Authors@Google: Oren Hesterman, "Fair Food"

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 28.11.2011

>> Female Presenter: Good afternoon, everyone. Authors@Google New York is
pleased to welcome today Dr. Oran Hesterman. Dr. Hesterman is the president and CEO of
Fair Food Network. And he is here today to present his
book Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food
System for All. As stated in the bio of his book if you read
on the cover there, for 15 years Dr. Hesterman has co-led
the integrated farming systems and WK Kellogg
Foundation during which time the foundation seeded the
local food systems movement with 200 million dollars.
In Fair Food Dr. Hesterman outlines the change that must
be made in regarding not just how we eat but how food
is grown, packaged, delivered, marketed, sold and addressed
by public policy. Thus outlining the steps we
all must take beyond just eating organic. Dr. Hesterman.
>> Oran: Thank you very much. It's very good to be here with
you today. Thank you for the invitation and for your
interest in this topic. I'm going to try to -- I think
we have about an hour together. So I'm going to try to
keep my remarks short enough so we maybe spend half the time
with me talking a little bit about the book, what's in it, why I wrote
it, and a little bit about the work we do at Fair Food Network.
But I want to save about half the time to hear what you –
what's on your mind, what questions you have, what you're
thinking about this issue. So you know if we're going to
create a healthy and sustainable food system for
everybody, I would say the single -- you're asking me
before, "what can we do? What can a person do?" I would
say the single most important action for somebody to take
is to make the transformation from conscious consumer to
engaged citizen. So what do I mean by that? So I'm 36
years old. I'm not 36 years old right now. Most of you
aren't even there yet, right? But when I was 36 years
old, I am lying in a hospital bed with such a severe
flare-up of ulcerative colitis that my digestive system
stopped functioning altogether. Lying there with an IV
in my arm being pumped full of prednisone, the doc comes
and says, "if this inflammation doesn't cool down by the
end of the week, our only option is surgery." So
I'm lying there faced with losing my colon for the rest
of my life. Couple days later when the doc says, "okay,
we think you can eat something now." In comes a tray as
I'm lying in bed. Roast beef, a pile of mashed potatoes
and some big ass piece of cake. White flour, white sugar
cake. And I look at this food and I say, "No way. I
know this is not the food I need to get my body healthy."
So I politely send the food back pick up the phone and
call my friend and ask her, "Can you save my life this week? Can you
make some brown rice, tofu and steamed greens and bring
them to me in the hospital?" So fortunately I got
better. You know, knock on wood, I'm now healthy as can
be. But while I was lying in bed during that week in the
hospital, I was thinking about how fortunate I was that I
both knew what I needed to eat to get my body healthy and
I had the access to what I needed. And I also thought
about all the people who either don't have the education
and knowledge or if they have the knowledge, they simply
don't have the access. You know, I live in Ann Arbor and
a lot of our work in Fair Food Network is in Southeast
Michigan in the Detroit area. Now Detroit might be the
most severe situation of a food desert in the country
where over half the population in the city of Detroit,
the 11th largest city in the country, they don't have
access to fresh food and healthy food. In fact, since
2007 there's not a single supermarket in the city of
Detroit -- not one. But it's a situation you can find in
almost any inner city community in this country including
parts of New York. So the question is, "why should we
care about this?" I mean, all of us lead very busy
lives, right? And you probably have certain causes that
you care about. My hope with writing my book and with
visiting with you is that you can think about moving the
idea of repairing the food system a few notches higher on
your list. And you know this is why it's important to
care about it. One reason why it's important to care
about it. A few months ago I was in an audience much
like this but a little larger listening to the executive
vice president of the largest health insurance company in
the country. Here's what he says -- he says, "we've
looked at the trends, we've run the numbers, we've done
the predictions and our numbers tell us by 2018 the cost
of treating obesity related illness in the United States
will be 345 billion dollars a year." He says, "when that
happens, it not only bankrupts our company, it bankrupts
this country." So why should you care and why do we have
to care? Because if this happens, if that actually
happens and current trends are taking us there, I don't
know how many of us will be able to afford health
insurance. And the burden of all of us for paying for
health care for those who aren't insured will be more
than we can bear. And all that happens in 2018 or
somewhere down the road depending on the predictions because we're not doing enough today to create
food environments that enable people to access
the food to keep them healthy. You know, you've got a
great food environment here at Google. I know about that
and it's wonderful. And the point I make over and over
in the book is that we need to take the health and
vitality that we gain from living in a healthy food environment
and make sure that it's not just us; it's everybody.
You know, there's a lot of, in the story I'm telling
the what's happening with obesity and diet related
illness and food access, there's a lot of bad news.
