There was a a big-hearted, Carhartt-wearing guy named Luke sitting next to me on the flight into Missouri today for a conference.
I was nervous about this trip, I don’t know why. Maybe because Monsanto tried to sponsor the conference (kind of a weird flank move) and was shot down. They wanted to be there and wanted a photo opp and press release. So I kept to myself on the flight, worked on my presentation and read about the announcement about FDA Commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, and her decision to step down.
“Do you work for the FDA?” he asked. I almost laughed. “No,” I said, “I do a lot of research into our food system. It started with crunching numbers and turned into a lot more.”
“What do you do?” I asked him.
“I build tanks….on dairy farms.” And he proceeded to school me. He talked about the glycol or ammonia used to cool the tanks and to preserve the milk inside of them, he talked about how sometimes he builds tanks for wine, and how some big dairy processors cut corners.
He had a long, slow drawl.
“They just patch things up, you know? They don’t want to spend the money to fix stuff. Tanks get holes, they should be replaced, they just patch ’em up. Bacteria that grows in there. It’s nasty when you see it. Mold.”
He paused and looked out the window.
“They do things half-ass, so they don’t have to spend money.”
“Do you have kids?”
“Yeah,” he laughed. “17 months and 4 months.”
I could relate to that. And I told him about our four, how I was named after a farmer, and how I don’t understand why we don’t value our farmers more.
He gazed out the airplane window. “Yeah, I’ve thought a lot about that for a long time. A lot.”
And he talked about how his great uncle had made a good living as a farmer, and how he couldn’t do it now. “You have to be real big” he said.
I was quiet and listened as he talked about wild hogs and what they can do to the land.
“You got a poaching problem out there in Colorado?” he asked. No idea, I said.
He laughed. And we started our descent.
We live in a country where those betting on commodities make enormous profits while the farmers growing those commodities take out loans.
It’s unsustainable. We have to value the livelihoods of our farmers like our future depends on it.
Because it does.
It’s time to rethink food and that starts with the farm system. Economies thrive on entrepreneurship and innovation. Right now, small farmers hardly stand a chance. Imagine if farm startups got the same kind of attention as tech startups?
We grow enough food to feed 11 billion people, but there are only 7 billion on the planet. Imagine if we didn’t waste 30-40% of what is produced.
Just for a while on that flight today, I imagined what it would look like if we had a more transparent and efficient food system and that John Lennon song ran through my head.
“No need for greed or hunger……”
Once you know better, you do better.
It’s time to do better.