Farm Food Facts

Erin Fitzgerald, Chip Bowling, Honor The Harvest

July 02, 2019 Episode 31
Farm Food Facts
Erin Fitzgerald, Chip Bowling, Honor The Harvest
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Erin Fitzgerald, Chip Bowling, Honor The Harvest
Jul 02, 2019 Episode 31
USFRA
Show Notes Transcript

Our thought leader for this week's "Farm, Food, Facts" podcast is Erin Fitzgerald, USFRA CEO, who discusses the Honor The Harvest event

The stories you need to know:
• More Latinx Farmers own their Land—and they could help make the Food System more Sustainable.
• A Climate-friendly Vegetable to consider.

This week's farmer is Chip Bowling, USFRA Chairman and Maryland crop farmer.

Phil:
0:01
Farm, Food, Facts: where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to Farm, Food, Facts for today, July 3rd, 2019. We wish all of our listeners a very happy 4th of July. First up, we're going to take a look at a new U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance program called Honor the Harvest. It's an in-depth look at what the future of agriculture is going to all be about. We're going to follow up with Chip Bowling, chairman of USFRA, who's going to share with us his insights, as Honor the Harvest took place on his farm. But first, let's kick off with an overview from our thought leader of the day, Erin Fitzgerald, the CEO of US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. Erin, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Erin:
0:54
Hey, Phil, great to be here. Love this podcast.
Phil:
0:57
Me too! I get to meet all these great people and hear about the future and that's what I want to talk about today. In fact, just reading your blog post about contagious collaboration is required for all of us in the food world. What do you mean by that?
Erin:
1:12
Well, I think when we think about the next decade and growing sustainable food, the challenges are enormous. When we think about the ability to grow food in a changing and currently at risk climate, but also most importantly the current farm economics and a lot of things that are going on; this is not going to be business as usual, and it's gonna take all of us. And I say contagious collaboration because we have to be absolutely committed 100% to want to work together across the food system to co-create that sustainable future that we all want.
Phil:
1:47
And in fact, you brought together - along with the Aspen Institute - the first Honor the Harvest forum. What was that about?
Erin:
1:55
Oh, it was so great. When we really think about that contagious collaboration, we imagine the system - that being farmers, our food makers, retailers and brands, our non-governmental partners, government agencies, financial institutions - if we're all aligned - I would call that mission to Mars, or maybe it's an Earth shot - what would it take if we all were to work together? So, we brought the system to the room, everyone who touches the food sector, and we really asked a question, what would it take for all of us to work together? And if we can imagine that next decade, what do we need to do right now in the next year to get started? And it was really fun. I think you saw the group create a common vision - what they're working on now - and everyone realized we have a lot more in common than we thought, even with the diversity of opinions. And there are things that we can start working on right now. And so, we saw about nine different projects come out of it and I'm just excited to see that group of a hundred people that are super excited just to keep moving and be leaders in this conversation.
Phil:
2:59
So, being a leader requires a commitment, and not only a commitment to the soil and the climate and the food that we grow. So, talk to me a little bit about the kind of commitments that you heard from all these people across the supply chain.
Erin:
3:17
Phil, I think when we ask about leadership on this issue, we're asking first, can you truly listen to the other side and can you empathetically understand all the different actors that make the sustainable food system a reality? You know, you have your grower, you have your farmer, you have your input providers, you have the transportation folks. You have to imagine and really appreciate that lifelong learning of what it takes to grow food today. And the second thing is, we asked leaders, we said, it's not enough just to be a leader within your own organization. We need you to step up and step out to work together across the value chain. Because if we stay in our own individual institutions, we're not going to get this done. There's no one organization that can do it alone and we're much more powerful when we work together. So, I think we're really asking people to volunteer and be committed and work together, and I think it's our job as an institution to help facilitate that dialogue and help facilitate the process of which they can work together. But, it's been interesting watching everyone really bring out the best of themselves, even as individuals.
Phil:
4:24
If you had to point to one learning for you, that came out of Honor the Harvest, what would that have been?
Erin:
4:33
I think maybe because it was on a farm - it was a hot, hot farm in the summer. It almost forced everybody to get their boots a little dirty and get grounded in the reality and the beauty of the farm. And maybe it was cause it was hot and it wasn't 70 degrees fluorescent and a conference room that it forced everybody to be like, "I'm too hot, we gotta get something done." But I do think that there was something about the magic of being on that farm that really got everybody grounded in reality. I also think the second learning was, it does take a system. I think the diversity of the voices in the room really created the spirit of that collaboration and the sense of possibilities that if we could work together, something could happen.
Phil:
5:17
And you mentioned that now there's eight projects that are, that are being started. Can you share any of the information about any of those with us?
Erin:
5:26