I know that. But there's actually some good news; really
good news -- I promise you. Because we really are sitting
in a historic moment right now. A moment where
the rising tide of diet-related illness and obesity is
being matched by an up-swell of resources, of ideas, and
of action. And awareness on this issue. We're at a moment
where we actually know what to do about this. You know
many systems that are broken in our country, we're
not sure what to do. How the heck do you reform health
care? Nobody really seems to know what to do about
that. What are we going to do about our energy systems?
But about our food system -- we know what to do. We
know what a fair food system is and how to create it.
And if there's one thing you remember from what I'm saying
today, I want you to remember what I mean by a fair food
system. It's a system where the food is healthy, good
for our bodies, green, grown in an environmentally responsible way, fair, nobody is exploited
in that system. Everybody gets a piece of the economic
pie. And affordable. Everybody has access to the food.
And we know how to create these systems now. And
the way I know that is because I can see models and examples
in practice -- in communities and public policy--
with those kind of features embedded in them all across
the country. So we know what to do about this. That's the
good news. 20 years ago we didn't, but now we do. And
you know it's happening at many levels. It's happening at
the policy level. I think about the great work of our
first lady, Michelle Obama, and her "Let's Move!" initiative
focusing on this. And I think of the thousands of farm
to school projects happening now that are supported
with federal dollars with more federal dollars coming.
It's happening at the commercial level. And this is something
I want to spend a little bit of time with because that's
the sector where you folks live and work. It's happening
-- everything from Whole Foods to the increase
in the number of farmer's markets around the country. Tripled
since the mid 90s. How many of you like going to
farmer's markets? I mean, I love going to a farmer's
market. Wherever I am -- whether I'm home in Ann Arbor,
or when I travel around, if I'm there on market day,
that's where I want to go. It's like the happiest place in
any city I go. And they're just exploding. They're on
the increase. But it goes beyond farmer's markets
and grocery stores. I've learned a little bit
about how you do your food service here at Google -- both
here and in California. You know, most of the food being
sourced within 150 miles. A real focus on using food
from local and sustainable sources. And I think it's
great that your company and other companies are starting
to do this. And just to give you an idea -- it's starting
to happen in a lot of places. You know, Dow Chemical,
based in Midland, Michigan has 43,000 employees around
the globe and they're focusing on bringing healthier
food to their employees primarily because they want to get
better health outcomes. I mean, they see it as a
way to reduce their cost for health insurance. So it's smart.
Another company Bon Appétit Management Company is
another interesting one to look at. So they oversee
food service in more than 400 cafeterias in 31 states around
the country. They serve more than 120 million meals each
year. And they have a company-wide goal that they are going
to purchase 20 percent of all of the ingredients that
they use in those 120 million meals from farms that are
within 150 miles of each cafeteria that are from small,
owner-operated farms or artisan food processors. And
some of the corporations that they work with that they're
sourcing food like this Abercrombie and Fitch in Ohio,
Amazon headquarters in Seattle, Ebay in San Jose.
And Medtronic headquarters in Minneapolis, just a few. It's to me very cool to see
companies like yours and many others starting to see that
this is not -- yes, it's about what they can do for
employees. And employee morale and employee health.
From my perspective it's also about what they're doing
for the food system. It goes beyond individual consumers
and it starts to be an institutional practice which is
what we need to be doing. You know, it's also happening
at the community level. And that's kind of a level
nearest and dearest to my heart because of all my work in
the nonprofit sector in the foundation sector. Just a few examples here in New York,
in Brooklyn, there's a fantastic project called Added
Value. It's a farm in red hook where youngsters are
working -- teenagers from the neighborhood are working on
about a 3-acre organic farm that was created on the top
of a ball field. And they've got a farmer's market there
so that kids are earning money and growing food. I think
of Slow Food USA which has its headquarters right here in
New York and connecting with about 200,000 people around
the country on this issue. Grow NYC that supports 64
farmer's markets all across the city. And the most
significant part about Grow NYC is that out of those 64
markets 49 of them accept what's called EBT --
electronics benefits transfer. You'll hear me talk a little bit more about this. It's
how food stamps are used now. So we have now about 44 million
people in this country receiving food stamps from the government.
It's the largest single flow of funds in our agriculture
-- through USDA and our agriculture department
-- at the federal level. Almost more than 70 cents of
every dollar we spend as a nation on agriculture is spent
on food stamps. And Grow NYC is making sure that the
healthy, fresh, locally grown food at farmer's markets is
also accessible to people who are on food stamps, who have their EBT card. So
that's just a few of the examples here in New York and
there are many, many more. But in almost every case local
brilliance is really leading the way in this movement.
And it's all about innovation. All about innovation. And I wanted to take just a few minutes -- a
few minutes to talk to you about my experience with innovation
in this field in a couple of different ways.
So I'm probably older than almost everybody here
but there was a point at which I was younger than
almost everybody here when I started my career initially
as an organic farmer. That sort of transformed into
a business opportunity for me. So I was living and working
on an organic farm out in Santa Cruz. It was out
at the University of California in Santa Cruz. In
hindsight it turned out to be one of the first -- I think
it was the first-- student organic farm in the country.
