Yesterday my coworkers and I drove down to La Crosse, Wisconsin for the Organic Farming Conference. This is my first year to go, but for many years I've envied the produce managers who always go to this conference. While it's true that most of the workshops are geared toward actual organic farmers ("Practical Fly Control" or "Basics of Organic Hog Production" anyone?), just the experience of being among so many farmers committed to sustainable agriculture is uplifting.
Seriously, I'm ready to sell the house and buy a farm.
Today our keynote speaker was Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD. She spoke so eloquently about the connections between healthy communities, healthy environment, and healthy farms. It was refreshing to hear food spoken about with such unabashed political messages and numerous calls for action.
I have not heard any presidential candidate address our food system issues in a debate. Today Hemmelgarn said, "I won't vote for any presidential candidate unless they address the problems with our food system" (or something really close to that). While nothing will stop me from voting in November, I do have to agree with the conviction behind her statement.
How can we get our politicians to address food issues? Food is where it all comes together- family, farming, environment, education, diversity, health, poverty, safety, security, and economics. Our failed food system is the big elephant in the room that no one is talking about.
Sometimes when the big picture of American food is too overwhelming, though, I take comfort in knowing that at least I live in an area so rich in organic and sustainable farmers that I can find healthy, organic, local foods for much of the year. And I'm lucky enough to have a yard where I can grow a good portion of my fruits and vegetables for half of the year. And I'm lucky enough to have a lifestyle (also known as "the slow lane") that leaves me enough time to cook my foods from scratch and preserve my own harvest.
But truly, while this makes me feel better for a while, I know that this is not enough. Every little patch of land and home cooked meal helps, but it will take some large scale changes to impact most people in this world. Part of my job is to teach people about organic, natural, local foods and co-ops- But I want to do more. I don't know if the answer is to do more outreach, call more politicians, or buy a farm, but I sure am inspired by this opportunity to gather with organic leaders in the Midwest.