thing about the positive impact of removing layers, especially ones with large overhead and operating budgets. Being able to keep market prices reasonable, while see more money find its way into farmers’ and light processors’ pockets has to be a goal of our efforts.
I think this is a great post. You have laid out principles that really everyone should be in favor of. In my opinion the reasons these problems with industrial food exist are because WE (consumers) for the most part want the cheapest calories possible and don’t care about where they come from. People who are profood need to be educating consumers about the issues you raise and changing our habits to put more value in real food, health, and the environment in order to effect the industry. The issues of cost for farmers and price, and access for consumers must also be part of the discussion
Real soil is alive with micro organisms and insects. Dirt that has been year after year dowsed with chemical fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides is NOT soil.
Some farmers get this, others do not. I am profarmer, I am not pro flat earther. Biology tells us what we need to know about this.
If you are a farmer who feels defensive, you are perhaps feeling defensive against a fact. That is something worth noticing.
I do understand you care about your land and livelihood, your country and your customers. That’s a given. I have never thought good people were never mistaken.
That said. I do know what living soil looks like and what dead dirt looks like. I will believe my eyes first.
Michael: Educating consumers is important. Personally, I think such education is likely wasted on most adults, so I would focus vast majority of such efforts on young people, e.g., grade school through high school. What I think is more important is changing how consumers interface with retail food on an everyday basis. We need to find ways to recreate intimacy with food. That can’t happen in 50,000 square foot supermarkets with 45,000 SKUs.
Hyperlocavore: Thank you for backing up my earlier comment regarding soil degradation! I have recently dug out soil from an undisturbed forest. It is filled with organic matter; has a beautiful dark, rich color; and has contributed significantly to our garden’s productivity. Hard to argue with what our eyes see, as well as the other senses that absorb value from rich, organic soil.
If I know anything about my soil it is that is not dead. There are no plants that can survive in the soil without the living microbes that exist there! There is not much soil in the US that is dead The fact is that my soil dont look much different than alot of the ground around me that is certified organic.
Now with that beeing said, I agree the more organic matter in the soil the better it is and the higher the CEC, thus the better crops you can raise. Rob yes, the top 2 to 3 inches in a woods will contain alot of organic matter in it, but plow it up and within a year those leaves(wich have a low CEC) will have decompose and you are left with some of the hardest and tuffest soil you will have for another 3 years untill you get some organic matter built back into the soil.
It is not as easy to just add organic matter to an entire field as it is to a small garden Rosemont, thing about how many leaves and tons of manure you had to haul onto your garden that you built up over the years (and I comment you for this, its the best way to garden!) now try to do it over a typical quarter section 160 acre farm, it would be nearly impossible to get enough organic matter in a lifetime to cover it to compare what you did for your garden!
Just because of what you think you see, does not mean that is what it is! there are not many farmers that dont contunually try to improve their ground, we want to leave it in better condition for the next generation to have.
I am not being defensive, I am just telling you how I farm, and how most of my coparts do to.
Hey M Haley –
I’m sorry if that felt directed at you. You clearly do care. CLEARLY.
Is it possible that not all farmers care the way you do? It’s not like I haven’t tasted the difference between a homegrown tomato and an industrially produced one.
I agree with you there are problems at that scale that require a rethinking. I think that rethinking is so bigger than you or I. Peak oil is a fact and that means that the inputs industrial agriculture has relied on will simply be too expensive in the not so far away future. When I say unsustainable that is what I mean.
I do know you care, clearly. And I do understand that you are trying to solve a problem that I don’t have. I am on your side.
Separating yourself from the picture – can you discuss industrialized inputs without taking it personally? I am simply talking about the costs of those inputs business person to business person – not hippy to heartland – if you know what I mean.
The only reason I am upset is what I am reading in the blog above, it say american food system is broken……causing environmental issues (soil degregation) I have read this several times now, and still can interpret it one way. Farmers are the caretakers of the land, so therefore if there is soil degregation Rob is accusing farmers of causing it. Farmers do care about their soil, most farms have been farming for generations, and plan on farming for several more, without soil this will not happen. Rob has said that I misinterpreted it, but did not say what he meant, so I am led to believe I am understanding him correctly. If not, Rob please define what you mean.
Now think I understand some of your theory on how we are going to feed our population without fossil fuels, but dont understand quite how it is going to work. I also understand that our current system is VERY dependand on fossil fuels, but we are trying to move away from this. The only way I can see to have a sustainable food source is to increase our technology in agriculture so our crops can provide both our food and fuel. It is going to be a huge undertaking, but it is going to involve all aspects of ag (Crops, Livestock, Organic, Technology, Etc) in order to do it.
I applaud you for standing up for what you believe. It is quite obvious that many of these folks that degradate the farming lifestyle are not fully aware of what farmers do with their land. As a commodity farmer, I am certain that you tend your land with great respect. Without respect, you would have no crops to tend.