And we had 17 acres of land and there was a group of us
-- we were using French intensive methods of growing
beautiful organic vegetables. This was in the early
70s when the sort of natural food movement was just starting
to be seen. It was in its infancy. No such thing
as Whole Foods or even Trader Joe's. Nothing. It was
all independently-owned stores, restaurants that were starting to use organic
food. And we started selling some of our food. It was
actually bartering, right? So the produce folks from
some of these stores would come up from the Santa
Cruz help us harvest our squash and lettuce and carrots
in the morning. Take them back and sell them in their
store. And we would get credit in their store for
buying the nuts and seeds and cheese and flour and other
things we needed at the farms. That's how we were surviving
there. One day, one of the produce managers from
one of those stores came up to the farm and while we're
harvesting they said, "you know, we started having people
walking into our store - this is 1972-- we've got
people walking into our store asking if they could buy alfalfa sprouts
but nobody's growing alfalfa sprouts commercially." Have
any of you grown alfalfa sprouts? You take alfalfa seeds--. It's a really healthy
food. You take alfalfa seeds. You probably had bean
sprouts at a Chinese restaurant maybe? So alfalfa sprouts, you take an alfalfa seed,
you sprout it just for a few days and it's very good source
of many vitamins. You could find them in a health
food store, but there were no sprouts being grown commercially.
We took that on and started growing alfalfa sprouts
in these big jars – big sort of mayonnaise buckets with screens in
the bottom and delivering them to the stores or giving them to the stores with our
vegetables. About a year later, most of the folks who
were working on that farm left the project to go start farming
in Arkansas, but I was still a California boy
and I'm not ready to go to Arkansas. I'm not ready to
live in the Ozarks. So I inherited that alfalfa sprouts business. What that means
is I scraped up the 75 dollars to buy the one bag of alfalfa
seeds that we had on hand. I inherited the buckets. I started growing
the sprouts in the buckets and delivering on the
back of my bicycle to the three accounts. By about eight
years later, this was a business that had 20 employees,
delivering sprouts all over northern California, shipping
into southern California, air shipping some sprouts to
Chicago. We were the first alfalfa sprouts in the
Safeway chain of stores. I was introducing this new
product to people locally in delis to use on sandwiches,
in restaurants to use on salad bars. I was introducing
them to the wholesale produce market. I was introducing them to
the big retail chains. And we were, by the time I sold
the business at the end of the 70s, we were growing and
selling nine tons of sprouts a month. Now, next time
you're in the grocery store, I want you to go look at
alfalfa sprouts and you're going to see what the sort of
bulk of 4 ounce package is and then do the math and
you'll get a sense of what nine tons of sprouts a month
is. That was a big operation in those days. It was very
successful. I sold it for enough money to go back to
graduate school which I did to earn my Ph. D. in agronomy
and plant genetics. Because I was very interested in the
science of all this. My point in telling you the story
is that whenever people say to me, "you know, the reason
the food system is like it is and has to stay like it is
is there are really no options. There are no options
besides doing it the way we're doing it." And I say,
"from my experience you're wrong. There is innovation
available in every field all the time. And you all know
this. You live it. It's part of what has made your
company successful and it's what's going to propel
success in your company and this your individual careers. That's one story of innovation
from my own life in the for-profit sector when
I was younger. I also want to share with you -- did these
get handed out? Yeah. Let's hand these out so folks can
see what I'm talking about. I also want to share with
you a project that we're doing right now at the
Fair Food Network which is the nonprofit organization
that I founded about two years ago. So I had spent
-- after being a professor at Michigan state University,
I had spent another career -- I guess that would
be my third career -- at Kellogg Foundation. And
at Kellogg Foundation, I helped them develop a funding
program in sustainable food and agriculture and was able
to fund projects all over the country that were looking
at innovation in the food system trying to embed
some of these principles I was just talking about
into projects into policy into practices. And we were able
to fund about 200 million dollars worth of projects
all over the country and really kind of seeded this local
food movement over a period of years. Now I'm in
the nonprofit sector and one of the signature
programs we're running at Fair Food Network, my colleague
Anthony here, is our communications and policy director and is
responsible for our beautiful communications material.
