A Glimmer of Hope in Organic and Sustainable Agriculture

The Organic JourneyI’m writing this from the Sustainable Ag and Food System Funders (SASFS) policy conference in Sacramento, California. I sit amongst a group of foundations and philanthropic funders who envision a world in which food and agricultural systems enhance and sustain the well-being of people, animals, and our planet—now and into the future. I am here as the executive director of the UNFI Foundation whose mission is to advance organic agriculture in North America. As I participate in the discussion, I realize there is much to be hopeful for as we move forward into an era of great political change.  Continue reading

Peeling Back the Onion: What this Election means for Food and Agriculture

yellow-onionEarly November in California signals the end and the beginning of many things. This year as the election looms, I cut and chop the last dry farm tomatoes from Molino Creek Farm. Each slice marks the conclusion of these ruby orbs of delight. I make caponata to extend the last vestiges of summer flavor in my kitchen. As I peel back the onion, I muse on its ability to make me weep and the way it will transform into a sweet caramelized crescendo.

This election has been much like an onion with its multitude of sharp layers, sometimes bitter, yet holding sweet potential for food and agriculture. Let’s peel back the layers this November to see where we can make progress in Food and Ag policy.     Continue reading

What Both Parties Ag Platforms Tell Us About the Future

Capitol HillWith both primaries behind us, it is nigh time to settle in and look beyond the chants and cheers, the ever waves of signs, the bright lights and impassioned speeches. It’s time to uncover the dirty details of where both parties stand on agricultural policy. What is the philosophical platform each one holds that will support us into our agrarian future? How do they compare with your ideas on food and farming? Let’s take a deep dive into both parties’ platforms!  Continue reading

How Will You Vote This Year?

A year of changeLast week I attended a fundraiser to garner support for the Jimmy Panetta for Congress campaign. It was an intimate, delicious affair sponsored by the Organic PAC on which I humbly sit as a committee member. Jimmy comes from a long line of Panetta’s, who have served the public well over the years. He has the opportunity to fill a Congressional seat left vacant by Sam Farr’s retirement. Because Sam has long been an advocate for organic food and agriculture, it leads me to ponder: “what tools do we vote with in order to elect the next generation of good food leaders?”

It was Michael Pollan who brought meaning to the phrase “Vote with Your Fork.” So for the past year, I have taken his heed and have been electing to seek out local and organic foods to see how the results roll in.

A better appleI have sought out and enjoyed voluptuous pink lady apples from Watsonville. Free range and organic succulent pork and chicken rummaging the oak forests of Soquel are my fleshy delights. Turgid tat choy, little gem lettuce and rainbow chards are procured from the certified organic farm just one ridge away. Whole Foods and New Leaf Markets fill in the culinary blanks with organic grains, spices, nuts and fermented finery.

Yet organic agriculture, yes a brimming $40 billion dollar industry, remains less than 2 percent of all agriculture in the U.S.

Big Ag still rules king and cheap food remains the dietary default across much of America.

Perhaps voting with our fork isn’t enough anymore?

In that intimate dinner with Jimmy Panetta, we broke local fare together and chewed on a few ideas with the potential leader. We enlightened him on the needs of the future organic farmers, their farm workers and the ramifications of pesticide use in conventional Ag. We reminded him of the exponential double-digit growth organic has experienced and the real rural economic benefits that come when organic farms and business flourish. We took the time to plant a seed for future organic advocacy should he take office.

Political change often happens slowly it seems. Societal attitudes change incrementally as minute gains are made. You move the needle a little bit at a time, one cubit; one micronic advance shifts the polls and nudges us towards progress. We have witnessed the slow but steady process unfold many a time, from women’s suffrage, equal rights, marriage equality—even a decimeter towards GMO disclosure. One small win can eventually usher in a cavalcade of change, transforming our society.

I am asking you, dear reader, to be part of that incremental change agent for our food system in this election year. Here are a few ideas on how you can cast your vote:

  • Find out who is up for election or reelection in your town, district and state.
  • Reach out to members on both sides of the political aisle. Food and farming aren’t just Republican or Democratic issues. Everybody eats!
  • Communicate issues and opportunities in writing, emails, social media, and phone calls.
  • Organize or attend a fundraising event and make sure you have “ear time” with the hopeful official waiting to represent YOU.
  • If your finances allow, give something to their campaign, even a modest pledge can make a difference!
  • Educate incumbents by visiting their office up front and in person when they are in town.
  • Show up everywhere you can to speak up about food issues and good food opportunities.
  • Bring along someone younger than you to mentor the next generation of food policy advocates.
  • If you’re up for it, run for office. You can start small in the City Council or think big like Jimmy Panetta is.
  • Be sure to vote in every election after you have educated and pontificated on why food is the platform that will win the appointment.
  • You can find out more about the Organic Political Action Committee that supports organic leaders.

Grassroots In this prodigious election year, our forks, pens, megaphones, tweets and pocketbooks all need to be fully engaged and employed. Let’s muster up a succession plan for those in every corner of public service who aren’t supporting change in the American food system.

As we roust out the old guard who support chemical-based, subsidized, industrial agriculture, let us replace them with leaders who prioritize food and agriculture that will sustain us and future generations.

What instrument will you vote with this year?