Friday morning, I biked to Portland’s EcoTrust building for a conference that I learned about just last week at a Friends of Family Farmers event: Food+Agriculture Media Project. The idea was to get food and ag journalists, editors and researchers together to talk shop, meet each other, and maybe learn a few things along the way. I did all three!
The keynote speaker was from American Public Media’s Marketplace program, Adriene Hill. She talked about the challenge reporters face in trying to keep issues like organic food and global warming fresh to a weary audience. If a story about global warming leads with the subject itself, no one hears the story—the people who agree with the idea pat themselves on the back and turn off the story, and those who don’t agree curse at the radio and turn off the story. But, she continued, if the story begins with the price of chocolate going up everyone listens, even as the cause is identified as global warming.
Food, Hill noted, is uniquely suited to lead into any number of topics. “Everyone eats,” she said, “so everyone can relate on some level.”
After a few presentations about storytelling and the necessity of multimedia platforms, a panel convened to discuss the subject of raising and eating meat. The panelists considered a number of angles of meat production, discussing the cost of raising and processing grass-fed beef and compassionately raised poultry, and how that cost consigns the farmer to meager profits and precludes many from being able to afford it.
They also talked about the utter failure of the federal Farm Bill to meet the needs of mid-sized farmers and ranchers. Microenterprises and, especially, corporate industries fare much better, in the latter case to the detriment of vast swaths of land as well as people. A rancher from Eastern Oregon remarked that if direct subsidies from the Farm Bill were reinvested in conservation efforts, the landscape would “change overnight.”
What was sort of amazing—exciting and daunting at the same time—is how clear everyone is about how no one has all the answers, and they’re also not sure how to collect and assemble them. The Big Picture, it turns out, may be altogether too big for any single person to comprehend. As I contemplate future projects in the world of agriculture and rural life, it’s both a challenge and an opportunity.