In New York recently for meetings of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and its Food Dialogues town hall, I was able to visit the popular Union Square Greenmarket with two farmers who are finalists for the USFRA Faces of Farming and Ranching competition. Daphne Holterman is a dairy farmer from Wisconsin, and Tim Nilsen is a turkey farmer from California.
As someone who was raised in, and has always lived in, the suburbs, I am intrigued both by life in the country and life in the city. The farmers market tour was a good way to see how fresh food makes it to an urban core like Lower Manhattan. In fact, the Union Square location, which in peak season has 140 regional farmers, fishermen, and bakers, is one of 54 markets in the New York City area operated by Grow NYC, with more than 230 family farms and fishermen participating. These farms represent more than 30,000 acres of farmland protected from development.
Working with Daphne and Tim was a great experience, in part because I am so used to corn farmers that it is often refreshing to learn new things from other sectors in agriculture, something I appreciate about my activity with USFRA. From Daphne, I learned that 87 percent of milk produced in Wisconsin becomes cheese; and Tim had to explain how he does not raise Thanksgiving turkeys. His are much larger (50 pounds!) and are used for deli meat and ground turkey products.
USFRA has been a great attempt to unite agriculture, and while it’s brought together commodity growers fairly easily, it remains sincere in its attempt to bring even more groups together. Feeding the country, and the world, will require an atmosphere where all farmers and ranchers can work together – commodity and specialty, large and small, conventional and organic. Just as our growers are dedicated to dialogue, transparency and continuous improvement, so too should all farmers be dedicated to working collaboratively and learning from each other.
In fact, we saw a lot of that in our New York meetings, and at the greenmarket on a cold November morning not long after a hurricane wreaked havoc, Daphne and Tim had some great conversations with some East Coast farmers who, as different as their farms may be from those in Wisconsin and California, are just as concerned as they are about farming sustainably and providing healthy food choices for all. The time has certainly come for a real food dialogue, and I’m proud to be part of USFRA’s efforts.