The past year has been an extraordinary one in the world of sustainable agriculture for many reasons, some of which may not be fully understood for many years to come. That year (November ’12 thru November ’13) included much attention across the country to labeling of genetically engineered foods, including two high-profile public referendums that went down to defeat in California and the state of Washington. For many, this effort, occurring state-by-state, has become the holy grail of the effort to promote local, sustainable and organic food and farming systems for the future.
But for me and many of my closest colleagues across the country, the past year has been about something much less glamorous, i.e. the drive to understand, explain and then fix the problems in proposed regulations associated with the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This was certainly a long slog by any measure, with dozens of folks working together to generate hundreds of pages of public commentary in response to thousands of pages of material we were given to digest last January. It was an extraordinary experience that I wouldn’t want to repeat, but the sort of work that had to be done at a critical moment in our sustainable food system movement. Continue reading
This year marked the twelfth opportunity I have had to address our annual Farming for the Future conference, and I have to say it is still one of the most challenging and solemn responsibilities I have as executive director of PASA. Through the years I have tried to highlight some of the most important issues we face organizationally and as part of a larger, sustainable ag and food system movement that continues to spread across the country and beyond.
But I have to say that while the challenge and thrill that goes with this duty still feels much the same, there has been tremendous change over this past dozen years in terms of the audience. The audience at the conference, in addition to doubling, has evolved from consisting primarily of current sustainable farmers wishing to learn new things and be rejuvenated for the year ahead, to a gathering heavier on the “beginning farmer” contingent. The spread between the two has made it more difficult to plan programming that will please everyone, but this is a challenge we enjoy facing.
The external audience has changed even more. In this regard, I am thinking not only of average consumers, but also the remaining conventional farmers out there and, most particularly, those agricultural organizations and corporate interests that often look at things differently than we do. I was recently reminded on twitter of a famous quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi that goes: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Continue reading