Monday, November 15, 2010

Friedman Symposium Attendees Learn from Sustainable Food & Ag Leaders

The 2010 Friedman Symposium and has come and gone and there were many, many highlights this year certainly worthy of writing about on the Slow Food blog. For one, unlike last year’s focus on pediatric obesity and nutrition labeling, the recent Symposium served as a forum for enlightening discussions about sustainable agriculture practices and policy, USDA initiatives, regional food systems, and food security. The list of distinguished conference speakers is lengthy. The Friedman community was certainly welcoming of Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan’s short-but-sweet return to the school. She stood at the podium, as she had done time and again just 2 years prior, and spoke of the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, which she continues to defend amid an often hostile political arena.
On Saturday morning, a quartet of speakers really brought attention to Slow Food’s core principles of clean and fair food.
Kate Clancy spoke first. She was remarkably personable and professional during her lecture and conversations with the Friedman community. Clancy has no doubt racked up a lengthy resume as a food systems consultant and Senior Associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. In her lecture, Clancy refers to the large investments taking place in Europe in regional food systems research. “The U.S. really needs to bring research and planning up to par,” she said. After all, our food systems framework has major impacts on social welfare and food and environmental security. Clancy explains the potential for engaging in food system activities at the regional level, but admits that there are too many assumptions that have to be made. She calls on academics and researchers to develop methodologies and indicators for assessing regional food systems. An exciting new project (in which our very own Tim Griffin is actively involved) will assess whether greater reliance on regionally produced foods would enhance food security in the Northeast. The project involves an inter-state, inter-disciplinary research collaboration and it hopes to answer the fundamental questions of what a resilient food system would look like in the Northeast and what research and governance structures are needed at a regional level.
Next, Oran Hesterman, President and CEO of Fair Food Network, gave an informative rundown of his organization’s dedication to re-designing the food system in a manner that would achieve access to healthy, fresh and sustainably grown food for all (hence the “fair” in Fair Food Network). He explained how the Double Up Food Bucks project provides families who receive SNAP benefits with the means to purchase more Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables at farmers markets. What should the Tufts community be reading to tap into his way of thinking? Hesterman recommends checking out a recent Report to Congress, Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food, as well as two newer books on climate change, The End of the Long Summer and The Coming of Famine. And, stay tuned for Hesterman’s own new book, Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All, which will be released next year.
And who better to continue the conversation than the illustrious Fred Kirschenmann from Iowa State University and the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture? As many folks in the Friedman community know, Kirschenmann is a longtime leader in sustainable agriculture. But what many may not know is that he also oversees his own 3,500-acre organic farm in southern North Dakota. Kirshenmann offers his stance on sustainable food production. “Organic is one ecological approach and we don’t know what would happen if everyone farmed organically. Let’s develop and try out a variety of options and choose them in terms of our best understanding of how the options might play out in the future.” Kirshenmann also aimed to set the notion straight that not all farmers in our history were organic. “My grandfather was a slash and burn farmer and that is far from being organic!” The agriculture veteran calls on universities and professional societies to engage in research that would focus on models and alternatives to minimize energy inputs and ecological impacts. To learn more about Kirschenmann’s philosophy check out his new book, Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher.
Last and certainly not least was Tim Lang from the City of London University who presented via livestream on the future of food policy from a European perspective. The presentation was quite humorous owing to the need to work out technological glitches and Lang’s quick adoption of the role of comedian. Nonetheless, his comic interjections were appropriate and he successfully enlightened the audience about food system problems in Europe that closely parallel those in the U.S. “Just like your country, we are not linking policy related to public health, the economy, social justice, and the environment,” he explained. He also spoke of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a massive system of EU agricultural subsidies and programs that continues to focus on a reductionist paradigm of producing more. “CAP is on the defensive about money, just when we should be turning it into a public health policy…” Lang joked that Americans think their farm bill is big and have no sense of the sheer size of CAP! He also explained that while the EU may be slightly ahead of the game in food systems research investments, there is a critical need for developing new indicators for nutrition and food security that could translate into future policy.
The Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems track of the Friedman symposium was very well planned and executed. The speakers topics and viewpoints all complimented each other quite well and if their experience was anything like mine, conference attendees left the auditorium with an enhanced and reinvigorated viewpoint on the sustainability of food and agriculture.

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