Meredith Epstein, an expert agricultural educator, will be speaking at the Washington D.C. Food Tank Summit titled, “Cultivating the Next Generation of Young Food Leaders,” held in partnership with The George Washington University, The World Resources Institute, the National Farmers Union, the National FFA Organization, and the National Young Farmers Coalition on February 28, 2018.
Epstein coordinates the Sustainable Agriculture program at the University of Maryland’s (UMD) Institute of Applied Agriculture. Drawing upon her background in organic vegetable farming, beginning farmer training, and curriculum development, she teaches courses that explore agricultural production, business management, and sustainability. In addition to teaching, Epstein advises students pursuing food system careers and manages the UMD Community Learning Garden. Devoted to serving the Maryland beginning farmer community, she volunteers as coordinator of the Maryland Young Farmers Coalition. Prior to her position at UMD, Meredith worked in the non-profit realm for Future Harvest CASA and the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. Meredith holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and an M.S. in Agriculture, Food, and Environment from Tufts University, and is a graduate from the UCSC Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture. She is an avid chicken enthusiast and distance runner and is already teaching her four-month-old daughter the joys of cooking.
Food Tank spoke with Epstein about her work teaching the next generation of sustainable agriculture advocates:
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Meredith Epstein (ME): In college, I had my first farming experience and fell in love with the lifestyle. This made me realize that in order to someday operate my own farm, I needed intensive training. I started a farm apprenticeship program and realized that not only did we need more farmers in this country, we needed more qualified individuals to train those new farmers. I, the trainee, fell in love with the training. From that point forward my objective was to become educated in every aspect of agriculture–producing crops and livestock, running an agricultural business, and engaging in the food system at large – to support the success of other farmers.
FT: How are you helping to build a better food system?
ME: I am helping to train the next generation of environmentally sound, economically viable, and socially responsible farmers.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
ME: We need to focus on land access for beginning farmers. This is especially important as we approach the turnover of millions of acres of farmland over the next five years as the older generation of farmers retire.
FT: What innovations in food and agriculture are you most excited about?
ME: I’m excited about the increased popularity of eating insects as an alternative protein source in the United States.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
ME: Every person should try to think more inclusively when it comes to agricultural production practices. Don’t villainize conventional, commercial, industrial – whatever you are calling it – agriculture. It is counterproductive and wastes precious time. We all need to be on the same team and all have things to learn from each other.
FT: What is the best opportunity for young or aspiring farmers and entrepreneurs to get a foothold in America’s agricultural future?
ME: Aspiring farmers should seek out an accredited training program that emphasizes agricultural sustainability, the practical application of farming skills, and developing business management practices. Even young farmers who grew up in farming families should seek out training. Be wary of internships and apprenticeships on private farms that are not affiliated with formal training programs. While many can be rewarding experiences, there are some that take advantage of young folks seeking experience by offering education in lieu of proper (legal) compensation.
FT: How can we best stimulate young people’s curiosity about food and agriculture and encourage their participation in building healthier food systems?
ME: We should teach young people that being a farmer is a viable career, just like being a doctor or lawyer.
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!