I am a small farmer and have been my entire life. We are a generation of family farmers, just as you are. We direct market our meats rather than using our cattle as feeder calves in the commodity markets. As with most farms, we are also diversified. Good rule of thumb is diversity; never put all your eggs in one basket so to speak. You will find other crops on our farm, most to keep the cattle fed, but others for added revenue. These movements should not be about driving a forge between small and large, but about creating a sustainable food supply for everyone. Choice is in question here, not the scale of the farmer. I am all about helping our farmers gain more of their dollar, but this is in addition to their commodity revenues and not “in place of” them. We are advocates and not activists. Farmers should not be fighting with farmers; they should be on a solid front against the larger entities that drive the commodities. If these markets were higher and more respectful of the farmer’s hard work, the local movement would never exist. This movement began because of the farmers will to survive and branch out into avenues that could help them hold onto their farms. It seems that the activist would be better served by looking further along the supply chain, particularly the retail end.
It is unfortunate that ProFood or SlowFood or Sustainable or Local or whatever you want to call it has become an avenue to pit farmer against farmer. They should embrace farmers of all size and not condemn. This all or nothing scenario that has become mainstream thinking saddens me. Are these folks not aware that even we direct local marketers need the commodity markets to help sustain our farms?? Lack of proper information is the only answer that comes to mind. Small family farmers use commodity markets on a smaller scale just as larger family farmers use them on a larger scale. Without diversity through commodity markets, export markets, niche markets many of us would not survive. I suspect that many opponents of large scale farming are hobbyists’. My conclusion is in part, due to their lack of knowledge and understanding of the whole process from farm to plate. Farming for a living is a way of life. Most of us are generational. Not every American is willing to be on call 24hrs a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. You have to love it to endure it.
So farmer Haley, congratulations! Keep up the good fight by educating. Sure there are “bad apples” in every crowd and farming is no exception. Neither are packing houses (I’m a butcher too!). It seems “activists” focus on the bad apple and forget to distinguish that these are the small minority. The majority are hard working, honest, respectful, and diligent, men and women who feed the world with ingenuity! I salute you (and me).
Side Note: It seems that when questioned about the “facts”, the outspoken activists seem to get quite.
Derek: Thanks for taking the time to draft such a thorough and considered response. While we may not see things exactly the same way, I found a lot in your comments that I believe we agree on. That is progress, and I look forward to learning more from you and others interested in expanding consumer demand for more sustainable food, which I trust farmers will gladly satisfy with increased supply of those foods.
John: While Mike and I have had many heated discussions over the last 3-4 months, I have a great deal of respect for him as a farmer and a person. Like you, I applaud anyone who stands up for what they believe in and uses their knowledge and experience to educate others. It may not seem like it on the surface, but I strongly believe that the hard work and tough debates we are having is actually bringing us closer.
Your point about not pitting farmer against farmer is right on. If, for any reason, I have appeared to be doing that, please know that it was never my intention. The fact is my family, while not farmers (yet), moved to rural Vermont to start growing our own food. We have a 500 square foot family garden with 40 varieties of vegetables, along with numerous herb and berry gardens. Our plan is to significantly expand the garden next year, along with adding chickens. Eventually, we hope to clear a larger part of our 10 acres and get serious about farming. It is something we have wanted to do for 10 years, but until recently always found a reason not to.
You can imagine that with that down the road, I see already see myself as part-farmer, with a lot to learn, and every desire to do so.
Finally, my interest in Pro Food is to increase consumer demand for more sustainable foods, especially produce and minimally processed foods coming directly from farms and/or processors. By growing this demand, and considering what nearly every farmer I have talked to has told me, America’s farmers will respond with increased supply.
Everyone wins, right?
Also – I’ve been to the gulf of Mexico – seen the see full of fish bellies turned to the sun because of agricultural and industrial run off. The system is broken.
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“What if I told you that America’s food system is broken? What would you say?”
I would tell you that our food system is actually a miracle of modern science and technology. I would tell you that our current system provides healthier, safer, more affordable, and a more diverse grocery offering than ever in the course of history. I would tell you that despite the scare tactics and fear mongering you get from activist blogs and extremist books, our food system enormous access to fresh fruit, fresh veggies, right along with the convenient/fast food that has people like you so up in arms. I would tell you that the bottom line is that the current food system efficiently and effectively meets the needs and demands of the current consumer and can quickly adapt/change if consumers so desire.
“Would you defend it by pointing out the abundance of choices offered in today’s average supermarket, estimated to be over 45,000 items? Would you cite that per capita spending on food has dropped significantly over the last 50 years, freeing up incomes to improve quality of life? Would you talk about how American innovation is not only feeding our citizens, but is also feeding the world? Or would you quietly ask what a food system is?”
Several of those… see above. Do you think that by guessing what I might say, which also happens to be the truth, somehow lessens the impact of this factual information?
“While perhaps it’s not “broken,” America’s industrial food system, which dominates food sales, has developed side effects that are accelerating in severity, especially diet-related health (e.g., obesity, diabetes, asthma, allergies) and environmental (e.g., chemical toxins, soil degradation, carbon emissions) issues that can no longer be ignored.”
