Sunday, October 13, 2013

The 24th Annual Envisioning California Conference

I attended the 24th Annual Envisioning California Conference on Friday. The theme of the conference was Food for Thought: Current Food Trends and Policies in the Golden State.

There was so much information to take in and it's very complicated. To summarize it, it was mainly about food and farming. There were many other things too but that was what was most talked about. 

Check-in started at 8:30 am and I arrived there 20 minutes early. I met one of my major advisers (who is also a professor) there as well as a classmate of mine. We talked for a bit outside until they let us in. 

We ate some food and drank coffee in the main galleria until everyone arrived. They made welcoming announcements and that the morning panel would be starting soon. The two morning panel options were: 
  1. Stewardship of the Land that Sustains Us: The Future of Farming in California
  2. California's Farm Labor Shortages and the Impact of Immigration Reform
Both panels really interested me but I decided to go to the first panel. My friend Noelle wanted to go to that panel too. We decided to go there together. 

Jeanne Merrill, Mary Kimball, Karen Ross, and Paul Wenger were the panelist there. It was so interesting to hear their perspectives of the future of farming here in California.  

They talked about the problems that the California farmers and agriculture are facing right now and what could be faced in the future. There was so much that was covered during the panel and it's hard to summarize it. Here's my take from it. 

Some challenges farming faces today are:

1. water & land availability
2. climate change

Water can be scarce, especially because of the drought we are going through. It is really affecting our farms. Another problem is that we lose 30-50 thousand acres of farmland a year here in California. That's a lot of land that could have been used for farming. It's mainly due to erosion of the land. 

We need to find other ways to try to farm land, and sustain it for the future. California produces 65 % of leafy greens for the nation. Our land is so diverse and our Mediterranean climate makes it ideal for farming year round. 

We are going to have to turn to biotechnology if all else fails. Another problem is that there aren't enough workers in the world of agriculture, which biotechnology can fall under (there are 300 careers around agriculture). Yes. consumers are now more concerned about where their food is coming from but not many people know the process that comes behind farming and problems farmers face. Some people don't even know how some crops are grown!  

The people (consumers) need to be educated more about farming. This way, they can make smarter choices when it comes to making laws and legislation. You need pressure to create change and to create pressure, people need to be educated about the issues. It affects all of us because this affects our food supply. The population is growing but the amount of farmland isn't that much. We need to make it sustainable. 

Along with this, there needs to be incentive for farmers. There aren't many incentives to keep farmers growing their crops these days and it can really affect our food system. There are taxes they have to pay. There are many things that farmers have to follow, and it can really be a hassle. Examples include, no chickens around the orchard, since there is a risk for salmonella since chickens can't control when they release their feces and that all openings in barns have to be closed when processing almonds to that rodents and other outside creatures don't get in. However, windows have to be opened when almonds are being processed. They get shut down until the problems are fixed. Then again, there is food safety we have to worry about too. 

From what I heard from other speakers, the immigration talk mainly focused on immigrant farm workers. Most Americans don't want to do the farm work, so farmers would higher immigrant workers to do the work. However, most of these workers are mainly from Mexico and it's getting tougher to cross the border. Some workers may leave after a while since they miss their home. And, the economy in Mexico is supposedly getting better. This leaves farmers empty-handed, since they can't have cheap labor doing the dirty work. 

That was the gist of what I got from that panel. It was an hour and a half long panel! We discussed other things but I will talk about that in a different post. 

After that, it was lunch time! The food was amazing! I ate two servings of the vegetable lasagna because it was so good! They had salad, bread, some sort of potato thing, and tons of desserts. They had a lot of assorted bite sized pies. They were so good! 

During the lunch, David Mas Masumoto, an organic farmer, gave a speech about peaches (well, metaphorically speaking). It was such an amazing speech (I will link you guys the video later on if I can). My friend and I were fortunate enough to get a picture with him after his talk, and it was right before our afternoon panel. 

The choices for the afternoon panels were:
  1. Food Poverty in an Agriculturally Rich State: How to Address Food Access Inequalities Across California
  2. Farm to Fork: Future or Fad?
I decided to attend the Farm to Fork talk. The speakers were Lynn Hanna, Cathy Carmichael, Randall Selland, Dr. John Struthers, and Rodney Taylor. They all had many interesting things to say about the Farm to Fork program. What is it that we put on your fork, into your mouth and then body?

Carmichael is a Nutrition Consultant for McDonald's. She is a registered dietitian. She says that McDonald's is offering a lot more healthy options now, compared to before. The kids meal comes with milk and apples instead of soda and fries. There's salad options as well. She mentioned how she took all the McDonald's workers to the farm where they get the produce from. Surprisingly, the same produce you see in your local grocery store is the same produce that McDonald's receives as well. According to  Carmichael, their quality and standards is above the USDA standards. 

Selland is a chef and owns a restaurant. He talked about how he buys foods locally from the farmers market to use in his restaurant. 

Dr. Struthers talked about how there is an obesity epidemic. He said that the farm to fork can play a role in reducing obesity. If healthy, fresh, local foods replace some of the not so good foods that people are eating right now, it can help with weight loss for children. 

Taylor talked about the Farm to School, which is basically the same thing as the Farm to Fork. His program was very successful. He brought salads to schools and was very successful. He says that the food has to be colorful, attractive and appealing for kids to eat it (or at least try it). 


When it comes to food placement in the cafeteria. If you decide to serve both the hot entree and the salad, display the salad bar first. The kids will most likely try it. It's also best to make the foods user friendly. Oranges should be peeled (or at least cut) if you are going to serve it. Children may not want to eat the orange simply because they do not know how to peel it. 

After that, it was cooking demonstrations and food tasting. They had out chips, veggies and hummus! The hummus was so good! I bought one of Masumoto's books (personally signed and a note written to me). 

Anyway, that's what I basically got from the conference. I'm so glad I attended. 

Have you attended a conference before?
What was your experience attending one?

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