Lucinda works with us on outreach at the Fair Food
Network. And this project, Double Up Food Bucks, the
way it works is that anybody who comes to a farmer's
market -- participating in the program -- and right now
there's about 50 of them across the state of Michigan
with their EBT card remember I talked about the
electronic benefits card. They bring their card to a
farmer's market, swipe it at a kiosk to spend say 20
dollars at the market that day, they will get an
additional 20 dollars of what we call double up food buck
tokens. So they spend 20 and they get 40 dollars worth of
buying power. The token can only be spent on Michigan
grown fruits and vegetables. So what we're doing with
this program is we're encouraging people -- we're incentivizing them to bring their federal
food assistance dollars -- right now I talked about the percentage
of the agricultural budget federally that goes into
this. If you look at the numbers, it's about 70 billion
dollars a year. So we're spending about 70 billion dollars
a year of our taxpayer money on food stamps. I don't
argue with that. I mean, people are hungry. We have responsibility
to help them eat. What we're missing is an opportunity
to innovate and to use that flow of federal funds
to both encourage low income families to eat healthier.
At the same time using those exact same dollars to
support local farmers and a local food economy. And that's
what we're doing with double up food bucks. We're demonstrating
on a statewide basis now in Michigan the feasibility
and effectiveness of these kinds of monetary incentives
to do those two things at the same time -- eat healthier
food for your family and for your kids and support
the local food economy and local agriculture. So far
the program is going really well. We're in our second
of four years of this demonstration. And at the largest
farmer's market in inner city Detroit, again the place
where there's not a single supermarket, we saw an
increase from last year -- from 2009 to 2010 -- we saw an
increase of sales from the EBT card of 368 percent. So
when you let people know about a program like that and
you have it in place, people will use it. And now, part of
our work at Fair Food Network is to share these kinds
of results and this kind of innovation with our policymakers
in Washington, D.C. because we believe we can
do a lot better job with that 70 billion dollars a
year than we're doing right now. And that's part of what we'll
be working on over the next couple of years.
So, as I'm going around talking to people about the book
and what I wrote about and why I wrote it, some people
consider it as sort of a celebration of a publication
of a book and I actually consider it the celebration of the
maturity of a movement. You know, I've been at this since
the early 70s. It's been my entire life career in different
forms, but I'm seeing now an up-swell of concern
and excitement especially among young people about healthy
food and sustainability in the food system like I've
never seen. So I'm really saying, "We're celebrating the
maturity of a movement. This is a movement that's coming
to maturity." It hasn't always been this way.
I think about a time about 15 years ago. I'm sitting
at a coffee shop in Atlanta. It's a Sunday morning and
I'm waiting for a couple of friends to come meet me. Down
the street comes Gary and Sandy and Gary can't wait to
hand me a newspaper. It's the New York Times magazine
from that day. And it's the -- I look at it and there's
an article written by an author I'd never read before
-- Michael Pollan. We've talked about this beforehand.
So I see some of you nodding. So you've been reading Michael
Pollan's work. Well, this is his first article in New
York Times magazine. And it's about genetically modified
potatoes and the farmers that are growing them. And
I thought to myself, "My God, this issue is now starting
to hit mainstream." We had never seen even an article
in New York times about this stuff. I mean, you see
it now, 15 years ago it wasn't there at all. So I practically
inhaled the article and I'm celebrating in the street,
thinking, "My God, our time is coming." This issue is finally getting covered by the
press as it should. So you can imagine how excited I was
a couple of years ago when I learned that Bill Moyers
was going to be interviewing Michael Pollan. So Bill Moyers,
one of the most esteemed television journalists of our
times,one of his last episodes of Bill Moyer's Journal
he's interviewing Michael Pollan. And Moyers is
asking great questions and Pollan is giving great answers.
It's a great interview and towards the end, Moyers asks Pollan, "Okay, Michael.
If you now have the viewers convinced this food thing
is something they should pay attention to, what's the one thing
you would tell them to do to make a difference?" And
without missing a beat, Poland says, "Plant a garden." And I
said to myself, "Oh shit." I felt so disappointed
at that moment. I wasn't disappointed at Michael's
answer. I mean, I know how important it is to grow gardens.
I grow a garden myself at my home in Ann Arbor. I
know growing a garden can change your life. The more gardens,
the better. I was so disappointed at that moment because
I realized how many important answers there are to that
question and how many more voices need to be out responding
to it. Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser and the
folks who made the movie, "Food, Inc." I have the utmost
respect for them. They have done a great job at pointing out
the problems and challenges with our current food system.
But we have to move beyond growing gardens. We have to
take the next step which is -- the next step in finding
solutions -- not just mapping out problems. And my belief
is that next step is this shift from conscious consumer
to engaged citizen. And that's why I wrote Fair
Food to help be part of taking that next step. You
know, I wrote this book for several kinds of people. I wrote
it for folks who lead busy lives and might just have
a couple of hours a week that they can spend on making
better choices in their homes, in their communities, in their
families. I also wrote it for people who, now all over
the country, are getting so excited about this work that they're
putting some of their passion into it. I mean, that they're
really focusing on this because this book is a resource
coming from 40 years of experience in the field.
