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Could You Be the Ag in the Room?

Have you ever been the Ag in the Room?

I recently attended a conference of registered dietician (RD) and RD interns.  I’m not an RD and was attending the meeting as a speaker on a panel talking about sustainability in agriculture.  

Our panel, which also included a dairy farmer, supermarket RD, and chef who purchases local foods, talked about a number of things related to agriculture including farm practices, marketing, food safety, and procurement.   

Later in the day, a professor who teaches graduate classes for nutrition students gave a presentation on food waste. I’d stayed for the presentation and was interested to hear what she had to say, particularly since part of her presentation was about food waste at the farm.  

I was first surprised when she mentioned the amount of produce that is wasted when knocked to the ground during mechanical harvesting. In North Carolina, most fruits and vegetables are harvested by hand. Some blueberry and sweet potato farmers use mechanical harvesters, but that is the exception, not the norm.

I was still processing that comment when the speaker mentioned the dairy industry was one of the worst food wasters because all the milk produced in the U.S. was sent overseas for processing.  

I was dumbstruck. I looked across the table at one of the event’s sponsors, who was with The Dairy Alliance.  She looked as dumbfounded as me.

Not five hours before, in the morning panel session I was a part of, the dairy farmer said “Milk gets from my farm to the grocery shelf within 48 hours.” 

Now think for a moment about the logistics of getting raw milk from the U.S. to some unknown overseas country for processing and back again to the grocery store shelf. Outside of using the Starship Enterprise at warp drive (can you tell I grew up watching Star Trek?), I’m not sure how that could happen in 48 hours or less.

Perhaps that professor was not in the room for our morning session, but just about everyone else was. Not one person spoke up to correct the speaker. Not until the Ag spoke up.  

I left that day-long meeting having learned three lessons I’m sure the organizers didn’t expect.  First, I learned how important it is for agriculture to participate in meetings we wouldn’t traditionally be a part of, to make connections with other professions that involve food.  

Second, I learned how important it is for agriculture to speak up and correct misinformation in the moment, when everyone in the room can learn from your personal experience. It was an awkward moment, especially in the silence that followed, but it had to be done.  

Finally, I learned that when you find out there is misinformation, do what you can to make connections and expose people to agriculture. After the presentation, The Diary Alliance invited the speaker to visit a dairy farm.  I also reached out to a professor I know at the school and am working with her to set up farm visits for her RD students as part of their curriculum. 

Maybe you have a similar story, one in which you were one of the few representatives of agriculture left to correct a misconception or incorrect statement about our industry in a room full of people with no connection to agriculture. How did you handle the situation?

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