Philosophy students and faculty gathered in Dwight Lounge on Sept. 22 to hear a panel of four local food producers discuss issues in America’s food system. The event was part of the Philosophy Department’s “Food Jam,” a two-day long series funded by the Levitt Center Public Philosophy Program. Faculty from Emory University, the University of Vermont, SUNY Plattsburgh, and Utica College presented during the weekend.
The panel discussion was on structural and practical challenges small farmers face as corporate agriculture dominates the country’s food system. The discussion was moderated by Assistant Professor of Philosophy Alexandra Plakias who opened the panel explaining why the voices of local producers are so important.
“It’s nice to have philosophers here, but these are the people who are really going to improve the food we eat and the conditions under which it’s produced,” she said.
Lela Niemetz, a registered dietician at Hamilton’s Wellness Center was one of the panelists. She founded foodfeasible, a company that works to pair local food producers with institutions, like Hamilton College. Niemetz and her husband Matt Volz are the founders of Greyrock Farm in Cazenovia. Commons Dining Hall often uses their fruits and vegetables in its salad bar, as do several local food banks and pantries.
Niemetz and Volz have been farming together for 10 years, and they discussed issues with the lack of infrastructure for training aspiring local farmers. “At the beginning of my farm, my business, I had no clue what I was doing with a lot of stuff. I just experimented with everything trying to make it work,” said Volz.
Wendy Burkhart-Spiegel discussed how Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has benefitted her business, Common Thread CSA in Madison. Her products are available at the Clinton Farmer’s Market.
“I like CSA, the interaction with people, relationship building and also the cash up front. Knowing that you sold your product already and not bringing it to the market and bringing it home at the end,” said Burkhart-Spiegel.
Panelist Kelly Perrin owns Quarry Brook Farms in Sherburne, which raises 100% grass-fed cows and sheep and is certified organic. Perrin explained what keeps her motivated to farm on a scale that can support her community, instead of simply supporting herself and having a lot more off time.
“I’m part of this little population that’s standing between the complete corporate takeover of our food system, which is very precarious,” said Perrin. “So, I’ll be farming … because it’s important to me and it’s how I want to eat.”
Perrin said that the process of becoming certified organic was not as laborious as she expected because she was already doing everything required of the label. For her, it was only a matter of record keeping. However, she also lamented how corporations noticed the market for certified organic products, which was originally started by local farmers, and in many ways have hijacked the meaning of the label.
Suzie Jones, owner of Jones Family Farm, shared her thoughts on this issue surrounding food labels. “The certified organic label has killed the conversation about how the food is produced pertaining to the relationship between farmers and consumers,” she said. “People think that a certified organic label gives them all the information they need about their food, but it doesn’t actually lead to that understanding.”
The Jones Family Farm is a dairy and poultry plant, and their gelatos are particularly popular in the community.