A sellout crowd attended OFBF's first Grow and Know event at Malabar Farm to learn more about producing food.

Dinner table conversation

Buckeye Farm News

Earlier this year, a Los Angeles Times columnist tried to navigate a “long-overdue” national discussion about food and farming.

“The only problem is that so far it hasn’t been much of a conversation. Instead, what we have are two armed camps deeply suspicious of one another shouting past each other,” wrote columnist Russ Parsons, who said farming critics are often characterized as “know nothing urbanites” and farmers as “thoughtless ravagers of the environment.”

That was the message echoed by a food system analyst who recently spoke to representatives of the Ohio farming community during an industry roundtable.

“Both sides are shooting bullets at one another and nothing is really connecting,” said Terry Fleck of the Center for Food Integrity, an organization working to rebuild trust in how America produces food.

But perhaps a prolonged food fight could be avoided.

Recently, representatives from OFBF and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association appeared on a WOSU radio program to discuss some of the issues raised in the sharply critical documentary Food, Inc. After a listener asked about how the two farm groups are sometimes portrayed as adversaries, both panelists agreed that their organizations had a shared goal of strengthening farming and rural Ohio.

And there was no evidence of irreconcilable differences when OFBF held its first Grow and Know event, which sought to engage anyone who was interested about producing their own food on a small scale.

“People are open-minded and they just want information,” observed OFBF promotion specialist Cara Lawson during the event. “We had a variety of different people with different perspectives on food and farming and they just wanted to understand agriculture a little more.”

A maximum capacity of more than 100 participants came from all parts of Ohio to get information from farmers on topics such as growing berries, raising poultry and gardening.

“The farmers are really the stars and there is a huge market for these resources,” Lawson said. “It’s really a concept of helping farmers and consumers get together, it serves as a member benefit and it leaves people with a good feeling about what Farm Bureau is about.”

Fleck said that it is a good sign that people want to reconnect to their food through growing a portion of it themselves, but conversations about the food system need to be broadened to include issues such as how to feed a growing population when 1 billion people are already chronically hungry.

Even in the United States, with “the most affordable, the most developed food system in the world, we still have hungry people,” he said. “For most of us, that is a reality we probably don’t touch.”

Fleck described a two-tiered food system where many consumers are able to choose from a wide array of products that meet their personal beliefs, while others would simply be satisfied if they had access to adequate nutrition.

He said farmers have done a great job in advancing with science and technology, “but we’ve left the consumer out of it,” he said.

“They have no idea if they can trust you, because they don’t know you,” he said.

Although the high-profile criticism farmers are receiving may not be balanced, Fleck said the heightened public interest is good for the food system; it offers farmers an opportunity to look in the mirror and evaluate their practices and opens up the door for them to share their values.

“(Critics) are actually doing us a service, because they’re ushering in a conversation that we really need to be having,” he said.

Lynn Snyder 

Lynn Snyder is senior director of communications for Ohio Farm Bureau.

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