I also wrote it for policymakers so we can get better public
policy. Public policy to make sure everybody has access
to healthy food and policy that helps farmers
reduce their toxic chemical load on the environment and
save our precious soil. And I wrote it from all the
different perspectives that I've had in my life. You
know, farmer, sprouts businessman, agronomist, university
professor foundation program director, foundation executive.
I don't know about you -- I don't know how many
times you're going to change your jobs and your
career. I never thought I'd change jobs this many times.
In hindsight it's been great, because it's brought
so many different perspectives into this work. So
I just want to end my comments and really encourage you to
let me know what you're thinking and any questions you
have. I just want to end with another story about a time,
around 25 years ago, when a group of engaged citizens
changed a system that seemed hopeless. Many people tell
me, "How the heck can you think about changing a food
system and agricultural system that's so big and so entrenched?"
In 1988, you could not see a single scientist
predicting the fall of the Berlin wall. But one year later
that's exactly what happened. It surprised everybody.
But I think about all the activists in East Germany
struggling under a system that was strangling them, a system
that wanted to change. And then in 1989, literally those
same people picking up hammers and chisels and start banging
against a wall. We'll never know which brick came out to
make that wall fall down, but when it came down, it
changed the world. For those in my generation, who lived
through that, it absolutely changed the world. The Cold
War Ended almost overnight. Shifted geopolitics. In the
same way, I think about food systems activists many of
whom I have met and supported over time all across this
country -- farmers, chefs, students, teachers, moms,
dads, journalists, business people -- each of them
working in their own way to challenge a food system that
is not working well for us right now. Just as with the
Berlin Wall, we will never know which innovation, which
new model is the one that brings us to a tipping point,
but it will happen sooner or later. I wrote my book so
it could happen sooner and not later. And I really hope
that you will take the opportunity to read it, to learn
from it, and to ask questions about it. Because this is
an ongoing process for all of us. It's the system that's
most important for all of us. It's a system on which our
life depends. If we don't get our food system right, I
would say anything else we're doing is less important, if
important at all. It's a system we have to get right.
So now let me open it up and see what's on your mind and
what questions you might have. Yes? .
>>Male #1: Okay. So I actually have two questions. The first
one is, "How do you define healthy food? Because I feel that
most people -- that even if they want to eat healthy, they don't know what's healthy with
so many sources of information"
>>Oran: So like, when we talk about in our Double Up Food Bucks program we're talking
about creating what we're calling healthy food
incentive. And you are right. There is so much information; it's hard to read through
it all. But there is very little contradiction
that eating more fresh fruits and vegetables in
your diet is good. That very few of us are eating the amount that's recommended by USDA.
And if you look at our low income communities, you're lucky to find a lot of folks who are
eating more than one or two servings a day. So
we are really focusing on fruits and vegetables as the component of a healthy diet in our
>> Male #1: And the second question is actually continued to your answer. So if you suggest
fruit and vegetables, do you also recommend adding the incentive for keeping the animals
safe? Like the environmental reasons of growing animals or eating them.
>> Oran: So I'm not sure if you're asking me
about the idea of vegetarianism or the idea of
how to sustainably raise animals.
>>Male #1: I mean, I believe it goes together -- being vegetarian is helping the
environment and also keeping you healthy.
>> Oran: So I've -- I mean, I've not seen a
lot of -- as a scientist now -- I've not seen a
lot of data that says vegetarianism is required to be healthy, right? At the same time we
know that, in general, in our society -- our western
culture -- we're eating way too much meat. As
an agronomist, which is the way I look at the
world the most, there are places where our natural ecology is much better suited for
animal agriculture than for crop agriculture. In one sense, ruminant animals are pretty
miraculous. All the animals that have multiple stomachs because they can digest cellulose.
We can't. Single stomach animals can't. And
there are places where producing grass, which is
mostly cellulose, it's got nutrients in it but
it's mostly cellulose -- where producing grass is the absolute best ecological plan. And
so, my feeling is, on those kinds of acreages,
we're actually better off producing animals than we are trying to produce crops. We're
going to be able to produce systems where the
nutrients are recycled. I'm actually a believer in integrating crops and livestock
into agriculture but doing it in a way that's more agriculturally sensitive. Thank you for
the questions.
>> Male #2: So over here you speak about taking us from conscious consumers into engaged
citizens but you're speaking to the choir here.
What about reaching other people even to the point of even being conscious consumers.
There's a lot of people out there -- again, lives are busy or they're misinformed, a lot
of bad information out there, a lot of marketing
touting vitamins and this sort of stuff instead of actual real food. How can we get people
to be concerned and understand that this is good
for the environment; it's good for their health and
it's also most cost effective?
