Food Tank

Organic Valley Farmer Emily Zweber on the Future of Food and Agriculture

Two farmer cooperatives in Arkansas, New South Co-op and Grassroots Co-op, are helping fight food insecurity in a region where 20 percent of families go hungry

Emily Zweber, a farmer for Organic Valley, 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 the George Washington University, the World Resources Institute, the National Farmers Union, Future Farmers of America, and the National Young Farmers Coalition on February 28, 2018.

Emily Zweber will be speaking at the Washington D.C. Food Tank Summit.

Emily, her husband Tim, and his parents, Jon and Lisa, co-own and operate a 130-cow organic dairy farm in Elko, Minnesota. The Zweber farm is a progressive, diversified, and sustainable fourth generation family farm. The Zwebers joined Organic Valley in 2008 and became 100 percent grain-free in 2016. In addition to dairy production, the Zwebers raise grass-fed beef, all natural pork, and pastured poultry.

In addition to Emily’s past participation on the Executive Committee for the inaugural Generation Organic, Organic Valley’s young farmer program, Emily and Tim received the Generation Organic Award in 2015. Currently, Emily serves on the Organic Valley Co-op Committee where she gives guidance regarding cooperative issues to the farmer board of directors. In addition to farming, Emily is an educator in her community, conducting many farm tours and school visits, and reaching over 1,000 students and adults with her message of food sustainability for the future.

Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Emily about her work, her inspiration, and the role of youth in the future of food and agriculture.

Food Tank (FT):  What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?

Emily Zweber (EZ):   About 20 years ago, I met a cute boy and he happened to be a dairy farmer. Eight years later we got married and started farming together. After 12 years, we are still farming together, along with his parents and our three children. My love for a boy turned into a love for the land and the animals, and my passion for agriculture, food, and farming continues to grow.

FT:  How are you helping to build a better food system?

EZ:  On our farm, we continually innovate to do the best we can for our land, animals, family, and community. Continued education is a large part of our mission. Whether it’s traditional education, mentorship, or trial and error, we are always trying to improve the way we produce food.

FT:  What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?

EZ:  The creation of markets that allow farmers around the world to receive a livable wage, and also allow them to implement practices that build communities and sustain the environment.

FT:  What innovations in food and agriculture are you most excited about?

EZ:  I am excited to see farmers exploring more sustainable farming practices. Practices that were once seen as outlandish, such as cover-crops, rotational grazing, and diversity, are becoming more mainstream.

FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?

EZ:  Get to know at least one farmer who produces your food. By building a relationship with a farmer, you build a deeper connection not only with the food you eat, but also with the environment, society, and the world.

FT:  What is the best opportunity for young or aspiring farmers and entrepreneurs to get a foothold in America’s agricultural future?

EZ:  It isn’t glamorous to say that it is tough for young,  aspiring farmers to get into agriculture—but it’s the truth. We were lucky to have a family farm to buy into. For someone starting out on their own, I recommend they know what customers want, have a clear vision, and find every opportunity to network and meet mentors. There are also opportunities for low-interest loans, apprenticeships, and grants. You have to be willing to work hard not only to grow a superior product, but to market that product as well.

FT: How can we best stimulate young people’s curiosity about food and agriculture and encourage their participation in building healthier food systems?

EZ:  It starts in the home from a young age. If we are excited and conscious about the foods we eat, we can grow a generation of young people who are curious about food and agriculture, and invested in building a healthier food system.

The D.C. Food Tank Summit is SOLD OUT but tickets remain for our Seattle Summit!. Register HERE for the Seattle Food Tank Summit, Growing Food Policy on March 17. This event will sell out – register today!


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