Yeah. I think one of the projects that might seem simple but what's so great is the potential to launch the award on sustainable food and farming, which I thought was a great idea. The other, the finance sector was saying, you know, can we articulate how big, how much investment do we need to really transform the sector? You know, is it $2 trillion, $3 trillion? I don't think we have any analysis of what it's going to take. And, I think seeing even all the financial sector kind of come together was impressive in its own right. There was a lot of projects about data, and as we see a lot more entrance in data, how do we encourage good data best practices? And then, inter-operability, and not just having data but analysis and action related to that data. So, it was really, I would say, projects that everybody said, I can't do it alone, but if we work together, we could have a platform really to launch innovation and goals faster that benefited each organization.
Phil:
6:37
And it also sounds like very doable projects versus somebody is somebody saying, "oh, we're going to fix climate change." That maybe we could do certain things to it. But these seem to be very manageable, very doable projects that will make a difference very quickly.
Erin:
6:58
Yeah. I think one of the things that all the participants felt, we talk about quite often by 2050, which means that we have 30 harvests is to get this right. But in reality, there's a sense of urgency that it's really the next two, three harvests that matter, that will shape the next decade. And I feel like everybody in the room got this sense of urgency that what we do now really matters. And I think that we wanted tangible projects that we could work on and then build towards that decadal roadmap.
Phil:
7:32
Well, Erin, congratulations on the first - and not the last - Honor the Harvest forum.
Erin:
7:37
Thanks, Phil.
Phil:
7:42
And now for the stories you need to know. More Latinx farmers own their land and they could help make the food system more sustainable. Moving from farm worker to farm owner has been a challenge for Latinx farmers for a long time. But with support, more are taking the leap and increasing the number of diverse, small-scale farm operations. For example, Javier Zamora moved to the U.S. From Mexico, attended community college where he studied agriculture and he discovered a passion for growing organic foods. In a few years, Zamora made a name for himself by establishing his business, JSM Organics, and growing it from one and a half acres to now over a hundred. Zamora's story is rare, however, as most Latinx farmers have not achieved this level of success. Although Latinx people make up about 83% of field laborers in the U.S., they only own around 3% of the farms. Latinx farm workers face various challenges when attempting to start their own farms, including language barriers and lack of knowledge about the market. For a change to occur, farm workers need to be viewed as a priority in terms of farm ownership rather than just as workers. More Latinix farmers could also mean stronger rural communities and a shift to a more sustainable food system, especially as Latinx farmers tend to produce diverse, small-scale operations that sell directly to consumers. ALBA, which grew out of the work of the rural development center, helps low-income minority farm workers become organic farm owners in rural Salinas. ALBA's farmer education program is a year-long training that combines classroom instruction and field-based work. What grocers need to know is a perfect way to get great produce and also reach out to the Latin consumer is to work with these Latinx farmers.
Phil:
9:35
And now for something a little different: a climate friendly vegetable to consider. Harvesting wild kelp, a type of seaweed, is an ancient practice, but farming is fairly new in the United States. Some ecologically minded entrepreneurs view seaweed as the food crop of the future. Kelp is nutritionally dense and loaded with potassium, iron, calcium, fiber, iodine, and a plethora of vitamins. Kelp also actively benefits ocean health by mitigating excess carbon dioxide and nitrogen. And it can provide needed income to small fisheries threatened by climate change and over-fishing. Ocean scientists call kelp farming a zero-input food source because it doesn't require arable land, freshwater, fertilizers or pesticides, and kelp farming has been shown to improve water quality so much that shellfish farmed alongside kelp develop noticeably thicker shells and sweeter larger meat. For now, dried seaweed hasn't left the health food fringes, but the opportunities for growth are massive. What grocers need to know is that kelp? Could be the new Kale.
Phil:
10:51
I had the honor a few weeks ago to visit the Bunker Hill Farm and meet with Chip and his family. The Bowling family has lived and farmed for three generations at their Bunker Hill location and for many generations before that at neighboring farms. The company expanded from 200 acres of grain crops in the 90s to nearly 1000 acres today. "The Bowling family truly is an inspiration to us all and is making Maryland a better place with their outstanding stewardship of land, protection of the bay, production of food, and their vital contributions to our economy." That was said by governor Larry Hogan during his remarks to more than 800 farmers, legislators and ag industry representatives when, just last year, the Bowling family was inducted into the governor's agriculture hall of fame. Chip, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Chip:
11:41
Thank you.
Phil:
11:42
So, Chip, from a leadership perspective, what was different about the Honor the Harvest forum that was held at Bunker Hill, than any other industry gatherings that you've ever been a part of?
Chip:
11:53
So for me and my family, quite frankly, I've never been to a leadership meeting that had so many important people that make decisions about agriculture in a meeting setting on a farm. And it being mine, that meant a world to our family. And, I think it made the atmosphere so much easier for people to get along, collaborate and actually look and see and feel how a working farm actually operates, owned and run by a family.