>> Oran: When I say move from conscious consumer to engaged citizen, I don't assume
that everybody are conscious consumers yet. I mean, I know that. The point I'm trying
to make is that the frame that we -- the way
we think about food is primarily a frame that
is -- it's a relationship between me and my plate. Me and my refrigerator. Or you know
at the farthest outreach, maybe me and the grocery
store. And what I'm trying to do is actually shift
our frame of reference to understand that when
we think of food -- it's sort of like when we think
about the health care system, we actually don't
usually think about our own personal doctor. And when we think about what it's going to
take to reform the health care system, none of
us think choosing different a doctor is going
to do anything to reform health care. So what I'm
trying to do is move us along in our thought process around food where when we think about
food, we're not only thinking about "my relationship
with food and the plate." We're thinking about the consequences of my actions, all along
the system. And when you think about that then,
you know, if somebody is going to take, if I -- if a legislator is going to take the
right stand on farm bill legislation, I don't really
care what they eat, tell you the truth on a
personal level. What I care is about the actions they're taking to make our food system
healthier and more sustainable. Thank you for
the question.
>> Male #3: It seems like there's a lot of, you
know, great grass roots movements in terms of
local farms and co-ops producing organic and sustainable fruits and veggies, but it seems
like the major shift that needs to happen is to
do this at scale so it's economically viable so
so we can price those at competitive rates to
factory farm produce. To your knowledge, is there any sort of example out there,
of a farm that's out there doing this to a grade
scale to bring this into economic viability.
>>Oran: Yeah. So first of all, I want us to challenge our assumptions that locally produced
organic food is more expensive. Study just came out of Vermont. Probably the study was
actually done last year, but it was just published. Group of students went out and
looked at -- you know did good statistics with it.
They looked at the price of vegetables and fruits at farmer's markets and at the grocery
stores and supermarkets in the same communities. And, for non-organic fruits and
vegetables, there was very little significant difference. There was some difference in
specific items, but there wasn't much difference. For organic, the difference
between supermarket and farmer's market was 38
percent with the farmer's market being 38 percent lower than the supermarket. So, you
know, we have to challenge our assumptions. There's a lot of information out there about,
"oh, yeah -- local produce and farmer's market -- all this stuff is so expensive,
it's only for the elite." The experience actually, when
you look at the evidence, is not so much. That's sort
of on the one hand. In terms of the example you
asked for. I think about friend of mine, Fred Kirschenmann,
who's farming in North Dakota, he's farming 3100 acres of organic grains, seeds, and
livestock. And you know, if that's not scale, I'm not sure what is. So it's, you know, it
has already gone beyond small scale. And the question of affordability -- my belief is
the question of affordability comes down not just
to scaling an individual farm but scaling a
system. Where -- we need to be -- we know the
demand for locally grown organic and sustainably raised food is increasing. We
know that. And I've worked enough with farmers
to know they're good business people. And if
they recognize this demand as real, credible,
stable, they will shift their practices. This is where institutional purchasing can come
in, because companies -- institutions like schools,
hospitals, correctional facilities -- can actually create contracts to purchase local
and organic and sustainable food. And then farmers
have something that's actually -- a contract that's bankable to borrow money to get to
scale up. One of the missing pieces we have now
is called the regional food infrastructure where
you have an infrastructure where 47 percent of all
retail grocery in this country is controlled by
four companies. And when that happens the entire distribution system has been vertically
integrated with those companies. And we need to establish a more regional food
infrastructure so that each individual farmer doesn't bear the responsibility to find the
individual consumer to connect with, but there's actually a way to aggregate and
distribute. So some of the things we're working on.
Some of the activists you talk about in your organization are working not just on
the individual level but that kind of aggregation.
>> Male #3: Thank you.
>> Oran: Thank you.
>> Male #4: My question was actually very similar to the previous one, but I can sort
of go off with that. In terms of the subsidies
-- the government subsidies for larger farms
and stuff like that. I see that as a pretty large
hurdle for a smaller farm to overcome like because of the economic incentive behind that
government subsidy. So what you're sort of alluding to is this shift, right? From
government subsidy to sort of a privatized system like companies investing in farms.
Do you -- how do you see that -- what's the
incentive for that farm that was getting the subsidy for corn or something like that
shifting to a totally different model. Maybe they've already invested in that kind of
equipment. Is there a system out there to help
them make that transition or is that still sort
of gray area.
>> Oran: Well, you know as you talk about that wouldn't it be great if we decided. I
mean, we're a democracy. We get to decide how we spend
our tax money in the perfect world. What if we
decided rather than spending our 5 to 8 billion dollars a year in subsidy money on just
supporting ten percent of the largest farmers in this country growing five crops that we
know there's surpluses of. What if we decided we
would use some of that money to help farmers transition to a kind of agriculture that we're
talking about. A more regional scale agriculture producing a more diversity of
crops doing it in environmentally friendly way.
There's no reason why we can't do that. I don't advocate getting rid of subsidies
actually. I think that, you know, I think about -- wasn't too long ago that we had
political leaders on both sides of the aisle talk about these companies that were too big
to fail, right? And a lot of money went into
companies that we thought were too big to fail.
