On Nov. 11-12, 2014, the beef checkoff, through the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), participated in the New York Time's "Food for Tomorrow" conference held at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantino Hills, NY - a place many would call a "foodie" mecca.

The theme of the event was "Farm Better. Eat Better. Feed the World." It was hosted by the New York Times with prominent positioning of celebrity chefs and authors, such as Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Sam Kass, Tom Colicchio and many others. The event was well-attended by food influencers and decision-makers around the country, yet prior to USFRA’s involvement, the voices of conventional agriculture were not represented anywhere in the panel discussions. USFRA, through the beef checkoff, sponsored a panel of farmers on the topic of "Big Ag, Big Food: How being good for the Environment is not about Size." The panel was moderated by Frank Sesno, director of George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs and former CNN Washington, D.C., bureau chief.

Farmers and ranchers serving on the panel included:

  • Joan Ruskamp, cattle feeder, Dodge, NE, Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) member and beef checkoff-funded Masters of Beef Advocacy graduate
  • Julie Maschhoff, pig farmer and vice president, public policy and public relations, The Maschhoffs, Carlyle, IL
  • Bruce Rominger, farmer, Rominger Brothers Farm, Winters, CA

The panel discussed everything from transparency to antibiotic use on farms and ranches to their desire to be part of the dialogue about raising food. Ruskamp pleaded passionately with the audience, saying: “We want to feed you. We don’t want hungry kids either. That is a passion for us too. We will get better. We want to be part of the conversation you are having. PLEASE let us be involved in your conversation about our food for tomorrow!”

Similarly, Seth Watkins, a farmer feeder from Iowa, who is very involved with Iowa Beef Council, Iowa Cattlemen and Iowa Team Beef, was invited to be part of the last panel discussing “Who Will Farm and How?” which was moderated by Mark Bittman. Watkins shared his thoughts on the challenges facing farmers today and shared the conversation efforts he’s implementing on his farm to be able to raise food for future generations.

“I believe we changed the tone of the conversation at this significant event from one of attack on ‘industrialized agriculture’ to one of dialogue - a key goal for us in conversation with all detractors,” said Randy Krotz, USFRA CEO.  “We knew that without USFRA’s involvement, the voices of farmers and ranchers would not be heard. The panelists, as well as the farmers and members of the agriculture community who attended the meeting with us, showed that American agriculture wants to be part of the dialogue on tough topics - and that we are committed to healthy food for everyone.”

While not all opinions may have been changed, farmers, ranchers and other members of the agriculture community had the chance to engage in one-on-one dialogues with major food influencers.

“Mark Bittman, in particular, although he remained critical about antibiotic use, government involvement in agricultural regulation and the food industry in general, seemed to welcome our farmers' voices,” said Krotz. “We would never expect to change his opinions - but we would like him and others to understand and acknowledge farmers' and ranchers' commitment to providing healthy food for everyone in a sustainable way.”

See Ruskamp in action and watch a video of the full panel discussion HERE.

For more information about your beef checkoff investment, visit MyBeefCheckoff.com.