At the Dairy Strong Food Dialogues, Steve Peterson, food industry sustainability expert and former General Mills executive, says defining sustainability boils down to two questions; where does my food come from? and how is it cared for?
Today’s consumers, especially millennials, have a microscope on how their food is grown and sourced sustainably. Terms like local, organic and natural dominate the marketplace, but what does it all mean? One of the most tangible examples of sustainability is drastically fewer resources being used. In terms of the dairy industry, since 1944, today’s farmers are using just 21 percent of the animals, 35 percent of water and 10 percent of the land required to produce the same amount of milk.
This insight was just one of many at the Food Dialogues® held recently at the Dairy Strong conference in Madison, Wis., co-sponsored by U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance® (USFRA®) and Dairy Strong. Hundreds of attendees gathered as Michael Specter, a food and science staff writer with The New Yorker, moderated a diverse panel that included a registered dietitian, a food industry sustainability expert, and a fifth-generation dairy farmer, among others, to discuss how consumers and farmers define sustainability and the various methods and technologies used on farms – small and large – to protect the environment.
Key takeaways from panelists included:
• In defining sustainability, it boils down to two questions; where does my food come from? and how is it cared for? –Steve Peterson, food industry sustainability expert and former General Mills executive
• Consumer food trends resonate with farmers because they care immensely about their customers. I think one of the neat things about American agriculture is that it allows us to respond to the wishes of the consumer, and that’s what I’m doing as a farmer. –Greg Zwald, White Pine Berry Farm in River Falls, Wis.
• The most successful farmers are those that optimize two things, efficiency and relationships. The more you have trust and transparency in our supply chain, the more you’re optimizing relationships with your customers. –Michelle Miller, associate director, The Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, University of Wisconsin-Madison
• Consumers are interested in hearing the story behind each family farm that supplies their food because, for Wisconsin dairy farmers, it’s more than just milk that customers take off the shelf. People connect with people, and customers are now learning more about the “why” instead of accepting the “what.” –Lauren Lindsley, RDN, CD, dietitian manager for Skogen’s Festival Foods
With misconceptions today about sustainable production only occurring on local or organic farms, Randy Krotz, USFRA CEO, encourages farmers and members of the agricultural supply chain to educate consumers that sustainability is part of all food production today, and that most crops are being grown much more sustainably than they ever have been before. To improve and preserve their business, farmers and ranchers are constantly looking toward the future, while living in the present, and learning from the past.