You’re starting with a couple of false premises here, so I imagine it will be difficult moving forward. First, you start with the assumption that the “American Industrial Food System” is causing things like obesity, diabetes, asthma, etc. when the blame actually lands squarely on the consumer. Each and every day millions of millions of consumers decide for themselves what type of food they want to eat, how much they want to work out, what sort of diet and lifestyle is right for them. Millions of these people decide to eat extremely healthy food and live healthy lifestyles. Millions of others do not. Perhaps they don’t have time, perhaps they don’t choose to make this a priority in their lives, and perhaps they simply prefer the flavor of ‘unhealthy foods’. The key point here is that it IS their choice. You’re also starting with the assumption that farmers are contributing at an unsustainable level to chemical toxins, soil degradation, carbon emissions, etc. when the sole source of your information is likely biased blogs, books, and magazines instead of the people who actually work the land and have been it’s caretaker for hundreds of years.
“The food industry’s insatiable drive toward cheaper, more convenient products has also disrupted the simple pleasures of cooking, eating and/or sharing meals with family and friends, turning food into an accessory, a lofty drop from once being an intimate part of our daily lives.”
I don’t know about you, but I still enjoy cooking, eating, sharing meals with family and friends. It’s one of my favorite things to do. The fact that you’re blaming the food industry which sets out to simply meet the demand of consumers and provide products which meet their lifestyle of choice is pretty laughable. How about we blame the exodus of consumers into cities where they can’t grow their own food. How about we blame the lack of education in schools about agriculture and where we get our food? How about we blame our culture for valuing things like celebrities, tv shows, movies, instead of the things that really matter? The fact that you’ve settled upon a few food manufacturing companies that produce product which carries significant demand by consumers I personally find to be laughable.
“The good news is there is an increasingly vocal ground swell of advocates and experts working to reverse the downsides of industrial food, with the high-profile personalities becoming lightning rods for the powerful, entrenched corporate interests being challenged, which commonly label them as “elitist” or “anti-ag.” Such claims, both untrue and unfair, are designed to minimize any impact these knowledgeable voices have on public opinion and consumer spending. Look no further than industrial food’s aggressive reactions to theFood, Inc. documentary to see it in action.”
Perhaps the biggest overlap your movement has with agriculture, is that we’ve been fighting for years to help make consumers more knowledgeable about their food and what goes into getting them a great product. The fact that many food activists including Food, Inc. paint the picture that farmers want to ‘hide the truth’ from consumers is fundamentally ridiculous. Talk to just about any farmer and they’d be glad to tell you everything they know. The vast majority of them would probably be willing to give you a tour of their farm! And if they do hesitate, with movies like Food, Inc. and others out there that approach the issue from a blinded pre-determined perspective aimed at dragging farmers and ag through the mud, you can hardly blame them. For the past many years farmers have gotten no respect for the hard work that they do, the effort they put into conserving the land, and for the quality products they produce. A little more respect shown from food activists would go a long way towards facilitating future conversation between the groups. A little more effort on the activist’s side to educate them on real practices and operations would help as well. Often times it’s hard to take them seriously because the general ineptness in many of their comments.
“One thing is clear, we can no longer allow industry to control the dialog, but fighting fire with fire, especially the use of fear to influence consumer behavior, doesn’t sit well, and would probably be less effective than other approaches. To that end I’ve attempted to define the concept of “Pro Food” based on a set of core principles that get at the heart of why I and others are dedicated to driving these principles into mainstream culture through communications and alternative food systems.”
Now here we can agree. It’s about time for activists to quit using baseless and stirring fear campaigns as an attempt to mislead and misrepresent the ag industry. It’s about time for activists to start admitting that the current food system is amazing in many respects, and what they really want to change is the types of foods that consumers demand… or in many cases it seems… the types of foods that consumers should be allowed to eat as mandated by the government. Farmers everywhere would support you accurate and verifiable education of consumers w/out fear campaigns or illogical attacks on those who provide the product and process the food as the market bears.
“PRO FOOD IS…
Inclusive – Everybody is part of Pro Food, since everyone can gain from its success.”
Everyone is Pro Food. No one in their right mind would be against food, right? I get it.
“ Pro Farm – Fresh, healthy, and sustainable food starts with the farmers who grow it. Without their dedication, stewardship of the land and tireless labor it is difficult to envision Pro Food getting out of the gate.”
Agreed. Although I have a sneaky suspicion that what you really mean here is that farmers are only ok assuming they grow the product YOU want them to grow, in the manor YOU determine is the best way to grow it, even though YOU personally have extremely limited experience with farming and get most of your information from biased agenda-driven sources.
“ Pro Consumer – Today’s conventional food system has invested billions of dollars in constructing a food infrastructure designed to do one thing: sell as much food as possible, as quickly and cheaply as possible. This strategy has been good for bottom lines, bad for waistlines and even worse for personal healthcare costs. Pro Food envisions bringing farm and plate together in innovative retail experiences that go beyond convenience to embrace flavor, taste, seasonal rhythms, community and health.”
I disagree with your assumption that today’s food system is designed to ‘sell as much food a possible, as quickly and cheaply as possible.’ By definition, the current system is designed to make money. Thankfully the free market system tells us that the most effective and efficient way to make this money is by providing consumers with the products they want/desire/demand. The products on the shelf effectively mirror consumer demand. If you want to change what’s on the shelf, change what’s in consumers’ minds. We farmers will continue to grow what the market tells us to, because it’s the most efficient, most fair, and most moral way to do it.
