Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Eileen Gordon, the Founder of Barnraiser, who will be speaking at the summit.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?
Eileen Gordon (EG): We became intrigued as a family when converting our vineyards from fallow land to sustainably farmed, and we literally watched the natural ecosystem come back to life, with more and more animals thriving each year – from the frogs in the creek to the quail, ducks, geese, rabbits, and even coyotes. My husband’s 100 percent Italian heritage plus the farmers and ranchers in my mother’s northern California family meant that the connection to food and farming was already established, but the urgency around climate change and sustainable food production created the ultimate personal commitment to create Barnraiser, a community-powered platform to allow each of us to change how we farm, eat, and live by discovering and supporting the people doing it right.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
EG: At Barnraiser, by using the power of the more than 80 million people who are desiring and demanding good food and a healthy planet (in the United States only) – via crowd-sourced and collaborative communities – to fund, accelerate, and scale the best solutions to fixing the food system. Empowering a consumer-driven revolution.
FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?
EG: There are hundreds of thousands of small changes taking part by all kinds of people in all communities, and those things add up because they give us the confidence that we can change our food destiny. Additionally, at scale, the systems to farm more holistically, more efficiently using resources like water, to reduce food waste are very exciting to me.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
EG: One of the people who inspired me to create Barnraiser is “Amigo” Bob Cantisano. He is a 30-year veteran of organic farming, and certainly one of the wisdom keepers. In his spare time, he discovered and is “rescuing” over 80 varieties of heirloom fruit and nut species from the gold rush era of California – plants that have thrived naturally and still produce food in the wild of the Sierra foothills. He funded part of his work – creating the mother orchard to start reproducing these plants for us to be able to eat under the name of the Felix Gillet Institute – on Barnraiser. It is stories like these that teach us so much about what has occurred in the past 100 years and how we may be able to reverse it.
FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?
EG: Human beings are the only living organism that takes more than it needs to survive, and that thought really humbles me. Like many of us working at different edges and with different approaches to our food system, I believe it is a matter of urgency, as well as of legacy for our children, grandchildren, and beyond. I also believe many of our technological advances in feeding ourselves have undermined our health and created even bigger problems. My particular agenda with Barnraiser is to aggregate a million smaller actions, such that everyone can participate in reshaping how we farm, eat, and live. We need to feel that we can master our own destiny, or we may give up trying.
FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn’t have to deal with?
EG: Being more connected to the source of what we eat, and to each other, through our food rituals. I believe that many of our poor behavioral choices with what we consume have to do with an utter lack of connection to food, its meaning, its producers, and its value. An abundance of poor choices have had dire consequences on our health and the health of the planet. I have seen in the world of chefs and their customers how reuniting people with ritual, celebration, story, and meaning around food, including some of the incredible wisdom of farming and eating more holistically, produces better decisions and a more balanced approach to health. My grandparents were more connected to their food out of ritual and necessity, and did not therefore waste food or partake in processed foods either.
FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?
EG: Positive incentives (tax break, subsidies, education credits, etc.) for converting farming practices to organic and sustainable. And what we are trying to do at Barnraiser is to integrate the different sources of capital (crowds, foundations, corporations, etc.) such that they all work together to accelerate change. We can’t only work on the largest, most systemic issues; we also need to unleash consumer power on the thousands of innovators as they incubate and grow.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
EG: Find someone changing how we eat and live in ways you appreciate, and tell their story to everyone you know. These farmers, food artisans, and social innovators must be celebrated, supported, and have thriving organizations if we are to get the healthy world we want. Also, a pretty simple but highly impactful thing is for all of us to transfer a portion of our food dollars every week from the worst offenders to better alternatives. So for instance, from factory-farmed ground beef to local (non GMO) heirloom grains and organic vegetables. These smaller acts, if followed by enough people, can make a huge difference in global warming and water consumption.
FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?
EG: Solving food’s contribution to global warming, and creating resilient regions that are far less dependent on imports for food security. That means truly reviving micro-regional food traditions and reversing the decline of biodiversity.
FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?
EG: Is it possible to address the Farm Bill so that it does actually incentivize positive change? Such a simple request. (Wink, wink.)