The North American food system has succeeded in producing an abundance of commodities at relatively low cost, but it is failing in other ways that matter. Showing how law and policy should make needed changes is the purpose of “the Blueprint for a National Food Strategy”. This work in progress is a collaborative project between the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School and Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic. Some of the project’s recommendations have already been accepted in Canada and will be considered in the next US Farm Bill. Harvard Law Professor Emily M. Broad Lieb, Director of the Food Law and Policy Clinic, focuses her scholarship, teaching, and practice on finding solutions to some of today’s biggest food law issues, aiming to increase access to healthy foods, eliminate food waste, and support sustainable food production and local and regional food systems.Professor Broad Lieb shares her journey from Harvard Law to rural Mississippi and back as food system success, shortcomings and solutions are addressed. www.foodstrategyblueprint.org
Seasons are the rhythm of nature, naturally restricting the availability of fruits and vegetables. That is except when it’s with a food such as tomatoes that are freshly preserved in diced, peeled or paste form to be part of the worlds most popular dishes. Although some food products are just processed when quality is declining, processing tomato varieties, production and processing practices have been especially developed for prime preservation and use in popular canned and jarred products. As a nutritional bonus, a powerful antioxidant, Lycopene, is even more bio-available in processed tomatoes than in fresh. This magic happens between the tomato fields and the end product. Greg Pruett leads us through tomatoes’ stop on the way to our table. Greg is a tomato grower and CEO of one of the leading tomato processors, Ingomar Food Processing in Los Banos, California that enables consumers to enjoy the taste of summer all year long. www.ingomarpacking.com
In every region farmers are finding ways to pivot from producing the same commodities that have always been produced on their land. New farmers are also finding new ways to get started that includes trying different crops. In southern California coffee is being successfully grown on land formerly growing avocados and lemons. Jay Ruskey planted a trial crop of coffee at his family-owned and operated farm in the hills of Santa Barbara, California called Good Land Organics, and is proving that coffee could be grown successfully outside of tropical regions –putting California coffee on the map! Farmer Jay is also the CEO of FRINJ Coffee a company set out to provide farmers an opportunity to diversify their farm portfolios. Today, FRINJ Coffee supports 65 farms in the coastal climates of Central and Southern California as it leads the California Coffee Movement. While you can’t grow coffee everywhere, Jay Ruskey shares a journey to innovative and regenerative farming practices that meets producer’s needs for a better share of the food dollar and the discerning expectations of today’s consumers. www.frinjcoffee.com
There is a growing need for informational bridges between farmers markets, farm workers, shoppers, and farmers of every size shape and situation. Troy Rice established Farm Brigge to fill that need and create local food ecosystems. Shoppers can go on line to find local farmers and farmers markets that have the food products they seek and the story behind the stories. Farmers can find farm workers and training to establish “lean farming” practices. And everyone can find themselves to the virtual bridge that enables sustainable production, employment, marketing and food literacy. The story that Troy shares with Farm To Table Talk begins with his own family and fans out to bridging food streams from coast to coast. www.farmbrigge.com
If you’re not yet a believer that we can create a climate stable future, you probably will be a believer after listening to Josh Tickell. He and his wife Rebecca wrote the book and produced the most uplifting film to date about regenerative agriculture and what it means for farmers and consumers. Over a year ago I read his book “Kiss the Ground”, listened to the audio version that he narrates, viewed the website, talked with several of the farmers he features and now after a long wait just viewed the film, “Kiss the Ground” that is now available on Netflix. I recommend that you see the film and here you can listen to the filmmaker as we explore the road to Kissing the Ground in a podcast we published last year when we thought the film release was just around the corner. Getting around the corner takes longer in 2020. www.kisstheground.com
For too many it is basically a no win situation if you’re a farmer and so they ask “How can I get off this treadmill?” The dream of farming can become a nightmare in a broken system explains Ricardo Salvador, the Director of Food and Environment for the Union of Concerned Scientists. Farm choice has traditionally been either playing the low value, high volume commodity game or high value crops where farm families can make a living on small acreage. Ricardo shares the fact that very few farmers make enough money that they can live off of faming alone. The majority subsidize their income from an off farm job. Of the 2 million “farms” identified by the USDA, about 300,000 are attempting to make a living from faming. Just 70,000 farmers are turning out 75% of Agriculture’s output. The mechanized industrialization of the food system increases output but has led to “de-skilling” and other issues from farm to tables. Ricardo Salvador explains the problems and the solutions. www.ucsusa.org
The fact that the food system lacks resilience is apparent from the devastating effects of COVID on meat packing plant employees. In a system that inspired Henry Ford’s assembly plant, these dis-assembly plants have proven to be extremely dangerous for workers. First plants closed, farmers euthanized hogs, workers were home sick or laid off, then politics intervened. This is where we pick up the story with Ricardo Salvador, the Director of Food and Environment with the Union of Concerned Scientists who had just visited with us about our broken food system. Sadly in 2020 the situation in meat packing plants is a case in point. www.ucsusa.org
For many it would be a dream come true if their family could be supported from an 80 acre farm instead of the more typical 2,000 acres commodity farm. In a recent article, Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists says that dream may be becoming a reality: “We all could use some good news. Here is some. This is a story about breaking free. There’s more than corn, beans and hogs growing in north central Iowa this summer. It turns out that the future may be taking shape just outside Buffalo Center. That’s where farmer Zack Smith has set aside one of his 305 acres of corn/soy to experiment with a system that he calls the Stock Cropper. As the name tells you, both livestock and plants are involved. In the same field. ….The setup involves alternating strips of 12 rows of corn and 20 feet of annual pasture. simultaneously allowing them to range in the open while not damaging the crop. The mobile barns move 11 feet daily through each pasture strip, permitting the livestock to methodically convert forage and soil insects into meat and fertility for the soil by just being themselves.” Ricardo kindly introduced us to Zack Smith who explains how a better future could come from smaller farms.
Can traditional MidWest commodity farms pivot to a more diverse system than just corn and soybeans? It’s an important question as farmers and their customers pursue sustainable farming systems; and even more important when it is not possible to earn enough from the typical dependance on corn and soybean. Seven generations of Smith’s have farmed about 2,000 acres (1,200 tillable) in South Central Michigan. They decided to pivot from the tried and true corn-belt farming approach to the ancient grain, Teff. Now that they’ve made the pivot to Teff and other alternative grains such as Buckwheat and Millet, they are processing grains and seeds for other farmers seeking their own pivots. Claire Smith joins Farm To Table Talk to share how her journey from pivot to vertical has led to producing and marketing a granola made from the Teff they are growing “Teffola”. www.eatteffola.com
We didn’t pick 2020 as our time to step up, but 2020 picked us. Community leaders, restaurants and local farmers are stepping up to tackle the existential health, safety and economic crises of 2020. People are hungry, farmers marketing channels have been disrupted, restaurants were brought to the brink and government resources depleted yet communities are finding ways to cope. Sacramento, the self proclaimed Farm to Fork capital, is a prime example of a resilient community. When all restaurants were forced to close for Covid, five restaurants (Mulvaney’s B&L, Canon, Binchoyaki, Allora and Camden Spit and Larder) started making “Family Meals” to distribute to those in need. City and State leadership moved quickly to support these efforts and transition to a state wide Great Plates program that is delivering meals to millions. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Senior Policy Advisor Julia Burrows share the story of what a community, from farm to fork, can do when it sets its mind to providing for the needs of a population with shrinking nutritional and financial resources.