Live from The Food Dialogues: Panel 1

My Generation

A live look at the news, quotes, observations and more from the USFRA's first panel: Media, Marketing & Healthy Choices.

Published on: November 15, 2012

We've made our way to New York City and have already met friendly faces and friends from Illinois. The first panel at the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance is about to begin here in the Times Center, New York, and the topic is Media, Marketing and Healthy Choices.

The moderator today is Ali Velshi, CNN chief business correspondent.

Panelists include Richard Ball, New York vegetable farmer; Debbi Beauvais, New York School Nutrition President and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson; Blake Hurst, Missouri farmer and president of Missouri Farm Bureau; Tracie McMillan, author of "The American Way of Eating"; Craig McNamara, California organic farmer; Carolyn O'Neil, WebMD; Kat Kinsman, managing editor, CNN Eatocracy.

On Twitter, you can follow along at @USFRA and #FoodD, or follow me at @hollyspangler or follow Willie Vogt at @Willie1701a.

10:16 a.m., ET

Tracie McMillan went undercover working at grocery stores and lived on her income at $3, $4 and $8 an hour. Found she was less excited about cooking. Become less interested in eating well. "Reminded that I have to keep the real working clss in mind in this discussion."

Kat Kinsman tells about farmers involved in blogging on CNN's Eatocracy. She learned of a farmer named Ryan Goodman on a blog comment – found his blog showing day to day life on the farm. She asked him to write a piece for Eatocracy, which "started a really great series I've been very happy about. Mike Haley, Craig Riogers now writing too and taking questions. When you invite public in to ask questions and critique, there's tremendous hostility that somehow famrers are getting one over on them that they're sitting back lazily taking subsidies. This has led to a lot of fighting but also to some really productive converations and changing of minds. You can do that just by starting a tumbler."

"We as a nation are suffering from nature deficit disorder." --Craig McNamara

10:34 a.m., ET

Blake Hurst: "It is possible to have a healthy diet with frozen vegetables and canned vegetables."

Kat: watching food choices as groups came in to help feed people (for free) after Sandy – offering really good beans and vegetable dish, a soul restoring soup – people weren't picking that. They chose the pot stickers. Said they don't eat beans, vegetables, soup isn't a meal. Look for something that will fill them up. So basically, bring in some Campbells Chicken Noodle and you've got a customer.

10:55 a.m. ET

Blake Hurst: "We need to be careful in agriculture not to tear down one kind of agriculture while we advance another. We can increase conversations and communication between farmers and consumers but the food system by necessity is going to be big. We have three million people in this country who expect to be fed 3 meals a day. So there will be some long distribution chains. And that's a good thing. It's good to have a big country and long supply chains because it does lower the risk of the food system."

Audience question about organic and different methods:

Blake Hurst: "It's a big country. You will find most organic farmers in the north and the south, and more likely to raise organic in the west than in Midwest. Harder to raise cotton in Missouri than in the south. Don't think if I choose not to grow organic that it's a reflection of morals. It's a reflection of where I live. There are different kinds of weather, of insects and pests. It's just the way it is."

Craig McNamara: "Mark Bittman asks in a recent Food supplement to the New York Times, 'what do farmers owe us today?'"

Blake Hurst: "It would be great to get a perspective from west of the Hudson River. They are provocative and talented writers but they haven't walked in my shoes. I would invite them to do so."

11:05 a.m. ET

Tracie: Spent time working in fields and working for organic farmers picking vegetables. Learned not any different in organic or conventional – working conditions are similar and pay is similarly poor. Not any oversight if someone is shorting their laborers.

Craig: maybe it's a difference in California, but we pay $10 an hour with benefits or our workers.

Ali: "It seems to be a reflection though of our coverage in the media, that organic should somehow be different or better, and it doesn't seem to carry through to the workers."

**Audience question: Inherent conflict of interest – most writing is sponsored by food companies – how to provide accurate unbiased coverage?

Ali: Never been a crossover between our advertisers and our coverage. It never crosses our mind.

Blake: "If I'm a journalist, how many copies will I sell if I write "the food system is great, buy whatever you want at the grocery store." If I write a book that says "farmers are bad and they're abusing their animals and destroying their environment," that book goes to the NY Times best seller list.

Kat: "Any time I write something positive about food and agriculture, I'm accused of being paid off. I have no horse in this race, my interest is in sharing information."

Ali: "We should be conscious that that perception exists. There a bunch of industries that advertise a lot because they have a whole bunch of money. Instantly we'll get tweets saying we're in somebody's back pocket. I'd love to say that's ridiculous but perception is important. Blake has a point; people don't tune into CNN to find out what was good and right in the world today."

**Photos or stories better for telling the story?

Kat: "During the drought, Brian Scott wrote a blog for us, corn and popcorn farmer, sharing pictures of the drought. Have farmers sending pictures from their combines. That's so valuable. I'm a champion of the written word and I like hearing the voice, but photos are important."

Ali: "It's another level of transparency."

11:20 a.m. ET

Ali: "What's your sense of preparing next generation of farmers?"

Richard: "I think we're doing well. Think they may be more mobile – willing to relocate. On our farm, all three kids are actively engaged on the farm and want to make a career out of it."

Blake: "As we bring son in laws and daughters and nephews into our farm, it makes it more expensive as land prices go up, to secure their own land. But there are other opportunities."

Craig: "We need all sizes and types of farms. Will be huge transfer of value and wealth in coming years on the farm."

Blake: "There's criticism of conventional agriculture – crop protection, GM seed, livestock farmers who raise animals inside – but it's very prevalent to see that criticism on the op ed page. Lots of husbandry reasons to raise animals inside, but those people don't know that."

Richard: "Most journalists who call me aren't bad people, they just don't know anything about agriculture. But the op ed people at the big newspapers probably don’t have an agriculture person on staff."

Craig: "I'm not worried about the media. I have learned from the media."

Debbie: "It's perception and reality. People have perceptions about school meals and about farming. I speak about school nutrition and I have so many OMG moments – 'you only have a $1.25 to put a meal on a plate and I want it to be fresh and organic?' Marketing and media can help us – take fruit and yogurt parfaits. As they become popular, I can work that into school lunches."

11:30 a.m. ET

Ali: what about this question of people media criticizing the large farmer?

Blake: "That sort of anti-concentration of power is very American. We came here to escape that sort of thing."

Ali: "We romanticize the small farmer."

Blake: "The thing people often forget is that even a farm that's fairly large is still a small business. We're still all small businesses and 98% owned by family. I have not noticed a correlation between size and ethics, so I have very little patience for that argument."

Craig: "We have problems. Let's just deal with it. We have places in California where we've put on too much nitrogen for 50 years. Who takes care of that now? I think this issue of worrying about big agriculture has been with us for a long time."

Richard: "Anytime you start talking farm size, you defeat the purpose. It's one of the common misconceptions when people come out. Some will tell us you're good because you're small but my neighbor is bad because he's big. But he expanded to make room for more family to come in, and they're hiring people and creating jobs and isn't that good? We produce something. Real wealth is created when someone takes raw ingredients and turns it into something. We need more of that not less."