When it comes to food, Texas consumers face a vast array of choices and a blizzard of buzzwords and information. Food Dialogues: Austin will piece the puzzle together, taking an in-depth look at Texas agriculture and answering the tough questions about diverse food production and animal welfare issues. Inspired by a new generation of people who love to eat, The Food Dialogues: Austin will be an honest discussion to help Texas consumers reconnect with their food and the farmers and ranchers who grow it.
ANIMAL WELFARE: BEYOND THE HYPE
The ways we raise cattle in the Lone Star State are as diverse as Texas itself. Grass-fed, grain-fed, cow-calf, stocker, purebred operations—all play a unique role in providing a safe, nutritious product for niche and mainstream consumer markets. A priority shared by Texas cattlemen is providing proper care to raise livestock efficiently and healthy. How we get there—animal handling methods, antibiotics, hormones—can be controversial. Should consumers be concerned? A panel of cattle experts will discuss the variations on animal husbandry techniques and technologies used in the Texas beef business.
FARMING METHODS. CONSUMER INTERPRETATION.
Texas consumers have bountiful opportunities when it comes to the food they eat. But are they making wise choices? How do they distinguish between information and misinformation in the daily bombardment of food messages. Organic, conventional, local and natural–consumers read these labels, but do they understand their meaning? Their decisions shape food supplies, and in turn, farming practices. A panel of experts—representing all aspects of food production in Texas—will address health and safety concerns related to the foods we eat and the technology used to grow them.
- Evan Smith, editor in chief and CEO of The Texas Tribune View Full Bio
Evan Smith is the editor in chief and CEO of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan digital news organization recently called “one of the nonprofit news sector’s runaway success stories.”
The Tribune's deep coverage of Texas politics and public policy can be found at its website, texastribune.org; in the pages of the New York Times; and in newspapers and on TV and radio stations across the state.
Since its launch in 2009, the Tribune has won international acclaim and numerous honors, including 11 Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, two general excellence awards from the Online News Association, and IRE's Gannett Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism.
Before co-founding the Tribune, Evan spent nearly 18 years at Texas Monthly, including eight years as editor and a year as president and editor in chief. On his watch, Texas Monthly twice won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence.
ANIMAL WELFARE: BEYOND THE HYPE
- Betsy Ross, operations manager of ‘Betsy Ross Grassfed Beef’ and CEO of Sustainable Growth Texas, LLC View Full Bio
Betsy Ross—in partnership with her brother Joe David Ross, DVM—manages the 530-acre Ross Farm cattle operation in Williamson County. Joe David Ross runs the Ross family ranch in Sutton County. Together, they raise and market all-natural grassfed beef under the "Betsy Ross Grassfed Beef" label, primarily in Austin, Texas. No grains, no GMO crops/forages, no commercial chemical fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides are used on their farm or given to their cattle.
One of the first producers to market to Whole Foods via the Texas Grassfed Livestock Alliance and to People's Pharmacy in Austin, Texas, Ross has been involved in the grassfed beef business and watched it grow annually.
After assuming management of Ross Farm in 1992, Ross observed that continued use of conventional fertilizers and herbicides results in a classical “pesticide treadmill.” While exploring organic farming methods, she pioneered the use of liquid compost extracts and fertility blends to manage large tracts of land in Texas.
Her interest in understanding and managing soil biology led to her becoming a Certified Soil Foodweb Advisor in 2004, the culmination of a two-year training program. Sustainable Growth Texas, LLC, as a consultancy and biological services company, developed into a full-scale business on request from farmers and ranchers in Texas seeking similar performance on their lands and with their livestock. Ross earned a Bachelor of Science and an MBA from the University of Texas in 1959 and 1980, respectively.
- Donnell Brown, Throckmorton County rancher View Full Bio
Donnell Brown and his wife Kelli are the fifth generation to own and manage the R.A. Brown Ranch in Throckmorton, Texas, a family business since 1895. They raise registered Angus, Red Angus and SimAngus cattle and sell 600 bulls each October.
Their mission statement says, “We are continually striving to improve the efficiency of converting God’s forage into safe, nutritious and great tasting beef, to better feed his people.” The R.A. Brown Ranch has been honored with numerous awards, including the Cattle Business of the Century Award from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
The Browns use technology such as Artificial Insemination (AI), embryo transfer, ultrasound and DNA testing to produce superior genetics that fit the needs of the beef industry. The strength of their program is shown by the high percentage of repeat bull customers, as well as by having more than 25 bulls in major AI studs.
Donnell is a graduate of Texas Tech University. Prior to that, he served as president of the Texas FFA and as the National FFA president. He has served in a Strategic Planning capacity for four different breed associations as well as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Donnell’s wife Kelli served as the National FFA president in 1988 and president of the Red Angus Association of America in 2009 and 2010.
They are blessed with two sons: Tucker and Lanham. Together, they are living their dream of raising cows, kids and Quarter Horses.
- Dr. Ron Gill, professor and Extension livestock specialist at Texas A&M University View Full Bio
Dr. Ron Gill is a professor and Extension livestock specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and since 2009 also has served as associate department head and program leader for Extension within the Animal Science Department at Texas A&M University.
He attended Angelo State University (ASU) in San Angelo, Texas where he earned his bachelor’s in Animal Science/Business and a minor in Accounting and Economics. He received his master's degree in 1981 from ASU in Range Nutrition. In 1984, he received his doctorate in Animal Nutrition from Texas A&M University. He has worked for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension for 30 years as a livestock specialist, providing technical expertise and presenting educational seminars in support of Extension programming efforts across Texas.
Besides his interests in beef cattle nutritional/grazing management and value-added marketing, he provides leadership in Extension programming related to animal well-being, stockmanship and low-stress livestock handling and assists in providing leadership to statewide and national programming efforts for Beef Safety and Quality Assurance.
Gill was recently asked to serve on the Cattle Health and Well-Being Committee for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and to also serve on NCBA’s Animal Welfare Advisory Group.
- Jason Peeler, South Texas feedyard owner View Full Bio
For more than a century, Jason Peeler’s family has grazed cattle on South Texas grasslands in Wilson and Atascosa counties.
All cattle handling employees who work for Peeler are Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) trained and his feedyard and ranch are BQA certified. Cattle handling training with guest instructors takes place on the property at least twice a year, and there are policies in place for cattle handling and doctoring/medication.
Peeler’s opinions on animal welfare come from years of experience and thousands of head of cattle.
As a cow-calf producer, stocker grazer and feedlot owner and operator, Peeler hopes to pass his passion for cattle to his four children.
- Adele Douglass, chief executive officer for Humane Farm Animal Care View Full Bio
Adele Douglass, chief executive officer for Humane Farm Animal Care, initiated the concept of humane certification for farm animal products in the U.S., beginning with her launch of the Free Farmed program for Farm Animal Services. Douglass founded and directs all programs and activities of Humane Farm Animal Care, and their major program, Certified Humane®. The Certified Humane® program just celebrated its 11th anniversary.
As a result of her years showing businesses how humane farm animal care can meet bottom-line interests, she has served as an invited participant on numerous industry animal welfare committees, including the Food Marketing Institute, National Council of Chain Restaurants and Burger King. Douglass also serves on the Board of The Center for Food Safety.
Douglass received the ASPCA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition, she was one of the 15 winners of the 2007 Purpose Prize. According to Civic Ventures, the San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that awards it, the Purpose Prize recognizes older individuals who have “the passion and creativity to discover new opportunities, the experience to come up with practical solutions, and the determination to make lasting change.” In 2008, Douglass was elected an Ashoka Fellow for her work as a social entrepreneur.
Prior to her positions with Humane Farm Animal Care and Farm Animal Services, Douglass was director of the American Humane Association’s (AHA) Washington, D.C., office for 13 years. She advanced the organization’s legislative agenda to protect both children and animals, represented AHA at national conferences and developed tools to increase grassroots lobbying. Douglass gained her expertise on legislative matters as a staff member for former U.S. Representative Bill Green (R-NY).
- Chad Lemke, McCollum-Lemke Ranches, Mason, Texas View Full Bio
Chad Lemke is a fifth generation farmer and rancher in Central Texas. He is also the production manager for the Grassfed Livestock Alliance, helping to manage the day-to-day operations of the group and assisting its members in producing top quality American Grassfed beef. He is on the board of directors for the American Grassfed Association.
Lemke spent 20-plus years in the commercial nursery and landscape industry in San Antonio. He has significant experience in greenhouse management, landscape design and construction, turf management, irrigation, arboriculture and fertilization/ insect/ weed control. He spent these years experimenting with biological, organic and other amendments to enhance and improve the landscapes of shopping centers, office/ retail centers and industrial complexes that were under his care. In the early 2000s, he realized that the city had grown too large for the quality of life he and his family desired, so the family left San Antonio and moved to the family ranch in the northwest Hill Country near the town of Mason. Lemke says he used to grow grass to cut and now he grows grass to harvest with animals.
The ranching operation had been a traditional cow/calf operation run by an outside manager and did not participate in any value-added programs. Believing there had to be a better way, Lemke began to look into non-traditional forms of agriculture and animal management. In his quest for maximum understanding of the biological processes, increased productivity and enhanced animal welfare, he began attending seminars and field days throughout the southwest, including American Grassfed Association, Holistic Management International, Stockman Grass Farmer and Acres conferences as well as multiple animal handling and welfare clinics and beef and beef production seminars. He continues to study and refine all aspects of his agricultural knowledge through education and everyday trial and error in his own operation.
McCollum-Lemke Ranches is now a multispecies operation humanely raising grassfed cattle, sheep and goats. They are constantly experimenting and looking for better ways to raise animals and improve the land without the use of traditional chemicals and fertilizers through the use of mob grazing, biologicals, compost teas, cover crops, no-tilling and many other alternative methods of agriculture. His goal is to continually improve his land, his livestock and his family’s way of life. He strives to be more than sustainable in his operation; he strives to be regenerative.
FARMING METHODS. CONSUMER INTERPRETATION.
- Dr. David Baltensperger, professor and Soil and Crop Sciences Department head at Texas A&M University View Full Bio
Dr. David Baltensperger began his role as professor and department head of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University in October 2005 and recently completed serving his role as interim department head for Ecosystem Science and Management.
Baltensperger provides leadership and administration for a large comprehensive program of research, teaching and extension in the department of Soil and Crop Sciences. The department is widely recognized for its quality, size and diversity of subject matter areas. Nationally and internationally recognized research programs are conducted by Soil and Crop Sciences faculty in such disciplines as plant breeding and genetics, biotechnology, crop physiology, agronomy, forage and turfgrass management, cereal chemistry, soil science, weed science and environmental soil, water and crop science.
Baltensperger earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology in 1976 from Nebraska Wesleyan University and a master’s degree in Agronomy in 1978 from University of Nebraska. He received his doctorate from New Mexico State University in 1980.
Baltensperger comes to Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension from the University of Nebraska where he worked for 17 years as a plant breeder developing and co-developing crops that are grown on more than two million acres. Prior to Nebraska, he worked as a legume breeder at the University of Florida for nine years.
Baltensperger received the Texas A&M College of Agriculture Outstanding Administrator in 2012 and New Mexico State Plant and Environmental Science Department Outstanding Alumni.Baltensperger is a Fellow in Crop Science Society of America, American Society of Agronomy and American Association for the Advancement of Science. He currently serves as president of the Crop Science Society of America, chairman of the State Seed and Plant Board, chair of Texas A&M Chapter of Gamma Sigma Delta and on numerous national boards and committees.
- Brent Batchelor, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agent View Full Bio
Brent Batchelor is a county Extension agent in Matagorda County. Batchelor has served as Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county agent in agriculture and natural resources and county coordinator since 1999.
He supports the county’s beef production industry, which adds $23 million to the area’s economy annually. Batchelor also provided leadership to the development of Matagorda County’s Business Development Center.
Batchelor received a Superior Service Award in the County Extension Agent category in 2014 for his exemplary programming efforts and positive impacts on his community and its agricultural environment.
- Curt Mowery, owner and partner in Mowery Farms, Brazoria County View Full Bio
Curt Mowery is owner and partner in Mowery Farms in Brazoria County. Mowery Farms grows rice, corn, grain sorghum and soybeans on over 2,500 acres in the Sandy Point/Rosharon area.
Mowery is a former state director of the Texas Farm Bureau. He is a past recipient of the American Soybean Association’s Young Leader Award for Texas and was recognized as Rice Farmer of the Year by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
- Glenn Foore, owner of Springdale Farm, East Austin View Full Bio
Glenn Foore and his wife, Paula, own Springdale Farm in East Austin.
The 4.83-acre, family-owned farm grows more than 75 seasonal vegetable varieties in an organic setting. The Foores operate a popular public farm stand every Wednesday and Saturday, as well as provide produce to several Austin-area restaurants.
The farm is committed to growing produce for anyone in the area interested in eating fresh, local food. The Foores work daily to create a sustainable future for themselves and their community.
Glenn and Paula team up with local organizations to host educational food, music and arts events.
The farm has twice been named Edible Communities Local Hero in the “Farm/Farmer” category.
Prior to forming Springdale Farm in January 2009, the Foores owned a landscaping and lawn maintenance company.
- Alan Lewis, director of Government Affairs and Food and Agriculture Policy, Natural Grocers View Full Bio
Alan Lewis directs Government Affairs and Food and Agriculture Policy for Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, a 60-year-old health food store chain which operates 85 stores in 14 Western and Midwestern states. Natural Grocers has 14 store locations in Texas and is a national retail company that sells only foods and supplements with natural and organic ingredients.
Lewis is active in several national trade organizations and sits on the Boulder County, Colorado, Food and Agriculture Policy Council. His focus is on communicating with policymakers at the federal level using frameworks that are non-confrontational and inclusive.
He has lived for extended periods in Portugal, Haiti, and Dominica, where he developed a keen appreciation for the variables of agriculture within ecological, cultural and economic contexts.
- Eric Herm, fourth generation farmer, Ackerly, Texas View Full Bio
Eric Herm is a fourth generation farmer from Ackerly, Texas. Over the last 10 years, Herm has transitioned thousands of acres away from synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and GMO crops, including 250 acres of organic production.
Herm is the author of two published books—Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth and Surviving Ourselves. He is also on the board of directors for the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA).