Food Dialogue…Boom or Bust?

Was the USFRA sponsored “Food Dialogue” successful?

That is the question.

I set aside the time to watch and listen to the entire dialogue, as well as follow the discussions taking place on the Food Dialogue website, Facebook page and on Twitter with #FoodD (the hashtag for the discussion).

It was my intention to listen and observe as an objective person…a challenge…but this was my take on day.

1. I was impressed with the emcee, Claire Shipman, and felt she was an excellent choice. Those who know me, also know that I am not a particular fan of many networks beyond Fox News, however, Ms. Shipman did a great job for The Food Dialogue.

2. I felt that all of the moderators did a great job except, except for Chef John Besh. Chef Besh, in my opinion, would have been better served as a panelist. I enjoy seeing him as a guest chef and on The Food Network and the Sundance Channel and feel he has much to offer when it comes to preserving and promoting ingredients, techniques, and heritage “one mouth-watering dish at a time.”

3. Realizing it was a major undertaking to put together, I was impressed with the diversity of panelists who participated. Could other segments and facets of agriculture and society have been included? Yes. It is my hope that this endeavor continues and is able to include more in the future.

4. There were many “nuggets” to garner from the panelists, no “fireworks,” and much common ground found. If the objective of the dialogue was begin on issues that would find the most agreement it was successful. If the objective of the dialogue was to find solutions to questions that tend to be polarizing, it failed. Most likely, the 10% of country that feels that agriculture is doing all it can felt “warm and fuzzy” at the conclusion. The 10% of the country that feels that agriculture is entirely focused on mass production at any cost felt that it was “AstroTurf” at the conclusion. And I am speculating that the remaining 80% felt like it was a good start, but did not go far enough.

5. I was glad to see questions taken from the audience at each of the forums. However, I was disturbed that all of the questions, except for one in New York and one in Davis, came from corporate and business professionals or doctors. If this dialogue continues in this format, diversity must be represented.

6. I was glad to see questions taken from those participating through social media. However, it was troubling to me that all but two of those questions came from individuals involved in agriculture. Once again, the diversity was lacking.

7. An abundance of material, thoughts and ideas were shared. However, even for me, a person who was very interested in the content, it was too long. Perhaps, if you were attending one of the forums in person, it may have been tolerable. As an individual watching and participating from home, office, farm, ranch, forest or orchard, it was too long. One, maybe two forums in a day is plenty.

8.I thought the videos of the farms were a great addition to include for breaks, showed the care and passion of several outstanding examples of agriculture. I realize that the videos were of panelists, however, as a “small farmer” I found myself asking “that’s great for showing the larger side of family farming, but what about the average family farmer? The one who has to continually make repairs on structures and fences and buys well used equipment that they hope they can keep running for few seasons.” We may not be as “shiny” as the others, but we are also very diligent in being sustainable, environmentally friendly and struggling to survive under regulatory pressure…we also are a face of agriculture that needs to be seen. In my humble opinion….

Some Key Statements:

Bob Stallman, President American Farm Bureau, Chairman of USFRA and Farmer from Texas. Love him, hate him or be indifferent. I have the utmost respect for Mr. Stallman, who is charged with representing the most diverse agricultural organization in the world and I for one do not always agree with AFBF positions, but truly believe he has done an outstanding job representing the voice the AFBF membership and was a great choice for being chair of USFRA.

1. It’s going to take all types of #ag to meet future #needs & provide #choices for consumers. via #Stallman #FoodD

2. It is a #moral responsibility of all farmers/ranchers to produce healthy, safe nutritious #food. via #Stallman #FoodD

3. We need to have more transparency in #ag. Consumers want to know. via #Stallman #FoodD

Dan Glickman, Former Secretary of Agriculture. He was a former Representative for Kansas, before being selected by former President Clinton as the Secretary of Agriculture.

