Field Guides to Food

Ken Meter, all video

Ken Meter, president of the Crossroads Resource Center, discusses with Peter Shea in September  2012 his path to studying food security and the trends he has observed firsthand in his work with American farmers. He goes on to describe the features and uses of a food economy study, the weaknesses in the current agricultural system, parallels between rural and inner-city America, the promise and pitfalls of Farm to School programs and food policy councils, what food store chains are doing for the movement, and why industrial agriculture might be bad for democracy. 

(0:00) Introduction 
The threat of the draft during the Vietnam War (0:12)
The path to agriculture (0:51)
Connecting with SAVE (1:38)
Working with the dairy farmer (2:51)

(3:50) Learning from the farmers 
Looking back (4:10)
“We could start to farm by starting to farm” (4:36)
“It was almost like a sin to go to a banker” (4:55)
Going to grad school (5:37)
Academic silence (5:49)
Predicting a credit crisis (5:55)
Writing Greenisle (6:00)
Producing information about the economics of local communities (6:23)

(7:45 ) Food economy studies 
Are the farmers making money? (7:55)
What are the inputs and how much do they cost? (8:24)
What do consumers spend their money on? (9:02)
It all depends on cheap oil (9:45)
Taking a holistic approach (10:23)

(10:47) Using the food economy studies 
 - A myriad of people use these studies (10:52)
Creating local food infrastructure (11:30)
The ability of the country to run democratically depends on this (12:10)

(12:45) Findings
The pervasiveness of struggling farms (13:17)
An exception: Fruit Valley, CA (13:48)
Most areas are losing money (14:16)
Very few farm states feed themselves (14:34)
Farmers only sell 0.4% of their food to the ultimate customer (14:52)
A vibrant movement (15:40)
Extracting wealth from rural America (16:40)
Creating a Third World within America (17:39)
1/3 of Americans are food insecure (17:54)
3,000 people die a year from food poisoning (18:21)
A need for cultural ties to food (19:30)
Asking the hard questions (20:22)

(21:25) Policy solutions
 Policy got us into this mess (21:34)
And policy will get us out (23:06)

(23:26) Farm to school 
 - A complicated issue (24:12)
A way to build community connections (24:27)
The case of North Dakota (24:54)
The responsibility of the public body (26:18)
 A difficult political climate (26:43)
(27:38) The troubled state of the local organic farming industry 
The “middle ground” presented by the Amish (28:26)
Reclaiming old knowledge (29:04)

(30:00) Any grounds for optimism?
“When America started out, everyone was a farmer” (31:11)
A system that encouraged de-localization (31:29)
What’s different now (32:19)
An economic opportunity (32:36)
Investing in good processing facilities (33:17)
“A terrific opportunity” (33:46)

(34:31) How to get started
It’s more than trust (34:56)
The space program case (35:13)
A lack of interest in investing (35:54)
Nothing could be more important (36:07)

(36:45) Food Policy Councils
The growth of food policy councils (38:49)
The Illinois Farm and Food Policy Council (39:05)
Creation of a dialogue (40:05)
Working together to make smart policy (40:55)
Very difficult work (41:17)
An essential foundation (41:42)
A very mixed bag (42:08)
In times of crisis (42:30)

(42:57) A problem with democracy
“This is bipartisan work” (44:16)
Creating a new politics (44:24)
No hope for democracy if we can’t feed ourselves (44:35)
Working towards a new vision of agriculture (45:12)

(46:07) Food store chains
 An economic incentive to listen (46:52)
Cheap oil and its future (48:21)
An uncertain future (48:49)
The critical thing (49:12)

(49:47) Economic difficulties 
 A decades-long transfer of wealth from rural areas (51:33)
Subsidizing the wealthy (51:49)
Farming is expensive (52:02) 
A big change from the 1950s (52:33)
Transfer payments (52:59)
An unstable situation (53:34)
Do we want feudalism? (54:22)

(56:23) Good policy thinking
Connecting at a local level (56:40)
No real policy at the national level (57:55)
Responding to grassroots initiatives (59:14)
Emerging social movement (59:45)

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