“ Pro Cooking – Where would we be without cooking? Unfortunately for the last few generations, cooking has been left by the wayside in exchange for cheap, convenient substitutes as people became increasingly squeezed for time and energy. In many ways, Pro Food is based in the home kitchen, the best place to ensure we eat sustainably every day.”
Cooking is great, I wish consumers in general had the same love of cooking as I do. It gives you a better appreciation for the product, for the people growing the product, and for food in general. It’s really a great way to get in touch with the entire system. At the same time, I think it’s important to realize that the reason quick and easy foods exist is because consumers have demanded them. Since our lifestyles have changed with more women in the work place, working longer hours to make more money, etc. we’ve had to change the priorities in our lives. I don’t presume to deicide what’s best for every family, and for every consumer and I’m a bit astonished at some food activists willingness to do so. There’s a spot for all of these things in the same system. And frankly, the current system is meeting all of this demand today. If you want fresh, it’s available and affordable. If you want quick and easy, it’s available and affordable. We all win!
“ Pro Eating – The only thing possibly more important than cooking is eating. And while Pro Food places an emphasis on awakening America’s home kitchens, it also recognizes that many institutions (schools, hospitals, corporate cafeterias) and restaurants are doing their part in bringing the same healthy, flavorful and sustainable food on to every plate they serve.”
This is great. The word ‘sustainable’ is loaded though, and not helpful to the conversation. Many farmers and industry experts fundamentally disagree with your use of the word. In the year 1900, one Iowa acre fed 4 people. In the year 2000, one Iowa acre fed 80 people. Ag is working every day through technology and forward-thinking on how to meet the growing needs of the human population. Using old techniques and antiquated technology to grow less product on more land, taking much more time, and losing more crop to pests and plants is NOT sustainable.
“ Community-Oriented – Pro Food recognizes the simple pleasure of bringing people together around food. Information is shared, bonds are strengthened and friendships are made. It also appreciates the economic benefits it can bring to regional food economies. Sustainable food can be imported (in the absence of local options), but increasing demand being met through local channels, there will be incentive for farms and processors to participate, as well as for existing providers to transition to sustainable production. Keeping money circulating longer within regional economies is key to Pro Food efforts.”
Local food is great, regional food is great, food from across the world is great. It all depends on a wide set of variables including how well the food transports, and how efficient the process is. Making a general claim that food which doesn’t come from your community is ‘bad’ is demonsratably false.
“ Entrepreneurial – Building a meaningful Pro Food presence in a food system dominated by massive conventional players with deeply entrenched interests (and reach) will take a lot of hard work, innovation and old fashioned luck. Fortunately we can leverage America’s entrepreneurial spirit in systematically building the ever-broader foundation needed to move Pro Food forward.”
Entrepreneurship is great! One bit of suggestion, if you want entrepreneurship to prosper, you need to reduce governmental control and mandates on who can process food. There are so many roadblocks right now to anyone getting in the business and changing things for the better because of the ever expanding government control of the system and the roadblocks put in place by large bureaucratic programs.
“What Pro Food ultimately becomes is up to those who recognize and embrace its ideal of healthy, sustainable food systems and make it their own. For it is up to all of us, from farmers to eaters, and everyone else who cares about the food they eat, to carry Pro Food forward and make its vision, its values a reality. In some very interesting ways, Pro Food draws parallels with the early years of the Internet, when it was still isolated from the mainstream in government and university labs. People, especially entrepreneurs, were starting to eye the Internet as something that could revolutionize communications and collaboration, that could democratize things long centralized. At first, they had no idea what was going to stick, but began applying time, energy and money in search of winning formulas. This is where I see Pro Food today, which makes it financially exciting for those with solutions to the problems we face. I look forward to joining them and others on this exciting journey.”
I wish you luck with your venture, although I think I’ve pointed at some pretty big questions that need answers to. I like the fact that this effort seem to actively seek support from farmer and seems to want to avoid the scare tactics and fear mongering of past movements. However, I still believe that much of your disdain is pointed in the wrong direction. Like farmers have said over and over again… we’ll grow, we’ll produce whatever our customers desire. And like any good company would say… we’ll produce, manufacturer, whatever our customers demand. Whatever their lifestyle requires. When we make what the customer wants, we all win.
DB, I do agree that farmers are owed a debt of gratitude. They have done what has been asked of them by govt, society and consumers. The switch from sun-based to fuel based agriculture reduced the percent of family budget spent on food.
I also feel there is much common ground between your thoughts and Rob’s.
Inclusiveness, Agree. It improves solutions when all knowledgeable parties participate.
Consumer driven. Agree. You state that you will produce what customers want. Customer’s are asking farmers to produce more wholesome less processed organic choices. NPD identified ORGANIC as the top food trend and predicts 41% growth in the next decade http://tinyurl.com/nnrezo and here http://bit.ly/17RD6B
Regulation. Agreed. Polyface farm states he wants to”opt out” of labels and certification (even organic) so he can conduct his farm as he sees best for him and his customers — a relationship without regulation or interference. I ask rhetorically, Why is it in Virginia that I can shoot and dress a deer and donate the meat to local food pantry but local rancher can not process their product and do same or sell to local customers? I don’t understand the science of why the first is permissible and the later is not.
