By Matt Reese
In an effort to address consumer concerns and reopen the damaged lines of communication between shoppers and farmers, the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) recently held the “Food Dialogues” in Los Angeles last month. The event titled “Lights, camera, food: Perceptions and realities of farming and ranching in America” was comprised of four separate discussions held over two days with entertainment movers and shakers, chefs, academics, large restaurant operators, journalists, local leaders and farmers for in-depth conversations about food.
Included among all of the Hollywood big shots and farmers from around the country, was Ohioan Kristin Reese. Reese, who raises sheep, meat chickens and laying hens on a small Fairfield County farm and markets her products through a catering business, sat on a panel as a small-scale producer, chef and a mom who wants to feed her children safe, healthy food.
“I participated in the panel titled ‘Real Chef Challenge: Understanding how food is grown and raised.’ We had cattle rancher and Dean from Chico State University Dr. Dave Daley; hog farmer Julie Maschhoff; the owners and chefs of the restaurant ‘Animal‘ Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook; Ray Martin, VP Culinary Development for BJ’s Restaurants; Gabe Segovia, Manager of Culinary Innovation of El Pollo Loco; Laura McIntoch, host of “Bringing It Home;” and me,” Reese said. “How did I fit into this equation? I was not sure at first. Why would they invite a small farm mom from Ohio to participate in this dialogue? When I arrived, I saw very few familiar faces. But as our conversation began, I came to realize the importance of a small farmer/mother role at our conversation table.”
Reese conveyed to the panel that, as a mother, she wants safe food for her children and that the best way to ensure a safe and healthy food supply is a robust mix of successful farms of all sizes to serve everyone’s needs.
“Although our farm is very small, I have a great appreciation of how large farmers farm. I also get to see firsthand the practices that they use and learn if I do not already know why things are done the way they are. I understand how both very large and very small farms can serve vital roles in our food supply,” she said. “The other challenge facing agriculture is its responsibility to meet the food needs of a growing population with increasing restrictions. We need farms large and small to work together to produce food to meet these needs. Because we all need to eat, there is room for all types and styles of farming. We are fortunate to live in a free country where we have the opportunity to support causes we feel are important and make the food choices we feel are best for our families.”
Did the message make a difference? Reese felt confident that the non-ag panelists did learn and made important connections with some realities of food production in this country.
In addition to the Reese’s panel at the event:
• George Motz, documentarian, host of Travel Channel’s “Made In America,” and director of the Food Film Festival, moderated the “Hollywood and Vine: The intersection of pop culture and food production” discussion about the portrayal of food and agriculture in popular culture;
• Urban farm expert and host of the syndicated Saturday “Food Chain” radio talk show, Michael Olson moderated “Meeting of the minds: Touring Hollywood’s urban farm,” discussion that examined the role urban farms play in the communities where they operate;
• Long-time The New Yorker journalist and author, Michael Specter led a panel of leading scientists and academics, farmers and ranchers and thought leaders through a discussion about the role science and technology play in agriculture.
“Sounds glamorous, but I was out there talking about all things agriculture. Who is to say farming is not glamorous, right? What we do is the backbone of our country and very important work, which provides food for many, including my family,” Kristin said.
All panel discussions from the Los Angeles “Food Dialogues” will be available online at www.fooddialogues.com.