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NY Times Food For Tomorrow Conference

In late October I had the chance to attend and be a panelist at a New York Times conference that they call Food For Tomorrow.  This year's theme was food policy.  I knew before agreeing to go that the general opinion of the crowd and other speakers would be very anti- modern/commercial farming.  I was interested, though, in the chance to meet these people, hear their thoughts first hand, and share some of our views.

While, it is fair to say that we in agriculture are every bit as opinionated and convinced that we are right, I don't think that we go as far as presuming everybody thinks like us and, therefore, we should shut down an honest industry that we don't like. 

I heard some valid criticisms and concerns for the current food system, some entrepreneurs capitalizing on those rational concerns as well as irrational hysteria, and of course I heard some lies being perpetuated.  Paul Krugman, Nobel prize winning economist, made the comment to the crowd that commercial farmers just 'slather on the fertilizer' without regard for the environment.  Kerry Kennedy, heiress, implied that most migrant farm workers were paid less than minimum wage and abused.  These comments were fairly easy to dismiss as irresponsible hyperbole considering the sources.  A question from the crowd during the day, however, caused me more concern.  A lady stated matter of factly, "We all know eating meat is bad for us, and we all know that animal agriculture is destroying the environment." Then she asked a startling follow up question, "Why does animal agriculture still exist, why is it still allowed?"  While, it is fair to say that we in agriculture are every bit as opinionated and convinced that we are right, I don't think that we go as far as presuming everybody thinks like us and, therefore, we should shut down an honest industry that we don't like.    

Our panel consisted of a diversified farmer from California, the director of the food and environment program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a moderator, and myself.  The specific designated topic of the panel did not match well with the overall topics of the day, and there were only twenty minutes allotted to our group.  That short time period made touching on more than a tiny percentage of what seemed important for commercial agriculture to discuss with this crowd, impossible.  

All of the above being said, however, it was a valuable experience and I hope that we have the chance again.  I came back with several thoughts on how we will need to change or focus to meet consumer demands and increasing regulation.  Just being part of the conversation in these influential circles is important for agriculture as well.  I think it comes as a shock to many that were in the room that what they view as "corporate" or "commercial farming" is really the modern family farm. 

Food for Tomorrow at the New York Times