The Food Dialogues and the search for common ground

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (center) speaking at the Food Dialogues on June 21, 2012 at UCLA. To her left is Illinois farmer Katie Pratt. To her right is the moderator, author Michael Specter.

Last week, I had the great pleasure of participating in a discussion panel at the Food Dialogues, a program presented at UCLA by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, which was established to try to make a major contribution to the ongoing national discussion about food. We live in an extraordinary time with regard to the number of media stories and web postings about food and agricultural production. News about food is everywhere.

I believe this collective conversation is critical as we work together toward an understanding of what agriculture is today: small farms and large; plants and animals; organic, sustainable and bio-dynamic; conventional and high tech; urban farmers and farm workers; products for markets around the world and direct to chefs five miles from the farm. We can do it all. Our diversity in California agriculture is our resilience and what makes us strong.

Food security for the 7 billion people that inhabit the planet today and the projections that the population will rapidly grow to 9 billion by 2050 represent a profound opportunity for agriculture – but also bring a lot of pressure. Either way, the prospect is driving change and requires us to work across sectors, across borders, and across the globe to find solutions for how we grow, process and deliver food with fewer natural resources in the midst of climate change.

Increasing production for global food security is something that must be accomplished in the midst of fevered debate nationally and locally about the make-up of our food system. Should local production lead the way? Should we rely more on mass-production? What is sustainable as we look to feed 9 billion people?

It was an honor for me to participate with the highly qualified panel members in last week’s discussion. It is a conversation that needs to continue throughout the country because it highlights all we have in common – a passion for agriculture; a commitment to preserving the land for future generations of family farmers; and an understanding of how we are continually improving our practices and our businesses to meet consumer expectations.

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