Well, rather than too big to fail, I say our food system is too important to fail. And
it's failing a lot of us right now. In fact, if
you scratched the surface from an environmental
perspective from a perspective of how farm workers are treated and live, this system
is failing most of us right now. So there is
nothing wrong in my view in a democracy for us
to decide that we need to intervene with resources of any kind into a sector that's
too important to fail. We're just doing it in
the wrong way. We need to do more of what you're
talking about. The ideas you have about how to
help farmers transition to a more reasonable and sustainable kind of production.
>> Male #4: Just a follow up. Is that more of
like a community outreach in a marketing issue as well. Sort of reaching out to farmers on
a local level or is that something that is
lobbying territory? I mean. [cell phone rings in background]
>> Oran: I mean, listen it's always going to
be lobbying territory, because you got a lot of
vested interest in agribusiness to have things the way they are. So let me give you an
example. Over the last two years the Natural Resource Conservation Service, which is an
agency of USDA, decided because, you know, we
have -- we have a new scene at USDA with president Obama and Secretary Vilsack and
Deputy Secretary Merrigan-- they're thinking very innovatively. So they
come up with this plan to use some of our federal conservation dollars to support the
building of what's called High Tunnels or Hoop
Houses so in northern climates like here, local
food is great right now. It will be great till
about Thanksgiving time, right? And then from December through May or so, there's not much
there. But there are great technologies that have been developed that -- they're called
High Tunnels. Just big plastic. Might be the
length of this room, literally a hoop with greenhouse grade plastic over it. And there
are ways to extend the growing season without any exogenous source of energy. So you don't
have to heat them. The reradiation from the soil takes care of that. There's ways to grow
crops in there. So the USDA is now giving grants --
cost share grants -- to farmers all across the
country, in the northern part of the country, to build these hoop houses. I think that's
great use of our government funding. It's extending the growing season. It's helping
to create some of this more regional
infrastructure for production. I just think we
need more innovation like that in our policies.
>> Male #4: Thank you.
>> Oran: Thank you.
>> Male #5: Hi. >>Oran: Hi
>> Male #5: So I was listening to this article or this story on NPR a month back. Somebody
was criticizing the local and slow food movement. I don't remember his name, unfortunately,
but realizing that this transition wouldn't take
place overnight, I'm wondering if there's any validity to the argument that the guy
was making that there's not enough
local farmers producing food to feed everybody. Do you know if there's any truth to that,
like if we were all to switch right now, would there be enough on the supply side to meet
the demand? >> Oran: Well, I mean, not tomorrow there
wouldn't be, but again, my experience working directly with farmers. I spent a good 15 years
working in extension in Michigan where I was directly working with farmers and extension
agents throughout the state. And I got to know
farmers. I was farming myself when I was younger. Farmers are good business people.
If there's a demand there, they'll figure out
how to fill it. If we try -- if we just said,
"Could we make the switch tomorrow?" Absolutely not. But if we said to ourselves,
"Is there a vision for what our future food system needs to look like so it's
environmentally healthy, it's healthy for our
communities, it's healthy economically, and then start moving towards that with policy
and practice. Absolutely, there's no reason why
we can't. And I don't advocate for a wholesale
switch. But right now, we have not -- about 98
percent of our food system is highly concentrated highly specialized highly
globalized and about two percent of it is the
kind of system that we're talking about -- more localized, more diverse, more environmentally
sound. You know, I would be pleased as punch if, within my lifetime we saw a shift from
2 percent to 20 percent. That would be huge.
It would change the landscape of food and
agriculture. So, when people bring up arguments about how, "Well, we can't even
start to make the change because you can't do it
100 percent." I think it's a spurious argument.
I think it's a deflection and I think we ought
to dismiss it and say, "Fine, maybe we can't
do 100%, but I bet you we can do 20."
>> Male #5: Thank you.
>> Oran: Thank you. Emily?
>> Female #1: So my question is, if we are all to
become engaged citizens, say we all go back to our
desks and decide to do something. What -- this sounds like a pointed question but I promise
you it's not -- what are the two or three things we can do. Is it to
write to a local legislator and say, "Support these changes
in the farm bill?" Is it to volunteer in Red Hook at their garden?
What is it exactly we can do today or next week
or next weekend or whatever? What are the things
we can actually look into to start doing as we are inspired
by your book and your work.