Local. Agree, There is no one solution and local is not one either. Regional food networks are part of the solution.
Sustainability. Agree. There is a debate about the definition of sustainable. See here http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/07/defining-sustainable-agriculture/
Disagree. I believe there is irrefutable evidence that dependency on mono-crop, fossil fuel based agriculture brings whole host of problems in many areas to health, environment, pollution, dependency on fossil fuels, degradation of our oceans and estuaries.
Low cost food. Disagree. We all know there are huge hidden cost of low cost, less nutritional foods based on corn. So the poor eat crappy food to get low cost calories and suffer type II diabetes and obesity. Its not just what is paid at the counter that should be considered when calculating food costs.
After WWII some scientist came up with solution to abundance of ammonium nitrate (from bomb production) and turn into fertilizer. Which resulted in abundance of corn, took cattle off farms and changed diet from grass to corn for both cattle and people. We know how the effect of the change on cattle. We are starting to learn the effect on us. To say we can’t return WHERE APPLICABLE, to sun based, solutions seems shortsighted.
Derek, I’m afraid I can’t take the time out of my day to address your response in the painstaking detail with which you have responded, but I did want to make a couple of comments.
First, about your assumption that anyone who thinks that modern agriculture is a significant contributor to pollution, etc. must get their information from ‘biased’ blogs and books. In reality, my information comes from the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the US Geological Survey. When the amount of nutrient pollution generated by a geographical area whitin the watershed is directly proportional to the amount of agricultural land, you have a problem. When the pesticides and herbicides used in agricultural practice show up in the Bay and its waterways, you have a problem. It’s not something you can shut your eyes to or try to pretend does not exist. It is an issue, a real issue, not somehting made-up by ‘biased bloggers,’ and it needs to be addressed.
Secondly, your blame of consumers for everything that’s wrong with the food system. You err when you claim that ours is a free market system and the choice of unhealthy foods lands squarely on the shoulders of the consumer. Our food system is anything but a ‘free market.’ Our government places heavy susbsidies on crops like soy and corn in order to keep the market price artificially low. These are the crops that go into the production of highly processed, unhealthy foods, whose prices, thanks to the subsidies on their ingredients, is also artificially low. For low income families, the only choice if they want to eat this month *and* pay the rent, are these unhealthy, processed foods. That’s not free market, that’s government intervention. If the government decided to shift subsidy away from processed foods support to fresh, healthy food, prices for such would come down and consumers demand would shift.
I see the ag v. profood battles on Twitter and frankly, they always leave me baffled. What I read from the farmers there is very, very different than what I see with my own eyes every day. I’m a first-hand witness to an ecology collapsing under the weight of irresponsible, corporate controlled agriculture, CAFOs, chemicals… and yet, it seems that world does not exist in the idyllic pastures and farmlands of the Twitterverse. Here, the ponds and rivers where I swam as a kid are closed due to dangerous levels of harmful bacteria and algae blooms. The pond where my dad taught me to fish is now so choked with cabomba (which thrives on nutrient pollution) and duckweed (which thrives on animal waste) that the fish have all but disappeared. Not that fishing there would matter much anyway since you can no longer safely eat the fish caught in any local waterway because of the bacteria they contain.
It is not an attack on farmers or agriculture to say, “We can do better than this.” We should be able to recognize when there are problems and work together on a solution. Shutting our eyes to those problems and pretending everything is perfect with farming and our food system helps no one and harms many.
Joya: Here’s to “We can do better than this” and working together on a solution (or solutions, as will likely be the case). I appreciate you taking the time you did to add your voice to this important and inclusive discussion.
Rob, based on his tweets Derek seemed convinced you were going to erase his response and I am very glad you did not give him the satisfaction … not that I really thought you would. But the more the extreme #ag folks on Twitter try to paint the #profood folks as unreasonable tyrants, the more they come across that way themselves. I admire the way you consistently try to keep the conversation calm & productive even if I don’t always agree with everything you say. Thank you for this post and for all of your hard work, there is no doubt your heart is in the right place.
Margie: Your comment gives me so much encouragement. Thank you. And when someone tweets a challenge for you to post their comment before you’ve actually seen it, it ever-so-slightly raises the temptation to do so. But that is not what I am about. I will never suppress others’ voices (except in extreme cases, which haven’t seen yet). And when I and others say that Pro Food is inclusive, every one of us sincerely means it because we all need to come together to find better ways. Cheers!
A fundamental ingredient of pro food must be transparency. When the methods of producing food are open and accountable, then consumers really will be able to exercise their personal choice. As you’ve said before, closing the knowledge gap must be a priority- https://everytable.wordpress.com/2009/06/19/closing-the-farm-to-plate-knowledge-gap/ Closing this gap would facilitate a transition to a world where farmer’s customers are people, not industrial food manufacturers.
First I want to say sorry for blowing up the other night on twitter, I was just tired of not getting the answers I asked you for above (you stated that I misinterpreted what you ment by soil degregation) The response that “I am not qualified to answer this” is not a good answer because you felt qualified to post the original accusation here and in other things you have written. but I did get some sort of an aswers by a series of questions that you asked me (sound familiar anybody?)
