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Every farm is an experiment

Published May. 16, 2014 | Discuss this article on Facebook
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By Seth Teter, Ohio Farm Bureau director of content strategy

A recent column on Forbes implied that choosing organic food is not only a waste of money, it’s ethically suspect. It was a counter punch to a New York Times columnist calling organic agriculture “unquestionably better” than everything else.

In an industry booming with opportunity, are we stuck with a prevailing conversation that is this half-sighted? Not only is the demand for the quantity of food on a perpetually upward trend, but people are demanding more types of food.

This gives licence to every farm, with their own unique sets of variables, to become one of a million ongoing experiments. All are testing new possibilities for profitability, job satisfaction, marketing channels, environmental sustainability, community enhancement and consumer acceptance.

For anyone who wants to play a role in shaping our food system, a logical starting place is to ask “What have we learned today?” Instead, we spend far too much time fighting over the scraps of yesterday’s ideologies.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be having this broad and critical conversation about food, agriculture, policy and sustainability. But the rhetoric is useful only to the extent that it informs (and is informed by) results.

The danger is that we’ll reach a point where the on-the-ground advancements in agriculture will happen in spite of the food conversation, not because of it.

Through social technology and an alphabet of organizations, we have the framework for building an extensive learning community. It can help both farmers and eaters continually test and report on the diverse and conflicting ideas of what our food system “should be.”

If nothing else, it would balance out the sweeping generalizations that fall apart as soon as they’re applied to a specific person or place.

So let’s have a side conversation that’s less about who is right and who is wrong and more about what people want and how we can deliver it.

I don’t expect we’ll all agree, nor should we. But we just might learn something.

That was the case when I recently interviewed outspoken farmer Joel Salatin. You may find his ideas about feeding the world inspiring or ill-advised. But for me, it’s his experience, and the experiences of a spectrum of other farmers, that I find most helpful.

Hear an extened interview with Salatin on Town Hall Ohio this Sunday moring at 7 a.m. on WTVN.

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