1. DonEWG: Glickman: We are in an era of high farm prices for some time to come. #foodD

2. “Food issues are as important as #energyissues & #national #security issues.” via #Glickman #FoodD

Jason Clay, Senior Vice President, World Wildlife Fund:

1. cowartandmore “There is no ‘magic bullet’ to feed everyone” — #JasonClay World Wildlife Fund #FoodD

2. pcronald: If we dont have metrics to measure sustainability, we just have opinions. via #JasonClay #FoodD

3. “You must look at optimization, not maximization.” via #JasonClay #FoodD

4. “If we don’t have good soil, we don’t have farms.” via #JasonClay #FoodD

5. If you look at #food production, you can’t take #genetics off the table. via #JasonClay #FoodD

6. “Let’s talk about science & data, not assumptions & fears.” via JasonClay #FoodD




Kathi Brock, Director, Strategic Partnerships American Humane Association Farm Animal Program

1. “As consumers, social expectations move forward…they have to expect food will cost more.” #Brock #AHA #FoodD

Dr. Neal Van Alfen, Dean of the College of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences at UC Davis:

1. In #CA#water is THE issue. #VanAlfen #FoodD

2. RayLinDairy: Some of the scariest chemicals I know are made in nature – Dr. Van Alfren #FoodD

Michael Dimock, President of Roots of Change:

1. “We want to work w/ farmers & ranchers to solve challenges.” #Dimock #FoodD

2. “Production of food is a biological process, yet we utilize industrial terminology. Big challenge.” via #Dimock #FoodD

3. “I would like to see all sides come together to solve problems & stay out of the courts.” #Dimock #FoodD

4. RayLinDairy: Teach how to choose healthy through school lunches – Dimrock@RootsofChange #FoodD

Stuart Woolf, President of Woolf Farming and Processing:

1. farmerhaley: “Land is our most precious resource, we cant be sustainable without it” Stuart Woolf #FoodD

Rick Stott, Executive Vice President of Business Development for Agri Beef Co.:

1. Our biggest risk (& barrier for entry) in being able to produce #foodis the government. #Stott #FoodD

Chef John Besh, Owner of the Restaurant August

farmerhaley: “Learning about food starts at the family table, we are loosing that connection” via @chefjohnbesh #FoodD

Final Thoughts:

So, were the Town Halls and Food Dialogue a boom or a bust? From my perspective, I would give an “A” for the idea, a “B-” for the variance of panelists, a “C-” for the execution of the endeavor and a “D-” for the handling of the social media aspect…overall grade…a “C.”

Whether or not there are more Town Halls like this to come in the future, which I hope there are, I share my friend Ray Prock’s sentiment when he said:

RayLinDairy: Town Halls are over but the conversation is not #FoodD.

I think it is essential for all to maintain conversations, ask questions and provide insight. Statements made during this Town Hall series can provide the starting point to move on into the future. There is much that we all agree on, it is finding that common ground for us to start the conversations…then move down the road to solving challenges together.

Let us forget this idea of trying to “educate” someone…there is much to be “learned” by all who participate in helping keep agriculture transition to the future. It is about listening, caring and sharing.

Those are my thoughts, but I am just a farmer…

  1. September 23, 2011 at 7:26 AM

    “Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.”

    I think Mark Twain’s quote (which hangs prominently above my desk) is on the money when it comes to the discussion and issues concerning today’s food system. A way forward can only come when all sides are a part of it, preconceived notions and agendas are put aside, and the focus becomes solutions based upon commonalities and understanding. We have two ears and two eyes, and only one mouth for a reason…it’s best to make use of the competitive advantage in that department.

    Oh, and thanks for the shout out in a previous blog post about tablets, Jeff.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      September 23, 2011 at 7:42 AM

      Thanks for sharing Dan…and you are more than welcome! Might actually be making progress on getting our county to make the move to tablets…if we can solve a few issues with dial up still…lol

  2. September 23, 2011 at 8:48 AM

    Reading through this – and with the focus of AgChat & the US Farmers & Ranchers organization including all it did seem like most of the representation was from larger farms rather than small. Perhaps that is what casts the largest shadow and what people want to hear from – but on the other hand in a way it’s like wanting to include all for volume/numbers but not in conversation. For the first step I thought it was good – agree too long. Difficult to do but it’s a start. Hope it continues.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      September 23, 2011 at 8:53 AM

      I agree Jan. Difficult to “cover all” at one time and it fell short of including many perspectives. However, it was a good start and I too hope the effort continues. I know many conversations will 🙂

  3. September 23, 2011 at 9:37 AM

    Interesting that in such a long blog post you complain about how long the town halls took yesterday 😉

    Sorry I had to say it! Good thoughts here Jeff, thanks for taking the time to put them together.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      September 23, 2011 at 9:48 AM

      Thanks Mike 🙂 Nice job covering DC.