Since it seems the general feeling is that mainstream farming is degrading the soil because chemicles and fertilizers kill it is a very bold satetement. First I want to say that any sort of agriculture is going to change the structure, and organisms that live in the soil. there is no one system of farming that is perfect. Organic farming requires plowing the earth, this practice destoys the habitate of night crawlers, and increases eriosion compared to paractices by other newer types of agriculture, in fact US soil eroision has decreased by 41%(water) and 44% (wind) since we started using advanced practices http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/NRI/2003/nri03eros-mrb.html The second point is that if chemicles and fertilizers kill organisms in the soil then why is my soil crawling? I do use both of them, sometimes more than Iowa fields since my soil is not as rich as theirs.
You claim that traditional agriculture results in less organic matter! now this is also a bold statement. I know that organic farming’s keystone is organic matter & controls, and it could not survive without it. Most people do not realize how much organic matter results from an acre of corn, but it is so much that it can sometimes make it all but possible for our planters to get through it the next year. The idea that traditional farmers dont care about organic matter….well while it is not as important as it is for an organic farmer, it is still a concern for most farmers operations. Conservation tillage has been part of the “traditional” farms for decades. The following 2 points are taken from http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/outlook/Soil%20Quality.pdf “The amount of cropland managed using methods to improve soil organic matter increased by 46 million acres between 1982 and 1997”-yes by traditional! The NRCS uses the agriculture Soil Conditioning Index (SCI) predicts the effect of cropping systems on soil organic matter levels, look at the two graphs at the bottom corner of the first page, most of the country has increased it SCI by 25% since 1982, and some areas (like mine) has increased it by over 75%!
Now with that being said when you started talking about Pro Food instead of anti big ag I was intrigued, pleased and even energized about the discussion to come, but did not completley understand what you meant till I read this post and was taken back on the premise that you felt farmers were degreading the soil that their lives depend on.I go by the parable that you build your house on the rocks, and pro food is built in the sand and is more likely to erode away because the first thing you did was dicredid farmers, whey would they want to listen to you after that? I think it is safe to say that farmers are not leading to all the environmental degregations that your Pro Food movement is based on. I am Pro Food as long as what is is for is increasing consumers knowledge about healthy foods, and their knowledge on how to prepare them, but beware, when you accuse me of doing something wrong, and I am not and am passionate about it I am going to question you just as I have here. It is okay to have a difference in oppinion, but to be wrong about something and not listen to what I have to say and ignore my question is another thing.
Thank you for your comment.
There is much to learn, and even more to do in closing the knowledge and understanding gap between farmers and consumers. At times we have gone at it pretty hard, but from my perspective we both gain something since we always resolve any significant tensions before moving on. I trust that will continue.
As for the comments regarding Pro Food being built on sand, it won’t surprise you that I disagree. In a way, I am encouraged by the heightening pitch of people who have been against it from the start, as well as a far greater number of supporters, most of whom came from beyond (often well beyond) the relatively small circle Pro Food conversations started in.
Not only is Pro Food alive and well, it is expanding into the language of many others, including sustainable farmers, organizations dedicated to helping small to medium sized farmers, foodpreneurs, and others.
I truly hope you will hang in there as we continue to grow, since you bring a great deal of farming and agricultural knowledge and experience to the table.
I want to say – if you are offended by something being said about industrialized agriculture, and you are NOT doing the sorts of things that are considered problematic, then the accusation does not apply to you.
Being personally defensive when you are not actually guilty of the offense – and waving your arms and declaring that “That’s not me!” – is a distraction and not relevant to the discussion.
It’s not true about the way YOU operate. Got it. That anecdote about your personal commitments and practices takes nothing away from the fact that industrial agriculture based on long distance travel of goods is contributing to the destruction of our ability as a species to survive. The planet will indeed outlive us and be fine. Humans will not.
So please stop personalizing this. If you you are not at fault – and actually we are all at fault – then be confident in that fact – ITS NOT ABOUT YOU in that case.
Also if you are not a farmer but a PR practioner making arguments as if you are a farmer…know that I find that personally very low indeed.
I speak for myself here.
It seems as if you are accusing me? Just as you did dbb the other night on twitter! well I assure you I am a farmer. Do a google search, search the SOS ohio, even search the American Simmental Site, or the EWG site, but also read my tweets @farmerhaley and you will see that I am speaking from experience.
Now the comment that I am taking it personally and you are not talking about me! well I qoute you from above “Dirt that has been year after year dowsed with chemical fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides is NOT soil.” well this is me and I use chemicles and fertilizers, so you are talking about my practices.
