Recently, the social media food world has been abuzz with a Chipotle commercial that includes a song by Willie Nelson urging us to go "back to the start". The premise is that agriculture is no longer what we want it to be with too many toxic inputs, externalized costs and unintended consequences.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have real concern over the way that our current agricultural system is structured: farmers are contractually obligated to buy certain products, while using seeds that have not been tested for their long-term performance and then have to be licensed for use due to their patents, and are obligated to a system in which at any time, fuel, fertilizer or licensing fees can suddenly spike, impacting their incomes, their livelihoods, their debt levels and so much more.
And yet at the same time, modern day farming has brought tremendous advances. Having spent time with farmers in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Washington state and other parts of our amazing country, I am in awe of what farming looks like today. I have listened and learned about tractors outfitted with computers that enable things their grandfathers could never have dreamt of. A recent post, highlighted by Monsanto on Twitter and seen on America's Farmers blog (written by a farmer's wife who is also a mother of four) shares that insight and paints the picture of what farming looks like today for those who haven't been able to get there themselves. She writes:
"Today, a farmer feeds 155 people. In 1960, one farmer fed only 26. Today, our tractors and combines are mostly run off of computers...dropping one seed every six inches for proper placing of a corn plant. Our sprayers and manure spreaders are also monitored by computers to spread correct amounts of nutrients over our precious soils..."
And as I reflect on all of it, of the passion, the dedication and the love on display, including Bill Gates recent public relations tour to rebrand farming as 'high-tech agriculture," I can't help but think that what we need isn't a rebranding campaign or a food fight but a food education, one in which there is an honest dialogue, with experts brought to the table, from all parts of the food continuum.
A dialogue that educates, revealing the limits and constraints we have not yet seen because of the lack of open science due to the patents that protect the changes in our food supply as intellectual property of chemical giants.
A dialogue that informs not just to farmers, but also livestock breeders and consumers, one that brings truth and transparency to the table, that isn't afraid of labels that are so descriptive and informative that farmers and consumers are given the freedom of choice on which our country was founded.
A dialogue that through its revelations, lowers the barriers to entry so that rather than a monopolized food supply that does not allow for the best, most efficient, effective and affordable products to be brought to market, we can create a food system that gives farmers financial flexibility to choose the best practices, consumers the information they need to make an informed choice when it comes to feeding their families, and data required to build a food system that is embraced around the world, so that once again, American farmers are restored to their place of admiration.
We're not there yet. Not close, so until we are, I'll keep working on it, and I hope that you will, too. Lend your voice to the food dialogues, lend your talents to creating a healthy food system, and remember, that the most important thing that you could do before doing anything is to listen.