Bennett Haynes, Chief of Produce of Beefsteak, will be speaking at the 4th Annual 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.
Haynes serves as Chief of Produce at Beefsteak, José Andrés’ vegetable-centric fast casual restaurant concept. He is responsible for the concept’s sourcing strategy and practices to ensure use of the highest-quality, sustainable, and seasonal produce across all locations.
Bennett has spent his career following his passion for feeding others as an entrepreneur and community organizer. He got his start in agriculture as a student at Bowdoin College, where he majored in environmental studies and anthropology before becoming a Fulbright scholar. His studies eventually brought him to Southeast Asia, where he began his career as a community organizer in Thailand for The Alternative Agriculture Network (AAN). His accomplishments with AAN reached well beyond Thailand when he implemented network-wide green market policies and represented AAN at the UN Climate Meetings in Bangkok, Slow Food International Conference in Torino, and EcoFarm Conference in Monterey.
Upon his return to the United States in 2011, Haynes started Ralston Farm, where he specialized in diverse produce farming, cultivated high-quality products, and oversaw a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. In a few short years, he grew his business to serve more than 175 families and numerous restaurants, working closely with chefs to develop menus and trial heirloom produce varieties. His major restaurant clients included Michelin Star-rated Uncle Boons, Jockey Hollow Bar and Kitchen, and Brick Farm Tavern.
Haynes now brings his expertise and network of top-tier producers to ensure that Beefsteak’s guests can enjoy the freshest, most flavorful veggies available. In addition, he oversees Beefsteak’s sustainability efforts, including composting and special partnerships with local food producers and farms.
Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Bennett about his work, his inspiration, and opportunities he sees for farmers in development, marketing, and connecting with others in the food system.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Bennett Haynes (BH): My early experiences and education helped me to understand food as a major environmental issue, and I knew then that I wanted to focus my career on building a better food system through farming and agriculture. I was an environmental studies and anthropology major, and I also worked and volunteered on farms during school. In 2006, I studied abroad in northeastern Thailand, and that experience taught me a lot about agricultural development. After graduating I returned to Thailand, where I lived and worked with cooperative rice farming communities for the next three years. I worked with the Alternative Agriculture Network and helped connect and facilitate information sharing on organic farm practices. Upon returning home, I decided to apply these lessons learned and for six seasons ran Ralston Farm, where I grew and harvested organic and specialty produce.
FT: How are you helping to build a better food system?
BH: With my foundation as an organic produce farmer, I am positioned in my procurement role to build better connections between farmers and chefs. I understand the challenges facing farmers, and I am helping to create new market opportunities for them by guiding the way our chefs use seasonal produce in our restaurants, especially at Beefsteak. I’m also a firm believer that eating more produce is a kind of climate solution, so I’m doing all I can do to support vegetable-focused eating.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
BH: In the US., the most pressing issue is affordable, long-term land access for young and new farmers. Internationally, the most pressing issue is the global takeover of intellectual property rights (such as seeds and technology) and production resources (such as fertilizers and pesticides) by consolidated and powerful agribusiness. Farmers deserve the opportunity to succeed, but our domestic agricultural policies and our international mega-agribusiness interests work against farmers’ livelihoods. Farmers grow produce based on demand, and if that demand is artificially manufactured due to special interests, the long-term effects can and will be detrimental. I also believe that we need to allow farmers to save their seeds and invest in efficient and low external input eco-agriculture and the infrastructure for a more diverse food future. These problems can be solved.
FT: What innovations in food and agriculture are you most excited about?
BH: I am most excited about the young and new farmers’ movement happening globally.These are creative entrepreneurs and problem-solvers, and they will be a big part of the future of agriculture. Whether they are soil-based farmers or entrepreneurs in the ‘food tech space,’ all are oriented to creating sustainable production methods and business models for a local, safe, and secure food system.
I also love seeing how transferrable innovations in agriculture can be, like how sustainable, organic techniques like cover cropping and contour or strip tillage are being used in conventional agriculture, while mechanization of harvesting and efficient fertigation are being used on organic farms. We are only going to see more cooperation between large and small, organic and conventional farmers going forward, as we recognize how we can support each other.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
BH: Join a CSA or make regular trips to the farmers’ market; get to know a local farm, and be a part of their livelihood. Local farms need all our support.
FT: What is the best opportunity for young or aspiring farmers and entrepreneurs to get a foothold in America’s agricultural future?
BH: I’m a strong believer that wholesale marketing should be at least part of local farms’ sales approach and cash flow. Restaurants, grocery stores, institutions, and other retailers need consistent, high-quality produce, and wholesale helps to create more specialized farms. Throughout our different regions, a range of produce and herbs grow well year-round and fit well into any diverse crop rotation. The same is true for whole-animal sales and growing grains or storage crops.
Value-added farm products or food business ownership are also opportunities; with the growth of ‘craft’ food companies making fruit, grain, protein, dairy, or vegetable-based products, there is a lot of opportunity for entrepreneurial farms to brand themselves. More and more eaters want to know exactly where their food comes from or at least expect transparency in their food. This is an opportunity for farms to diversify and evolve their businesses.
FT: How can we best stimulate young people’s curiosity about food and agriculture and encourage their participation in building healthier food systems?
BH: We should experience growing food by getting our hands dirty. Find a local farm that accepts volunteers to help with harvesting, planting, or other fieldwork, and get out there a few times a year. Or when traveling, volunteer with Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF) abroad; it will give you a completely new perspective on where your food comes from.
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!