Change Food Fest Speaker Spotlight – Tessa Edick
Tessa Edick, founder and executive director of FarmOn! Foundation, has cultivated and nurtured a broad network of supporters, partners and beneficiaries within New York State as a pilot program that can be implemented nationally. The Foundation focuses on filling the succession gap in family farms with youth for economic development, health and wellness. She speaks on day two, Session 2 “Real Change Right Now”
What’s one thing anyone can do to help the good food movement – and farmers?
The most important thing we do every day is eat! So allocating our food dollars and being aware of where we spend is vital. I urge everyone to get in as close proximity to your food source and your local family farm as you can. Try to really connect and meet your farmer. Big Ag does not let you into the factory, so be sure to check the labels, and really read what their packaging says – is this really from a sustainable farm? Skip the supermarket and head to the farm – it’s not an activity that is just for kids. Google the food company you love that you think is committed to good food – are they really? Where do they source? How do they process? What do they add? If you do these things, you will allocate your money better, and spend with farmers who will not trick you with expensive packaging or slick slogans.
I don’t think as one person I can change the world, but if 300 million eaters decide to change the way they spend money on food, we will have an incredible groundswell!
Since you founded FarmOn! Foundation and have run many educational programs for youth over the past 6 years, what has changed? How are eaters (consumers) and farmers relating to each other differently now?
The awareness is turning slowing in to action. If we feed our kids better, then the family eats better, too! And, when we connect with farmers, then each community spends money locally and in ways that benefit everyone
For me, I’m inspired by what important leaders have done before me. Like Willie Nelson working to save the family farm, Wendell Berry working to save farms and the environment, Alice Waters alerting us that farm-to-table starts with what you grow, and even Michelle Obama has followed in Edible Schoolyard Project footsteps advocating for smarter school lunch. This big landscape has been mapped out for 60-plus years, and for someone like me, who is totally inspired by these leaders, I just try to make the movement more exciting and convenient for consumers to take part.
The big change I want to see is a free school lunch for all with school cafeterias contracting business to the family farms. Our kids are both overfed and starving to death from nutrition-less food – and policy can change that like we see with the Farm Bill.
I’m lobbying for the farmer, we need a Farmer’s Bill of Rights, and communities to collaborate with farmers asking children serve on the farm to learn to cook and count – and strengthen the connection of where our food comes from. If we focus on the youth then we bring change. Kids are drivers of food economies, because they influence what is purchased for the home. The school starts the process as an anchor in community and a driver in the rural economy. When schools buy from farms, they use their purchasing power to connect and educate youth about farms, seasonal eating habits, science, math, technology too!
Today, we need good thinkers and strong doers not lip service. Doing something instead of just talking about it all the time produces outcomes and helps consumers to understand and, most importantly, buy into this change. We will see more and more people actually spending where their mouth is to see change happen.
What is the most important thing that needs to be fixed for farmers to be supported and recognized (and paid) for sustainable, good food practices?
Supporting fair trade and local farming is mutually beneficial. Farming is a noble profession. Let’s give farmers big contracts for school lunch programs and pay them a fair living wage. Then, they can feed their communities, create jobs and inspire the next generation to feed us. When people eat good food, work hard, and earn, everyone acts better. Let’s remove the politics and the focus on nutrition and convenience.
Here’s the question of our time: Why aren’t we subsidizing fruits and veggies? Sugar is subsidized. Corn is subsidized. There is no subsidy for fruits and vegetables. Why not? Isn’t a plant based diet ideal for a long and healthy life?
The net effect is farm to fable, and confusion in our current food system. With subsidies, the “cheap food” seems cheap because the money was pre paid in your taxes for subsidies. The good food seems expensive because you have to pay for it out right. We need to balance that out, erase the confusion and rebuild a trusted food system with farming families who work hard to feed us well.
Why have farmers lost their voice in our society?
Because corporations decided to take on farming, and went in bed with tech and drug companies and make more money which makes the little guy’s voice silent. Why is it the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)? Why not the “Food and Water Administration”?
It’s so confusing to feed yourself healthy in the marketplace because big companies have big dollars to focus on marketing, to create messages that are compelling, convenient enticing, and of course, some of them stretch the truth, because consumers don’t know how to question the claims, we have trusted our food system to feed us safely not make us sick and fat. Farmers are trying to make a living – they don’t have time or all that money to trick us. As a society,we swapped nutrition for convenience. We trusted our food system was feeding us responsibly. The past decade has seen improvement in knowledge, but also a lot of confusion in language for marketing (what is all natural?) and a pricing system that is stacked against sustainable farmers overhead. “Organic” is a term that has almost become meaningless.
It’s like the farm-to-table “movement,” are the restaurants really sourcing from farms they say and paying them a fair living wage year round? A great concept, but the problem is seasonality – restaurants are not authentically or consistently implementing this idea, and many put the farmer’s name on the menu without actually buying the food from the farm. Well intended, but badly managed and really no regulation on the claim.
So what I am advocating is simple – meet your farmer, buy local, push for a Farmers Bill of Rights, better school lunch and a pathway for youth education around food and farming to FarmOn! to shift the paradigm in food for the better.
Policy changes the food system.
How can we learn more about your work?
Tell us what you think @FarmOn with social media. Please visit the FarmOn! Foundation website. Also, please volunteer on the farms with us and with our Ag Academy. We welcome chefs, youth and farmers into our awareness programs. Or, just donate to our work.
Blog author Stephanie Miller is a food tech and digital marketing consultant who grows the market opportunity for sustainable food economy brands and products. She is a volunteer supporting the Change Food Fest.
The Change Food Fest “Growing the Good Food Movement” will take place in New York City on November 12th and 13th, 2016. We will explore and celebrate change happening in the food system. Rather than simply talk about problems, we will actively look at solutions that are leading us to the sustainable food system we wish to see. Our focus will be on both real and visionary change and will include an exploration into seafood, plant based vs meat diets, possible impacts of new businesses and investment money coming into the food space – and much more. You can purchase a ticket or host a viewing party of the live webcast in your local community. Follow the action at #CFFest2016!