Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Regina Beidler, an organic dairy farmer in Randolph Center, Vermont, who will be speaking at the summit.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?
Regina Beidler (RB): I became involved in agriculture for love. My husband, Brent, was someone who was meant to be a farmer. When we decided to get married, we agreed that agriculture would be our focus—first as international agriculture volunteers, and later on our own dairy farm. Twenty-three years later, I have a deep appreciation and love, with a view from the front row, of the benefits of organic farming to raising a child, to the health and vitality of the land and animals, and to our ability to farm profitably on a small, family-sized farm.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
RB: The basis of the food system is the health of our nation’s farms. Organic farming, with its focus on building healthy soil, movement away from toxic chemical use, positive impacts on water and water quality, and close work with nature has the ability to bring positive change from small garden plots to larger farms. Cooperatives like Organic Valley have offered farmers like ourselves the opportunity to take part in a democratically controlled business, owned by farmers, that offers a brighter future through a fair pay price based on the cost of production.
FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?
RB: It’s not a brand new innovation, but we are happy for moveable poly wire fencing! Management-intensive grazing is central to organic dairy production. The ability to easily move fence and to provide a fresh paddock of grass to our cows every 12 hours during the grazing season allows them to have the highest quality feed and has a positive impact on the amount of omega-3 and CLA in our milk. Grazing is also one of those amazing win-win practices that has positive impacts on the soil’s ability to sequester carbon, to hold water during heavy rains, and to use less energy on farms as cows harvest their own feed and spread their own manure.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
RB: I’ve long admired Barbara Kingsolver and her writing. She combines a sense of wonder connected to the environment and nature as well as a practical perspective on farming and food choices. A number of years ago, she came through Vermont on a book tour for Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I had the chance to talk with her. She was funny and engaging, and during the evening, she shared pieces of her book and footage of her heritage Bourbon Red turkeys and their attempts to mate and raise babies. It was striking to me that we convince people to walk along with us in the conversations about food and farming when we are willing to be human and to share what is personal and important to us while taking the time to listen as well.
FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?
RB: I know that the actions we take on farms as farmers have the positive ability to impact bigger issues well beyond ourselves. If individuals faithfully keep working on what is good, then the combined work of all those people has no choice but to bring about positive change.
FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn’t have to deal with?
RB: Corporate control of our food system from seeds and production to processing and retailing. Control is in relatively few hands and that has also contributed, in part, to the prevalence of GMOs in today’s food production.
FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?
RB: I’d like to see access and affordability of good quality food for all our citizens. What this means to me is not a cheapening of food, which has led to many practices that have had a detrimental effect on our environment, animals, farms, and rural communities. Instead, I’d like to see a livable wage offered everywhere that would allow farmers to make a living producing food while giving everyone the ability to feed their families food that will promote health and wellbeing.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
RB: We can make our food purchases based on our values. What is important to us—local, organic, grass-fed, antibiotic-free? Every time we shop, we vote with our wallets and we have the ability to bring change to the food system based on those purchases.
FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?
RB: I’d like to see agriculture embrace practices like grazing as a way to arrest the progression of climate change. We know that well-managed grasslands have the ability to sequester significant amounts of carbon. The French government has launched the 4 Percent initiative which, if implemented globally, could sequester over a billion tons of carbon dioxide every year. This would have a huge impact on future generations.
FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?
RB: It is striking during the current political season that the vast majority of those running for president have little or no familiarity with the complex issues that face food and farming in this country. I would like to see whoever wins the presidency take the time to familiarize him or herself with the larger challenges across agriculture and reconsider the support for large, corporate control of our food system.