Phil:
12:26
Well, my favorite part is when you showed me that huge red tractor; that was the biggest tractor I've ever seen in my life.
Chip:
12:36
And that's true. I mean, equipment is getting so much bigger. When I was a kid, walking around barefoot on our farm where we had the meeting, a big tractor was 40 to 60 horsepower. Now they're three to 500 horsepower and pulling equipment that's as big as some small buses. So, it's amazin, how things have changed.
Phil:
12:58
The bottom line in looking at all this farm equipment that was so sophisticated on the farm, what is the future look like with farming and technology?
Chip:
13:07
For me, the future is, is endless. I mean, we see things like precision agriculture where you have sprayers that don't spray the same part of the field twice and you have low drift nozzles so that what you're spraying goes exactly where you want it. You have genetics in seed that are drought tolerant and are able to produce crops, you know, the number of bushels unheard of 50 years ago. You have for soil nutrition, we're doing tissue sampling, and we're doing soil sampling on every farm and every field so we can actually do a prescription for the amount of fertilizer we need. So, we just put out what we need and not use fertilizer the way we shouldn't. And the science and the technology, it's astounding how much it's come in the last 20 years. I think in my lifetime I'll see robots in the field that only spray a weed that's living. And you have conservation tillage that literally allows for no runoff. It would make water quality go down. So, it is unbelievable a transition that I've seen in my lifetime in farming and who knows what the future brings for us.
Phil:
14:22
What's the message that you'd really like to share with farmers that weren't there - at least this year - about what happened and what's going to happen next?
Chip:
14:32
The message that I want to get across to my farmer friends and the people that I represent across the country is that we need to sit and have a conversation with people in the industry that are making decisions with us and for us. And if we're not, if we don't take the lead and we're not sitting at the front of that table of the people that produce the food, that provide nourishment for everyone across the world, they're going to control the conversation and we need to take charge of that conversation and be the major focus of it.
Phil:
15:06
As chairman of the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, when you're having some of these conversations with farmers and other people, what are the things that you're able to share that may be the most relevant or even surprising to someone further downstream on the food value chain? Especially to retailers?
Chip:
15:23
Most farmers quite frankly, are very aware of of how there are changes in agriculture, how the consumer needs have changed, how they want to know where their food comes from. For the most part, they know that. What they don't understand, in my opinion, and this, I hope this doesn't sound bad to my farmer friends, is how important their individual voice is. We can have this conversation and we can't control it, but we can have our thoughts parlayed into the food industry and the food makers of how they make themselves more sustainable through people like me, who are farmers and ranchers across the country.
Phil:
16:06
And what is it that you'd like to tell retailers about how they should and could and why connect with farmers?
Chip:
16:14
They should connect with farmers because we're actually the people that are growing the products that they're selling. Why should they connect with the farmer? Because quite frankly, it's the right thing to do. The farmer and the land owner and the rancher that owns the land, that's tilling the soil, that's producing the crop is actually the lead person who was making the products that the food industry is selling. And if they're gonna make decisions about sustainability and different environmental issues, they need to talk to the person that's controlling those issues.
Phil:
16:50
And Chip, I think even to your point about sustainability, even connecting with a farmer to understand what sustainability is before they make that decision and to be able to gather all the proper information - I think that's, that's step one for these retailers to get out there. I know a lot of the retailers who came to Honor the Harvest were blown away by the farm, and really - while they might have been on other farms before - had the same sentiment that you had being able to talk to a farmer. I was just with Erwin Koemig from Fairway Market, he was one of the attendees, and he was telling his CEO and all of his people how fabulous Honor the Harvest was and how this is going to change agriculture. So, congratulations for pulling this together, for helping lead U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance with Erin to a brand new future.
Chip:
17:48
Well, thank you for that. We've had the privilege, where I live 45 miles south of Washington, D.C. Over the years, I've had the privilege of having people at our farm to explain and show them how and why we do things on the farm. And if we have one person that comes and says, thank you, I feel like we've done our job and that's - the Honor the Harvest forum, we had almost a hundred people that really did respect what my family had done, and my family is no different from all the farm families across this country.
Phil:
18:26
Well Chip, thank you and thank you again for joining us right here on Farm, Food, Facts.
Chip:
18:31
Thank you.
Phil:
18:31
For more information on all things food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit fooddialogues.com under the Programs and Media tab, and visit us on Facebook at U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance or on Twitter @USFRA. Until next time.
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