Pear ready to be picked
Category: The Big Picture

Farm to Plate: Nourishing Food for Everyone

Submitted by Jay Smith, Farm to Plate Conference Committee:

Food for everyone, abundant and cheap.  Isn’t that part of our American Dream.

When Norman Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his contributions to the Green Revolution of the 50’s and 60’s, it seemed like abundant, cheap food for everyone would be possible, ending starvation in many parts of the world, improving general nutrition, and enabling farmers to thrive in a world food system that could forever sustain humanity.   But Borlaug, himself, understood some of the limits of the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution  applied to only 3 grain crops–wheat, rice, and corn.  He warned in his Nobel lecture that even a fully implemented Green Revolution,  with increased yields in these 3 grains,  would only temporarily serve humanity sufficient food, probably for no more than 30 years.  He saw human reproduction, much as did Robert Malthus, as a constraint on the food supply.  The environmental and social impacts of the Green Revolution, however, were not as clear cut as Borlaug’s vision. High pollution loads from fertilizer and pesticides, heavy debt loads for farmers, leading to many farm failures and increased concentration of the food system in a few hands are some of the negative outcomes of this approach. There is an overproduction of grains at the expense of healthy fruits and vegetables. Borlaug could not have as clearly foreseen the other threats to the world food system half a century later:  Climate change; declining water resources; exhausted and eroded soils; the corporate control and manipulation of seeds through genetic modification; ongoing and growing systemic inequities in food distribution; the shift in food sovereignty from local, family farmers to large corporate conglomerates; the shift in world population from mostly rural to mostly urban; oil depletion–oil having become a major input in farming as fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fuel–and the many political factors that make our quadrennial U.S. Farm Bill such a legislative monster.  Hunger and malnutrition persist. All of this, and more,  amounts to a crisis in the food system.  While shopping at your favorite supermarket, you can no longer take for granted that food is abundant and cheap for everyone.

How does food get from farm to plate?  And what are both the ecological and human economic costs of getting food from farm to plate? What kind of foods?  Grown how?  From whose farm? To whose plate?  What do we do about the looming food system crisis?

A food system scholar like Raj Patel, author of many books and essays on food policy, warns that we need to act swiftly to revolutionize our food system if we are to avoid global and local famish for many.  But act how?  Activists like Malik Yakini, founder of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, and Karen Washington of Rise and Root Farm, through their inspirational work offer new models for urban agriculture to serve underserved communities.  A local farmer like Rafael Aponte is experimenting with old/new principles of “permaculture” and cultivating a new generation of farmers.

In May, all four will be here in Ithaca, as keynote speakers and panelists at a conference organized by a consortium of Cornell academics, local food activists, farmers, and gardeners to discuss these food issues.  It is the Finger Lakes Farm to Plate Conference:  Uniting to Create, Educate, and Celebrate a Just and Sustainable Local Food System.  It is organized to:

Honor and celebrate diverse farming traditions, the abundance of the Finger Lakes region, and local farmers.
Share knowledge on the topics of food production and preparation, gardening, and social justice
Collaborate to create a sustainable local food network through equitable sharing of resources
Develop stronger campus/community relationships through discussion on themes of health, food justice & agroecology
It will be held in several venues starting on the evening of Thursday, May 11th with a dinner and panel discussion at the Cornell Africana Center, followed by two full days (May 12th and 13th)  of activities at the Space at GreenStar, BJM Elementary School, and GIAC.  Thursday evening will feature a dinner and panel discussion at the Cornell Africana Center. On Friday morning there will be round table discussions on a range of agricultural topics followed by a lunchtime keynote address by Raj Patel, then afternoon farm tours, a fundraising dinner, and an evening keynote address by Malik Yakini. Saturday will be a day of workshops,  and a plenary with a particular view toward taking action after the conference. There will also be activities and workshops for children of all ages.    Admission to the conference is free.  Space may become limited, so you are encouraged to pre-register online.

(See: for more information.)

If you eat, you are part of a food system in crisis.  Come hear more, celebrate farmers and farming, share food, share your ideas, discover what the future of eating holds for you and your children. And how you can get involved!


Photo credit: Pear, by Jessica Edmister

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *