The other session was on sustainability and the food system and featured USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, the Keystone Center's Sarah Stokes Alexander, Ferd Hoefner from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and Brian Snyder from the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. Here's a recap of their presentations:
- Kathleen Merrigan is the USDA's new face of sustainable agriculture, and she was the star of the forum. She briefly discussed the USDA's new program Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) and then took questions, deftly and diplomatically addressing skepticism from some farmers. The greatest success of this program, and of the USDA(and the federal government) in general, is that there is now a national conversation about food, nutrition, and community. The fact that some people in the agricultural field are questioning ideas about sustainable agriculture means that the message is being heard throughout the country, and everyone is now encouraged to engage in the discussion about what food production and consumption can, or should, look like. More on this in a minute.
- Sarah Stokes Alexander talked about Keystone's Field to Market program, which is a collaborative stakeholder group working together to develop a supply chain system for agricultural sustainability. This project addresses the concerns raised earlier on the plenary panel regarding transparency and industry-wide dialogue about how to make every step in the chain more sustainable. Members of the stakeholder group include grower groups, conservation organizations, agribusinesses, food and retail companies, and academia and research organizations (more information and a list of members is here)
- Ferd Hoefner discussed the farmers market promotional programs and raised questions about what policy can do to create new markets and provide greater access to existing markets. A number of people asked questions about loan guarantee programs in their state.
- Brian Snyder brought up the idea of a sustainable foodshed that could follow watershed boundaries. If that were the case, people here in DC would be actively engaged with folks all the way through Pennsylvania and New York State, since we're all in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Many of the vendors at farmers markets in DC come from Pennsylvania, and since we're on the receiving end of many of the negative watershed impacts, it makes sense that we should be actively engaging our northern foodshed neighbors to ensure that their practices improve our watershed conditions. Brian also pointed out that most of the farms in the U.S. are small farms that make less than $50, 000 a year in gross income - not enough to support one person. But CSAs can change that, and other techniques like SPIN (Small Plot INtensive) farming, can help small farms make more money without acquiring a lot more acreage.