There is a 40 year Korean study that I have seen posted a few times on Twitter, but was not able to see it because I did not subscribe to the paper it was published. After I finnally was able to read this article I found the study was quite intensive and proves my point! Chemiles and fertilizers do not kill or degrade the soil! Poor management, as was used in one of the trials in Korea where rice was monocroped, no attention to retaining organic matter, but applying fertilizer will result in “poorer” soil. the other two trials, one that used fertilizer and mulch and another that just used mulch, proved that the best practice is to improve your soil by adding both fertilizers and mulch to increase the fertility of your soil. If you want to pay the subscription and see for yourself here is the site http://www.science-direct.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6TC6-4W0R3B7-1&_user=10&_coverDate=07/31/2009&_rdoc=4&_fmt=full&_orig=browse&_srch=doc-info(%23toc%235162%232009%23998959997%231130157%23FLA%23display%23Volume)&_cdi=5162&_sort=d&_docanchor=&_ct=17&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=17d572f7aba2bfc60cc3e31c14d08fb7
Now, am tired of making my point here, but the statement that “the current method of food production is degrading the soil” is false. Poor management may degrade the soil, but this is not in the farmers best interest because he makes his living off of the soil. Overall the majority of farmers you will find care about their soil and the environment.
Believe what you want to, just quit making broad false generalizatins. I am tired of hearing “facts” without any proof!
Mike: My preference is that the sort of disagreements that you and Liz (Hyperlocavore) are having does not attempt to be resolved via blog comments. With that in mind, I will not publish these types of comments in the future.
As a commercial farmer in the UK, I feel that I have to add my thoughts to all your comments.
Your definition of Pro Food is a good one but I would add the idea that food and its production should be defined by it’s consumers. i.e. food production techniques can be altered by market forces.
The debate on food production rarely goes far before the chemical poison/artificial fertilizer arguments come up. These generalisations are not (usually) accurate or informed and to those farmers who do care, very inflammatory. My take on this is that farmers have to understand all inputs they use and how they work. They should understand any compromises that they make and be prepared to justify their actions to anyone. The responsible use of the latest technology can add to the sustainability of the industry. If I cannot justify something I do, then I believe I should look very carefully at why I do it.
The sustainabilty of our practices has to be one of the foremost aims. The production of food is inevitably a compromise on the environment, but by judicious use of rotations and inputs, this compromise can be drastically reduced.
Financial pressure is often cited as a reason for farmers adopting less justifiable farming systems and for my part I feel that this is a cop out on both sides. If the farmer does not believe in his own methods, he needs to look seriously at why he is practising them. However, on the other side, if a consumer purchases the cheapest food with no provenance, then they too should look at their actions. The fact that many consumers do not realise the true situation and that perhaps many more do not care, is symptomatic of the failure of farmers to get the relevant information to their consumers. Thus, to me, it is critical to persuade farmers to expose themselves to their own customers. The customer should know how their food is produced and have the chance to question the farmer concerned. Thus we can start to make value for money the important purchasing criteria rather than just price. This can lead to us valuing our food and consequently enjoying it’s production, preparation and consumption rather than wasting it (About 30% of food is thrown away).
Arguments around the organic/conventional debate are usually pointless. If a particular method has merit, all farmers should consider it keeping the requirements of informed consumers firmly in mind.
FarmrPhil: As an entrepreneurially-focused idea, consumer demand will always play a critical role in driving Pro Food innovations in our food system. Some of those innovations will come in response to consumer demands, but many more will need to come from creative developments from seed to plate.
When talking about the industrial food system, with its focus on efficiency, scale and cost, it is hard to argue as a business professional that it isn’t a marvel. At the same time, when looking at the byproducts of this highly concentrated, intensive approach to growing food, it comes with other costs, e.g., carbon emissions, groundwater contamination, animal welfare and other issues.
By highlighting these impacts and the related costs borne by society, some farmers feel that people are attacking them personally, implying that farmers are blind to the environment around them. Within the circles I am part of, farmers are heroic figures (in most cases) that grow food in sophisticated ecosystems requiring their commitment of heads, hearts and hands. Most off-farm jobs typically get away with heads alone, if that.
Finally, I appreciated your comments on how (most) farmers use rotations and inputs to “drastically reduce” environmental impacts, and how farmers can “expose themselves to their own customers”. By getting more consumers demanding whole and minimally-processed foods, it is my understanding more farmers will migrate from intensively grown commodity crops to more sustainable diverse farming techniques.
Thanks again for adding your voice to this important discussion. You are, of course, welcome any time!
There is so much good dialogue here that I feel the need to say thank you to both the pro food advocates and the farmers. I grew up on a small dairy farm and although I now work in the city, I will never forget the tremendous amount of work, dedication and commitment it was for my family, especially in terms of such a low monetary payback.
For several years now, I have felt defensive and been on the defense of farming because of the negative stereotypes of traditional vs organic farmers. It is very encouraging to see a new dialogue emerging that is attempting to overcome these barriers and, even better, that is beginning to listen to farmers. Thank you for being open-minded enough to realize that there is a lot that both “sides” can learn from each other.
As far as personalizing comments goes, I can understand, too, why negative comments about farming are personalized even if the comments don’t reflect personal attributes: it is never easy to have a generalization made about a passionate and personal subject. Perhaps when addressing and writing about those issues, it would be better to preface them with “some” instead of just assuming that farmers (and others) to whom the comments don’t apply will disregard them? Then dialogues can revolve around the subject instead of continuing to make generalizations about sensitive issues that are bound to invoke a defensive response.
