Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Cheyenne Christianson, an organic dairy farmer in Wisconsin, who will be speaking at the summit.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?
Cheyenne Christianson (CC): I grew up on a small dairy farm. My father detested chemicals and taught me to think outside the box and seek better options. I’ve always had a love for the land, working to improve the soil and the food grown in it. Healthy soil produces healthy forages and animals, which means the highest quality food for us that consume it.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
CC: Consumer interest and education about food production methods. The internet has increased the ability to learn about the food system and how to make better choices. It also helps farmers connect to share new ideas and practices that work. The desire for quality food gives farmers the support we need to make the changes. Interest in small farms and local production is a key to bringing back what we have lost. Sustainable pay prices for farmers is a must to support a higher quality food production model.
FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?
CC: Intensive grazing management, including mob grazing, to bring life back to worn out and abused soils. This has been a key to bringing my own farm back to life. We can heal the land and soak in the rain. You will seldom ever see water leaving my farm, even after heavy rains. If any water does run when soils are saturated, it is clear and clean.
The knowledge of micromanaging fertility of our soils and crops for disease prevention, while increasing the nutritional value, is continuously increasing in the organic movement. We have only scratched the surface of what is possible.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
CC: My dad had the organic vision during the 70s and 80s when I was growing up. He never bought into the conventional system even though that made him an outcast in a very agricultural community. My mom made immense efforts to grow as much of our food as possible and feed us the best she could with very limited finances. Their vision gave me a head start in making good choices on my own farm.
FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?
CC: All children should have the best nutrition available for proper growth, development, and health. I believe in the concept of food as medicine and strive to produce the highest quality milk possible on my farm. We can solve many current issues simply by improving the quality of the food we eat and how it is produced.
As we get back to smaller farms and more local production and processing, it will revitalize our rural communities.
Feeding the world shouldn’t only be about producing bulk commodities, but producing the most nutritionally dense foods in the most environmentally responsible methods possible.
FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn’t have to deal with?
CC: The corporate control of our food system. It isn’t that it wasn’t happening in their time, too, but it has increased immensely the past few decades. Too few people are involved in producing food or having first-hand experience with a farm and how food is produced.
FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?
CC: Everyone needs access to the best quality food, especially growing children, starting in the womb. Find ways to utilize the land in and around cities to grow more of the food needed. This also provides opportunities for young folks interested in food production. Access to land is one of the biggest obstacles for new growth.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
CC: Get educated about how food is produced and where it comes from. Vote with your dollars to choose the best system and support it.
FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?
CC: End government subsidies and support of the corn and bean monoculture, GMO, ethanol paradigm that has created so much of what is wrong with agriculture today. This failed policy has eliminated our small farms, local processing infrastructure, and rural communities by monopolizing control into fewer and fewer hands. We need voices from all methods of production (organic, holistic, grass fed, permaculture, etc.) involved in forming future agricultural policy and the direction we go as a nation. Too often, the voice of industrial agriculture is the only one being considered.
FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?
CC: The chemical and GMO contamination of our world! No one has the right to pollute the rest of us. It’s raining glyphosate on all of us. Our waterways are polluted and the dead zone in the Gulf is a disgrace. These issues need to be addressed openly, honestly, with solutions proposed and implemented. Agriculture is too often not even part of the discussion and that must change.
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