>> Oran: You know what I say is that it's important to start where you are. And that's
why I would never say, "Everybody should do this or this or this." I would say that if
you're a parent and you have youngsters in school and you care about the food that they're
eating and being fed in school, that's where you ought to engage. You should start getting
together with other parents. And learning about how the school food service works. Where
they're sourcing their food. And try to make a
few small changes. Start small. If you're a college
student, I would say the place to start would be getting in touch with the Real Food
Challenge which is working to shift 20 percent of the 5 billion dollars that are college
university cafeterias are spending nationwide. If you live in an area that is rapidly
urbanizing, --so I'm talking about people who
live in suburbs--rapidly urbanizing. I say, look
into farmland preservation policy. There's some examples in the book where that's
happening and how to do it. You've got great opportunities right here in New York, as Emily
says, to volunteer with organizations. To spend
your time and money supporting organizations. They are all over this city. This city is
rich with organizations that are working to help
make the kind of change we're talking about here. And they all need volunteers. They all
need financial support. So there's no lack of
those kinds of opportunities. And many directories. And there's a directory in the
back of my book. And we're right now developing our online directory at our website
so that organizations that are not listed in
the book -- it's in the chapter ten of the book--
where I list all these organizations but that want people to know about them can
self-populate this directory that I'm building on this website. So people can find each
other. Something else you are uniquely qualified to do because you live in New York
and that is you have a senator, Senator Gillibrand who really cares about these issues. She
is on the senate agricultural committee and is
going to be one of the people who is helping consider the reauthorization of the Farm Bill
which is the place where the subsidies happen. The places where these Hoop House resources
happen. The place where our food stamp expenditures happen. So one thing everybody
can definitely do is let your own Senator Gillibrand know that you care about these
issues and you want to support her to support the kinds
of policies that we're talking about and that
I'm writing about. So these are a few things people can do here.
>> Female #1: And I just have one more question. Just because I think it's such a great program,
the Double Up Food Bucks. After the four years
demonstration that you're doing now in Michigan, are there plans to
expand that to area like New York or D.C., or Philly, or
>> Oran: Right now there are some other programs. There's something happening in
Philly. There's something in New York; it's called Health Bucks. It's
something different. We are working now partnering with organizations all over the
country that are supporting these programs. And we are doing an nationwide
evaluation and creating what we saying is a policy
education process. So there will be some lobbying involved, but it's mostly education.
And our intention is that when the next farm bill is reauthorized, we want to bring some
federal dollars flowing into this kind of incentive work so it is not only being
financed by nonprofit money. So tell your Senator Gillibrand that you think healthy
food incentives are a great idea and you want her
to support them in the next farm bill. That's
a very specific thing you can do and something
she can help with.
>> Female #1: Thank you.
>> Oran: Thank you.
>> Female #2: [inaudible question]
>> Female #2: The healthy food incentives -- so is
that an educational component? Because I do feel like lower income people fill that healthy
food is just for wealthy people. And farmer's markets are for wealthy people. So is there
that educational component that no, it is affordable and using your dollars there can
go a long way.
>> Oran: Absolutely. I am not at all a believer in, "if you build it, they will come."
I'm sorry Anthony had to leave. He had to take
a train back to DC, but he has really been working hard with communications. So our
communications around this includes direct mail, very bright and colorful engaging
postcards. To every person who is receiving food stamps in Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids
and Lansing, Michigan. The four biggest city in
the state, three times during the summer telling
them about the program and how to access it. We
have radio running in those places. We have billboards, this summer it will be 50 billboards,
all up over Detroit and other areas telling people about it. We're doing bus signs.
And in addition we're working in a more grass
roots way. We actually hired people in those
communities, working with churches, working barbers and beauticians to really get the
word out about this program. The one assumption that I hear
you say that I would challenge, from our own research, is that folks in these low income
communities don't understand what healthy food
is. They really do.
>>Female #2: No, I don't assume they don't understand. I just think that they might not
think that it's accessible.
>> Oran: They know it's not accessible. That's the issue. We've done the focus group
work. We've done the interview work. Most people in our low income communities of color
understand that lack of access to healthy fresh
food is, in essence, a social justice issue. They see it as nutritional red lining. That's
what I call it. A generation ago we had red lining in terms of home mortgages, right?
They were literally like mortgage banks would draw
red lines around communities that they would not lend to. And it was almost always low
income communities of color. And that's one reason why home ownership was much lower there.
That's an illegal practice. You can't do that anymore. But from my perspective we have,
in essence, nutritional red lining. We have whole
vast areas in our inner cities where conventional food retail is basically said,
"we're out of here." And we got to do something about that. It's not to our own
benefit to let that happen. But we have -- you're right -- we have to let people know
about this program and we're doing it in every way we know how and every way we can afford.
>> Female #2: And one more question -- is local
more sustainable or seasonal more of a sustainable food?
>> Oran: Well, if you think about it, they go
together. Right? Because if you're going to eat local, you're going to be eating seasonal.
So in some respects, if you think more about eating seasonally, it is automatically going
to to drive toward eating food that's produced
more in the area where you're living. Thank you.
>> Female #3: That's it. That's all we have time
for. Thank you for coming today.
>> Oran: Thank you.