What do you get when you bring chefs, large farmers, small farmers, farmers of the organic variety and those who farm conventionally, foodies, big Ag companies, students, professors, journalists, policy makers, and researchers together and put them all in the same room?
Well, what you have is the first ever Farm Tank… and a lot of differing ideas and viewpoints all rooted in one common ground – food.
I was blessed with the opportunity to attend day one of the inaugural Farm Tank Summit held in sunny Sacramento, California. The event, was hosted by Food Tank, America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital and Visit Sacramento. Centered on sustainable food systems, the event featured keynote speakers, panel discussions, time for socializing and networking, and a day of exploration.
Farm Tank 2016
Farm Tank 2016 kicked off with name tags and goodie bags full of fabulousness. There was coffee (if you’ve been following me long, you know how I feel about coffee), a Clif Bar, a cute little tin of California Almonds, an infuser water bottle, kale chips, several coupons… You get the picture – lots of goodies.
Event organizers gave us a warm welcome, minor scolding, and rundown of the general rules. The welcome was inviting and really quite nice. The scolding was warranted and prompted some attendees voicing their disgust that certain parties were given seats in the panel discussions. And the rules set the tone for the day, giving everyone a voice and a chance to contribute to the conversation. With that the panel discussions got underway.
Armed with my complimentary notebook and pen (a pen that writes beautifully smooth, by the way), I started jotting down notes. As the first panel progressed, it became apparent that my hand would be fatigued and my notebook full by the end of the day. With a panel discussion for topics on food transparency, food tech, infrastructure, food business, and sustainable protein, there was so much information being dispensed. And like a sponge, I was determined to soak it all in.
Having such a diverse slate of speakers and panelists from varying backgrounds and fields, there was an insane amount of knowledge present on stage. And the conversation that transpired was at times tough, but always cordial and constructive. Here some of the things that stood out to me throughout the conversation.
Facebook is reducing food waste. True story. Facebook is helping people like the very intriguing Nick Papadopoulos reduce waste and fight hunger. After growing tired of the produce being wasted on his family’s farm, Nick took to Facebook to find a home for some of the produce that hadn’t sold at the farmer’s market.
Within the hour, said produce had a new home. Selling it at a reduced rate gave several families quality food for their tables and Nick a little return on something that would have otherwise been thrown out. And thus, CropMobster was born – an organization geared toward reducing food waste, fighting hunger, and building relationships.
Stay tuned later this week for more on Nick and CropMobster in a brand new installment of Food Saver Friday.
Local is great, but not the end all be all to food and sustainability. Farm Tank was held in America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital – Sacramento – where “eat local” is growing immensely in popularity. But in California, eating local isn’t just popular, it is completely feasible. And not just feasible in the sense that it can be done, but also in that it can be done year-round without giving up variety at the dinner table.
Here in the Sandhills, we cannot do that. If we were to only eat local, we would be without the fresh fruits and veggies we have grown to enjoy for many months out of the year. The only fresh food we would have a readily available supply of is beef, which isn’t bad. It’s boring, but not bad.
Needless to say, I was elated when the question arose about eating local and the availability of foods in non-diverse agriculturally diverse regions. Founder and COO of Blue Apron, Matt Wadiak’s response was perfect. He said, “Locale is just as important as local,” driving home the message that growing foods in the right locale and developing more efficient delivery systems is far more important than being “hyper-focused on uber-local ingredients.”
It takes all kinds of kinds. “Big done well is incredibly impactful” – this was another standout statement from the food business panel. I failed to write down who said it, but they were talking about the value of big farms, and more specifically, their ability to grow food affordably while protecting and improving the natural resources needed to grow said food. I wholeheartedly agree.
There is not only one right way to grow safe and nutritious foods, but many different ways. Big farms, little farms, organic, and conventional farms – there is not only room, but also a place for everyone. And it is going to take everyone working together to feed the future.
The Big Takeaway
Besides the bag ‘o’ goodies, the wealth of knowledge, and the connections I made, my biggest takeaway from Farm Tank 2016 – good old fashioned kindness.
During the panel on food transparency, which also happened to be the first one of the day, as the panelists were discussing the treatment of food service personnel, wait staff, and farm workers – it hit me. And, I mean, like a ton of bricks it hit me. Seriously, just a third of the way down my very first page of notes are the words, “Be kind” – written twice.
The point was driven home during a brief interruption for protest in the discussion on sustainable protein. The uninvited taking of the stage and yelling did nothing to get the protesters’ point across. What it did do was completely halt all respectful conversation and productive communication. David Kranz of the California Farm Bureau Federation sat on the food transparency panel. He said, “Treating people with respect and dignity is good for business.” His statement is totally true, but it’s not just “good for business.” It is good for everyone in every situation.
All in all, my Farm Tank experience solidified my belief in the problem solving power of kindness. We do not all have to think the same way (the world would pretty boring if we did), or even really “like” each other to have meaningful, get-it-done type conversations. We only need to be kind.