  4. September 23, 2011 at 11:30 AM

    Loved your thoughts. I struggled being able to watch with my rural connection. Too spotty. Will take the time to watch the recording. I enjoyed what I could watch but in the end, no one looked like me. IMHO, if a true dialogue is to happen, someone should look like me (and others). There should be representation of multiple facets.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      September 23, 2011 at 1:03 PM

      I agree Amy. There is much room for improvement. I also think it was a good first step & hopefully they move forward to include more “average” folks, like us 😉 Thank you for commenting.

  5. September 23, 2011 at 2:28 PM

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jeff. I had the stream running while I was working on other things, so while I didn’t see it all I felt like I heard about 80%. From a production standpoint, it was a noble undertaking. Having the town-halls in different parts of the country was nice, but I could never get an idea of who was invited to be in the audience. I may have missed that explanation, but it seemed that those asking questions weren’t that diverse and the questions felt like nice, slow pitches across the plate. The length of the program was very ambitious, and I’d be interested to know how many viewers we able to pay attention for that full length of time. If I wasn’t working inside that day, I couldn’t have made that time available to it.

    There were a few things that really resonated with me in a negative way. The first is that the whole “tone” of the production felt like an infomercial, and that my reaction to that was that I was being sold something. With all due respect to those on the panels, they didn’t come across as “real people,” yet I know that was the driving intention. Perhaps this had to do with the fact that the event was pitched as a “discussion” but the dialogue felt scripted and flat. The other piece that I struggled with was the lack of diversity among the panels. If the USFRA wanted to promote the viewpoint that “all forms of agriculture are needed to move forward,” then their promotion of that was a bit lackluster because they didn’t even have the representation of “all forms of agriculture.” I’m sure some of the reasoning was to have a corn farmer explain how they are a family run farm, but by focusing solely on the larger farms/ranches I feel like it came across like they were ignoring us smaller farms/ranches.

    I would be interested to find out the demographics of those of us who tuned in for the event. I wonder if it turned out to be a “preaching to the choir” event of if those of us involved with ag were in the minority. Thanks for your post and letting me comment.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      September 23, 2011 at 2:41 PM

      Appreciate your taking the time to comment Stephen. I concur with your impressions and share your questions. I look forward to seeing the resulting data from the day.

  6. Bri
    September 23, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    I agree that it would have been good to have a more diverse group representing farmers. However, I can’t help but wonder if they did that for a reason? Working for a large calf ranch AND being completely new to the world of agriculture, I have noticed that the large farms are classified as “bad” and the smaller farms are classified as “good.” Could The Food Dialogues have been trying to give the large farmers a face to their farm to show American society that most large farms started out as a small farm, and even though they have grown, they still hold the same values as a small farmer?
    I see where you’re coming from though and I don’t want you to think that I don’t agree with you. I just wonder if USFRA had a reason for doing what they did.

    All in all, I loved The Food Dialogues. It gave me the opportunity to learn a lot and it also gave me insight on the questions that consumers are wanting answer to. I think that it was a great start and I hope that this continues. I would like to see it being broadcasted more though because I’m not sure that it reached as diverse of an audience as I want it to have.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      September 23, 2011 at 3:04 PM

      Briana, I thank you for sharing your perspective. Please do not feel like you “need” to agree with me…we’re both in the cattle industry…how often do cattlemen agree anyway? 😉 Thanks again.

  7. September 26, 2011 at 8:45 AM

    Insightful thoughts on the session Jeff. I especially like the idea of forgetting about “educating” people. It assumes the “educator” has all of the answers and…that just isn’t always the case! It’s a philosophy I take when writing stories for @aheartland…respect the viewer and share the story. The rest falls into place.

  1. September 24, 2011 at 8:28 AM
  2. September 29, 2011 at 9:41 AM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: