Jolley: Attacking 'silo speech'

It's a communications disease, also known as breathing your own exhaust.

Sooner or later, it will kill you but it smells so good and it makes you so comfortable in your own thought bubble. Every belief system does it and agriculture -

pro or con - can be one of the worst. Getting like-minded people together to agree with themselves and shutting out disbelievers ceases critical thought and ends progress.

And that's what I found at the second annual Foodtank Summit.

I went to the Summit, filled with hope for a sane and inclusive discussion about agriculture. After all, it was billed as "80+ food and agriculture's leading experts to speak at a two-day summit."

It was billed that way last year, too, and failed to deliver. Both events should have been billed as "80+ food and agriculture's biggest critics speak at a two-day summit." Many of the leading experts were not invited, especially if they were part of the current system.

Both events were well-stocked with the big names in the 'you're doing ag all wrong and it's killing the people and the planet' crowd.

Speakers came from Organic Valley, VegFund, the Center for Food Security & the Environment, Natural Resource Defense Council, Food & Water Watch, FoodTrace, and Oxfam America. To be fair, Tom Vilsack, Dan Glickman. Mike Conaway (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) also spoke.

But I was disappointed that the organizers had 'siloed' the event. Traditional agriculture wasn't represented. I was especially miffed when I saw the lineup for a panel discussion on 'Protein for the Planet'. It was staffed -maybe over-stuffed is a better word choice - by representatives of Panera Bread, Occidental Grill & Seafood, Exo, Elevation Franchise Venture, FOOD-X and VegFund; organizations that don't agree with the traditional practices of modern agriculture. The last one on that list devoutly believes that animal protein does not belong in a responsible diet.

As they spoke, I was looking around for someone from the NCBA, NCC, or NPB to step forward and calmly discuss why the usual and customary animal ag practices are not the last ditch efforts of an evil ag empire. But meetings of members of those groups are often well-siloed, too.

Why weren't intelligent, well-spoken agvocates invited to balance the scales? People like Dr. Jude Capper, Megan Brown, Julie Maschoff and Joan Ruskamp should have been invited to talk about the positive things being done by today's farmers and ranchers. Chuck Schroeder could have talked about what his group is doing to preserve the rural American lifestyle and make it a more vibrant and exciting place for future generations.

Instead, Foodtank did what too many ag groups do - sat in a safe, secure silo and complained about the 'other' guy.

Invited speakers agreed with the basic premise; no one challenged the conventional wisdom of their unconventional thinking. Big ag is bad and the source of all our food problems and most of our ecological miseries. The companies that supply goods and services to big ag are complicit in their evil-doing and are active weavers of the handbaskets that will carry us all to a hell-on-earth.

Food tank is a strong, growing organization that will soon have a lot more to say about how agriculture is practiced in America and around the world. It's president, Danielle Nierenberg, has taken it from the idea stage to a powerhouse capable of attracting the best and brightest on her side of the equation in just a few short years. It's just year two of the Foodtank Summit, but it has quadrupled from one to four events. Following the recent Summit at American University in Washington, DC will be events in Sacramento, CA (September 22-23), Sao Paulo, Brazil (September 29-30) and Chicago, Il (November 16-17).

Has "Come now, let us reason together" become a dated and to-be-ignored concept? Let me suggest that traditional ag, the way it is being practiced sustainably by the majority of farmers and ranchers in America, insist on becoming an active part of the Food tank conversation. Email Ms. Nierenberg with your suggestions about topics and speakers for Sacramento, Sao Paulo and Chicago. Her email address is [email protected]. To honor your profession, please communicate respectfully and politely. If you have a tendency to light your hair on fire and run screaming down the hallway when confronted with uncomfortable thinking, save it for another day.