Anne Schwartz will be speaking at the Seattle Food Tank Summit, “Growing Food Policy,” which will be held in partnership with Food Action, the Environmental Working Group, and Seattle University’s Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability on March 17.
Schwartz owns and operates Blue Heron Farm, producing regionally marketed, certified organic vegetables and berries. Schwartz graduated in 1978 with a degree in animal science from Washington State University (WSU), and has been farming in the Skagit Valley ever since. Schwartz is an active advocate for organic certification policies at the state and national levels and has been involved in many different projects promoting sustainable agriculture research to strengthen the regional food system. She helped create the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR), WSU, served on the Washington Board of Tilth Producers for 35 years, and continues to serve on other non-profit boards and advisory councils. Her latest focus is to integrate True Cost Accounting(TCA) into the research and teaching structure of the College of Agriculture at WSU.
Food Tank spoke with Anne about how TCA and increased engagement with local, organic farms can make a more sustainable and socially conscious food system.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Anne Schwartz (AS): When I moved to Washington State, the Governor proposed six new nuclear power plants in the wake of the nuclear explosion at Three Mile Island. One was supposed to be built two miles from the dairy farm I was working at, on a major geological fault line, next to a large river with critical salmon runs, in an area with the largest concentration of eagles in the lower 48, and with incredibly valuable farmland downstream. Then I went to WSU, to pursue veterinary medicine, and started learning about agriculture, how livestock are raised, and the terrible soil erosion in the Palouse wheat growing region; all while listening to Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, telling farmers to “Get Big or Get Out!” What was wrong with what I was seeing and learning? It is fair to say, that I have devoted my life to try to change agriculture and work with as many people as possible from all sectors of agriculture to further the conversation and development of better ways to produce food.
FT: How are you helping to build a better food system?
AS: I have been an active and engaged organic farmer and activist for 38 years, collaborating with many organizations to create change in our universities, legislature, and communities. I am working to change the culture at our land grant institution, WSU, and I volunteer for many organizations to create better policy, better research, and better communication among farmers and critical partners. We have worked with many young people who have gone on to start their own farms and invest in their local communities. We bring many groups to our farm and discuss various opportunities to work together. My husband and I volunteer with our local school to promote and expand our very exciting farm to school program.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
AS: The most pressing issue is ensuring a future for regional food systems by addressing sustainable resource use, social justice and food access issues, and climate-friendly farming. My background is in science and production, but I think it is important to engage with the Farm Bill and work to shape federal policy that promotes sustainability, creates opportunities for beginning farmers, and addresses the future of food systems.
FT: What innovations in food and agriculture are you most excited about?
AS: The increasing interest in local food systems and re-engaging people with their food supply at some basic level.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
AS: Seek out local food. Buy from local businesses. Keep your money close to home. Your dollar is your vote. Use it well.
FT: How can we make food policy more relevant to eaters so that the politicians representing them feel a mandate to act?
AS: We need to find the most successful models around the country that have developed on-the-ground programs and incentivize local investors to build on community initiatives like Farm to School programs. For example, engage hospitals and large employers to work with schools to build student and employee engagement with local food programs, and health, obesity, and at-risk youth programs. We need to link locality and health with new opportunities to engage youth. We also need to dismantle subsidies for unsustainable farm practices.
FT: What policy areas or ideas would you like to see an increased focus on as the 2018 Farm Bill negotiations kick off?
AS: We should continue whatever vestiges remain of The Know your Farmer, Know your Food Compass campaign started by Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan. We should continue the Specialty Crops Block Grants Program and other funding streams that benefit fruit and vegetable research, production, and regional processing and marketing. We need to re-invest in regional packing and processing businesses that are necessary to support a regional food system. We should also continue to support new farmer and rancher programs, funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), and retain cost sharing for organic certification.
I am a firm believer in the need to develop more widespread efforts in True Cost Accounting of our food system, including natural resource use and climate change indicators. For too long, policy and investment decisions have ignored the long-term impacts associated with externalizing the actual costs of our food system. We need to push the economic and science-based research and teaching systems to incorporate and promote sustainability across all sectors. We also need to figure out how to include social justice issues into food and agricultural conversations at the policy level.