By Liza Ayres, NFU Intern 

On September 24 and 25, National Farmers Union was pleased to help sponsor the Chesapeake Food Summit, which united key players in the region for a conference on innovation, equity, and sustainability in the food system.

The summit celebrated the region’s diversity and discussed ways to accelerate food system growth from farm to fork. By bringing together community organizers, educators, health professionals, investors, farmers, chefs, authors, funders, policymakers, and entrepreneurs, among others, the summit hoped to encourage collaboration between a variety of sectors whose work is already creating innovative and sustainable paths toward a just food system, but whose efforts can be amplified through long-term cooperation.

Ricardo Salvador, the Director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, set the tone for the summit in an opening discussion when he stated, “without a fair and just food system, we cannot have a fair and just society.”

Several speakers noted current injustices within the industry, including inadequate access to healthy food for millions of people, insufficient rural infrastructure and the loss of thousands of pounds of food to landfills. In a breakout session, Dwayne Wharton, Director of External Affairs at The Food Trust, accented the farm bill’s ability to reconcile unsatisfactory farmer support systems, urging a thoughtful reauthorization of the 2014 version. Conversation centered on the need for policy advocacy to support both farmers and recipients of food assistance.

Conference panelists highlighted challenges faced by many family farmers and ranchers. Pamela Hess, Executive Director at the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, stressed the need to change the way consumers value food and agricultural labor. Hess explained that most consumers are not willing to pay the true cost of food, a fact that farmers know all too well. Luke Howard, the Principal and Chief Farming Officer at SLM Partners, declared that “every farmer wants to see their farm continue on,” but that won’t happen unless farms are profitable enough to support a decent lifestyle.

The summit aligned with one of NFU’s core principles – cooperation. By gathering industry leaders as one collective group, the summit fostered an environment where people were encouraged to brainstorm, share ideas, network and innovate. NFU has long believed in the power of intentional cooperation and collaboration to maintain favorable opportunities for family farmers and ranchers. This philosophy informs NFU’s efforts to lobby for a reauthorized farm bill in order ensure food industry success.

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