Dan Simons, Co-Owner of the Farmers Restaurant Group and Co-Founder of their flagship restaurant Founding Farmers, will be speaking at the Washington D.C. Food Tank Summit, “Cultivating the Next Generation of Young Food Leaders,” which will be held in partnership with George Washington University, World Resources Institute, the National Farmers Union, Future Farmers of America, and the National Young Farmers Coalition on February 28, 2018
A lifelong restaurateur, Simons is an effective and inspiring team leader with a knack for creative management and staff development, focused on delivering profitability through innovative branding. He and his business partner Michael Vucurevich co-founded Founding Farmers in 2008 in partnership with the North Dakota Farmers Union to raise consumer awareness around sustainable agriculture while also creating a more profitable market for independent farmers. Founding Farmers has expanded into three additional locations, giving rise to the Farmers Restaurant Group, two additional restaurants, Farmers Fishers Bakers and Farmers & Distillers, and a micro-batch distillery called Founding Spirits.
Simons frequently speaks at industry and educational events, translating his experience in the hospitality industry into tangible lessons for a wide range of audiences. In 2010, Simons established the Scholarship for Sustainable Hospitality at George Washington University, his alma mater, and mentors students in the GWU School of Business.
Food Tank spoke with Simons about his work promoting sustainable, socially-conscious practices in the restaurant industry and his hopes for the future of American agriculture.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Dan Simons (DS): I’ve always loved serving people and helping ensure that a party is a success and that everyone enjoys themselves — whether it’s friends, guests, or co-workers — so I found myself drawn to the restaurant industry.
FT: How are you helping to build a better food system?
DS: We are pioneering a new business model where farmers receive a larger share of the food dollar, the supply chain is dramatically shortened, ingredients are actually natural foods, and we prioritize mission over profit
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
DS: We need more young farmers. If we don’t reverse the trend of the aging independent farmer population, it won’t matter what we hope for because only corporate producers remain.
FT: What innovations in food and agriculture are you most excited about?
DS: Land-based aquaculture has me incredibly excited. I’m worried about the impact that feeding a growing population will have on the health of our oceans. I’m also excited about using the Founding Farmers innovations to unbundle the supply chain and applying our tiny David vs. Goliath role to distribution systems in general.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
DS: Stop using plastic straws; insist on paper straws or no straws at all. Every time you eat out, ask for the chef or manager and ask a question about the source of the product or about the ingredients. It forces the industry to pay attention, and this can change the buying habits of restaurants.
FT: What is the best opportunity for young or aspiring farmers and entrepreneurs to get a foothold in America’s agricultural future?
DS: Get a mentor, leverage the resources of the Farmers Unions, and build a network of like-minded people who can support your mission.
FT: How can we best stimulate young people’s curiosity about food and agriculture and encourage their participation in building healthier food systems?
DS: We can stimulate young people’s curiosity by connecting what matters most to them to food and agriculture. Do you care about national security and consider yourself a patriot, or even a nationalist? Then the plight and future of independent farmers should matter to you tremendously. Do you care about the environment and climate change? Then the plight and future of independent farmers should matter to you tremendously. Do you care about animal welfare and animal rights? Then the plight and future of independent farmers should matter to you tremendously. Do you care about air quality? Water availability? The Economy? Inflation? American quality of life? Then the plight and future of independent farmers should matter to you tremendously. We need to find out what matters most to people, and then show how that issue is connected to farming and agriculture.
The D.C. Food Tank Summit is SOLD OUT but tickets remain for our next two Summits. Register HERE for the Seattle Food Tank Summit, Growing Food Policy on March 17. Register HERE for the Boston Food Tank Summit, Exploring the Paradox of Hunger and Obesity on April 19. These events will sell out – register today!