In the short essay, "The Pleasure of Eating," Wendell Berry makes a profound statement that is widely quoted today: “Eating is an agricultural act.”
Berry, a novelist, activist, environmentalist and farmer has been speaking and writing about food, agriculture and environmental issues for decades. When Berry called the act of eating an agricultural act, he meant every human is involved in agriculture, whether directly or indirectly, because what we eats affects the way land is treated every day.
This quote and theme was deeply apparent at the Ugly Food Farmer Panel on March 20 at the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead, Minn. A packed audience of community members joined Ugly Food on a Sunday afternoon to share in a community conversation with four area farmers:
- Amber Lockhart, Heart and Soil Farm - Diversified vegetable grower near Grandin, ND
- Nick Vinje, Vinje Farm - Diversified conventional farmer near Gardner, ND
- Lynn Brakke, Lynn Brakke Organic Farms Certified organic blue corn, soybeans, alfalfa, barley and Angus beef near Comstock, MN
- Pete Nielson, Dirt Head Microgreens - Indoor microgreen/urban farmer - Fargo
North Dakota Representative Joshua Boschee moderated a thought-provoking discussion between farmers and the community regarding how food is grown and produced in the Red River Valley. While each respective farm varied in production style, products, markets and farming philosophies, all articulated a shared goal: to grow healthy food for a healthy community for healthy planet.
Each farmers shared valuable insights about how they manage and operate their farms on a routine basis, how farm decisions are made, and how they get their food from field to market. The audience asked a range of questions dealing with big agriculture topics (GMOs) to more personal questions such as how do I make good food choices for myself and my family? Here are a few key Ugly Food takeaways from our area farmers:
- Talk to a Farmer: Interested in knowing more about your food? Ask a farmer. No one knows more about how food is grown than those who grow it.
- Vote with Your Fork: If you want more local food, buy local food. If you want organic, buy organic. The more we ask (or demand) local produce, the more likely we are to get it. Support farmers markets. Purchase a share of a CSA. And ask grocery stores and restaurants if they have local food and buy it. More demand → more supply!
- Support New Farmers: If you’re looking to support the sustainable agriculture movement and our local farmers, the simplest solution is to buy their food! Also, invest time into learning about programs working to train and support future farmers such as Farm Beginning Program and FARRMS Intern Program. Finally, talk to the decision-makers and get to know your elected officials. As the Fargo-Moorhead community strives to be a place that support entrepreneurs, let’s develop ways to support emerging farmers and farm entrepreneurs. As Amber Lockhart so eloquently put it, “Carrots work better than sticks.” We need to create more incentives for young people to join the farming profession.
- Food Issues are Not Black & White: There’s no simple, one-size-fits-all solution to the questions regarding food and agriculture today. There is a wide, WIDE spectrum of how food is grown and produced in our area and around the world. Are some practices and food choices more sustainable? Sure. Are some farmers growing healthier food for a healthier planet? Of course. Should we support these operations as best we can so they can continue to grow? Absolutely! However, it is important that we avoid villainizing or pitting one form of agriculture against another. Almost all forms of agriculture are a product of a system - a system that incentivizes certain crops, provides insurance, and develops market places, for some and not others. We live in a community surrounded by production agriculture. Are the dozens of 6,000+ acre corn and soybean operations likely to convert to organic, diversified cropping/livestock systems tomorrow? Probably not. But can we continue to support market places that value diversification, local and sustainable? Absolutely! Can we talk with our decision makers about programs that promote soil health and land preservation? Most definitely. And can we use our food dollar to support our food values? Every. Single. Day.
A special thanks to our farmers: Pete, Amber, Lynn and Nick for their willingness to share their passion and livelihood with our community. Thank you to Joshua Boschee for facilitating such a great discussion. Thank you to Drekker Brewing Company for generously donating delicious craft beer to compliment our conversation. And finally, thank you to the community for engaging with us. We truly believe in the power of thoughtful, important conversation, and that meaningful conversations can build significant change. This conversation showed a lot of promise for a bright food future in the F-M area.