In a different direction: a teacher friend told me the other year that at Easter time, she discovered that not one student in her second-grade classroom understood that chickens came from eggs. The lack of education is so dismal. To this, I am personally lobbying my school board trustee to press for more school units on food instead of wasting valuable energy on in-fighting on what vending machines should be in schools. I believe that even if one is not actively involved in the pro-food narrative or the farming industry, there is still lots that can be done to help both.
Finally, a question that lingers in my mind after the original post is what the position of pro foods is on the global impact of food? The scope of the post defines it as an American issue, but it is so much more than that. I am partway through The End of Food by Paul Roberts, which touches on this issue, but am interested in hearing more from others’ points of view.
Many thanks again to everyone for the huge time investment they have put in to having this dialogue.
Gayle: It is great to hear from someone who sees the value of all the voices playing out in this discussion about Pro Food, especially given your childhood experience on a dairy farm.
As someone relatively new to the debate regarding the future of our food supply, I quickly grew frustrated by the back-and-forth stone throwing. In addition to often becoming personal, such “debates” seldom resulted in anyone agreeing to anything. That is no way to solve the complex challenges we face.
It was with that in mind that Pro Food was born. Pro Food is an attempt to change the dialog by recognizing the knowledge and understanding gap between farmers and consumers or eaters. Currently, the space between the two most important groups in the food system is dominated by too few, large and powerful corporate interests.
As we bring farmers and consumers together, or at a minimum help both better understand the other, it is my expectation that great things will start to happen. The resulting innovations, while starting domestically, should have global implications. After all, the U.S. has been exporting food commodities and industrial food businesses (e.g., Monsanto, McDonald’s) for decades.
Thanks again for adding your wonderful voice to this discussion. I will carry forward your thoughts about how to address and write about these sensitive issues.
A few time people have mentioned that production is driven by ‘what consumers want.’ To an extent that is true. However, marketing creates entirely new wants every day (for better and for worse of course). We used to have only Ragu – now as Malcolm Gladwell points out – we have hundreds of pasta sauces on the shelves. That is marketing. Heck how many of you have a Slap Chop? It’s a choice to market or not to market well sustainable products and practices.
The market for sustainable practices and products is dependent on establishing the reality of the impacts of all production and distribution choices in the minds of consumers.
Creating that wider market for sustainably grown food means that we have to tell the truth about such things as the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico created by agricultural run off, food miles involved in tomatoes from Chile, the crashing populations of large salt water fish…
Does that truth make farmers ‘the bad guys’ – no. No more than the whalers who supplied the whale oil industry before it collapsed. Things change. Our understanding has changed. The visibility of our collective impact is part of our everyday consciousness in a way it was not.
I will say if you move forward without advocating, moving towards and developing more sustainable practices in spite of that knowledge – you are acting in a destructive way.
I liken it to soldiers in a metaphor that only half works… Let’s say a platoon mows down a village in a war. Let’s imagine for a moment the war is actually a legal one by international standards. Can I not talk about that platoon without ‘insulting the military’ or not ‘being supportive of the troops.” – Or must I support their actions even if they are contrary to the good?
We are facing serious issues. People really need to be able to discuss them without personalizing. It’s a matter of being a well rounded citizen.
Also – again – I include us ALL – everyone in the criticism and the need for DEEP change. That deep change will involve everyone looking very deeply at what they do every day. Peak oil and climate change are here. They are happening. It will either be a moderately hard landing and change by force of circumstance (cost of oil derived inputs becoming too expensive, and total collaspe) or it will be something we all see and adjust to with as little friction as possible. But it’s like gravity – something you can’t ignore.
We are all ‘the bad guys.’ OK?
I would add – this is not a dialog of ‘profood’ people VERSUS ‘the farmers’ – that is not an accurate description of this discussion.
I want to take this opportunity to encourage readers of this blog, especially this post, to go back to the original “Pro Food Is” post and reread it. Things in the comments section, as well as in Twitter, have spiraled back down to that place where people start digging in their heals, right or wrong. That is the place that caused me to draft Pro Food in the first place.
Pro Food = Pro Farmer
It seems that because Pro Food encourages farmers to grow sustainable whole foods (edible v. commodity) it is somehow against farmers that are not growing those sorts of crops. That is unfortunate, especially because every person I have talked to that supports Pro Food understands the critical role and dedicated effort farmers put into what the do. Every person. Without exception.
For those that insist on misrepresenting this, you will continue to have a forum to speak your mind, but I refuse to fall back into the senseless, unproductive debates about who is right and who is wrong. There is way too much work to be done in building out more sustainable food systems.
Top 10 Produce LLC is all about profood. I see our friends from HungryGarden are profood too! Thx @Jambutter, for your “creation”…
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You’ve show great leadership putting the idea of Pro Food out there. My review and thoughts can be found here:
Good piece, I’ve just recently finished In Defense of Food so have been thinking and writing about related issues.
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This is the first I’ve heard of Pro Food. If there is a web site for this, I’ve not been able to find it and would appreciate it someone would supply me with it. Thanks
Steven, Pro Food originated with the blog post you commented on and has begun evolving to other blogs over the last couple months. Check out my post titled “The Evolution of Pro Food” for a list of posts that expand on “Pro Food Is.” And stay tuned for more information. Cheers, Rob Smart
Just stopping by to say Bravo!!
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