Thursday, November 12, 2009

Putting a face on our food

Daphne Holterman speaks out for agriculture

Can modern farmers make themselves heard in a world in which ag is increasingly defined by food activists, organic advocates, and back-to-the-land trekkers? Daphne Holterman, owner of Rosy-Lane Holsteins, Watertown, Wisconsin, believes we must try.

I introduced Holterman as part of a panel session at the Trends in Agriculture conference in Kansas City, Missouri this week. Holterman, whose operation includes an 850 milk cows, and 1,200 acres of crop, told the group that we must be willing to “put a face on our food,” to interact with consumers, students, activists and others. “People want to know where their food comes from,” she said.

In part as a reaction to Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, which was distributed to all freshmen at the University of Wisconsin and was chosen as the focus of a statewide reading program, she has hosted tours of her farm for various groups. She is working with local, state and national media to counter some of Pollan’s much-quoted criticisms of modern agriculture.

David Kohl, a retired Virginia Tech professor and keynote speaker on Tuesday, agrees that individual farmers must be proactive, saying “consumers want to hear directly from producers, not from trade associations.”

David Cleavinger, a Texas crop producer on our panel, is doing his share, even if as trade group member. For example, he was part of a wheat industry project that grew wheat in the middle of New York City and demonstrated to school kids how flour and bread are made. Next, they’re taking the show to Washington, D.C.

Cleavinger is optimistic about the prospects for polishing up the image of modern farmers. “Farmers are Mother Earth and cherry pie,” he said. “People look at farmers in a good light.”

Karen Ross, president of the California Association of Winegrape growers, and another member of the panel, says the image of the grower is central to her work, too. Ross has helped lead an effort to improve the sustainability of production practices used by growers and communicate that message to the public.

“I will retire when the grape grower [not the winery] is the ‘rock star,'"she said.

It was good to hear optimistic, authentic voices representing modern farming in the ongoing debate with its detractors. Holterman, Cleavinger and Ross are the kinds of people who can help change and improve the public perception of production agriculture.

1 comment:

Ed Winkle said...

My blog, like yours has been an easy way to open up communication with my non farming friends and family, John.