Ambassador Darci Vetter, Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative, is speaking at the third annual D.C. Food Tank Summit, Let’s Build a Better Food Policy, which will be hosted in partnership with George Washington University and the World Resources Institute on February 2, 2017.
Previously, Ambassador Vetter served as a Deputy Under Secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), overseeing international trade negotiations, export assistance programs, and USDA’s role in international food assistance and agricultural development. As a Trade Advisor on the Senate Finance Committee, Ambassador Vetter became well-versed in agriculture, the environment, and labor issues, including the 2008 Farm Bill.
Food Tank had the chance to speak with Ambassador Vetter about her advocacy work, family farming background, and looking ahead on food and agriculture policy.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Darci Vetter (DV): I am a farm girl from Nebraska and have always been curious about other countries and cultures. Since I was very young, I have wanted to find a way to combine my interests in agriculture, the environment, and international affairs, and I am grateful my career has allowed me to do so.
FT: What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?
DV: Food and agriculture policy are critical to development, our foreign policy, and the sustainability of our planet. By making it easier for food to move across borders, farmers of all sizes have more opportunities to sell their products and improve their livelihoods. Facilitating movements of ag products, technologies, and services can also ensure that our natural resources are used more efficiently in the production, movement, and storage of food.
FT: Who inspired you as a kid?
DV: My dad, David Vetter. My dad established a successful organic farm and food processing company in the 70s, when a lot of people told him he was crazy for doing so. His perseverance when the odds were long, and his willingness to help other farmers and processors succeed, are very inspiring.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
DV: Technology, paired with the demand for greater transparency about our food, provides both the opportunity and the expectation to examine how we can improve the food system at every step from field to plate. There are a number of new platforms that can help farmers, consumers, and governments synthesize and share information that could improve production, facilitate trade, and improve nutrition—it’s very exciting.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero who inspired you?
DV: My parents are my food heroes. My dad helped blaze a trail for other organic farmers in the midwest, and my dad continues to experiment to improve the soil on our farm, and the food and feed produced by our small business. My mom is my food hero because she was such a great cook, working on a shoestring budget and using the ingredients from our farm. She made whole wheat biscuits on our counter without measuring any ingredients or even using a bowl. Those biscuits are still my favorite food. Now that I’m a busy working mom, as she was, I have an even greater appreciation for the time she took to feed us well.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
DV: The limited availability of water to support agriculture and communities is a huge challenge. Much more needs to be done to conserve our water resources, and to examine what we produce and how and where we produce it.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
DV: Teach your kids to garden, even if it’s just in a pot on your porch or windowsill. And teach them to cook, so they have choices about how to feed themselves. Watching seeds grow into something that brings nourishment and pleasure is the start of a bigger conversation that can make us all appreciate nature, food, and those who grow it.
FT: What advice can you give to President Trump and the U.S. Congress on food and agriculture?
DV: Seek out as many different perspectives as possible as you form your agriculture and trade agenda. You may not take the suggestions of everyone you meet, but you might get an idea you hadn’t thought of, or learn something unexpected. As a trade negotiator, I often found that the solution to a sticky problem was found when the two sides stopped talking about what they wanted and started talking about why they wanted it. Once the parties understood each other, they could craft a solution together.