Farm Food Facts

Ep 21 Thom Beers, American Farm, Adapting Agriculture

April 23, 2019 Episode 21
Farm Food Facts
Ep 21 Thom Beers, American Farm, Adapting Agriculture
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Ep 21 Thom Beers, American Farm, Adapting Agriculture
Apr 23, 2019 Episode 21
USFRA
Our thought Leader is Thom Beers, one of the co-founders of Bobcat, which produces The American Farm, now airing on History. Food News of the Week:•Fixing Food Systems is Imperative for meeting Sustainable Development Goals•An Urgent Call for Adapting Agriculture and Food Systems•High-Pressure Processing can help keep Foods Fresh, Healthy, and Safe•The USDA, EPA, and FDA have released an inter-agency Plan to Combat Food Waste; finally
Show Notes Transcript

Our thought Leader is Thom Beers, one of the co-founders of Bobcat, which produces The American Farm, now airing on History.

 Food News of the Week: 

•Fixing Food Systems is Imperative for meeting Sustainable Development Goals
•An Urgent Call for Adapting Agriculture and Food Systems 
•High-Pressure Processing can help keep Foods Fresh, Healthy, and Safe 
•The USDA, EPA, and FDA have released an inter-agency Plan to Combat Food Waste; finally

Phil Lempert:
0:01
Farm, Food, Facts: where every farmer, every acre, and every voice matter. Welcome to the Farm, Food, Facts interactive podcast presented by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance for Wednesday, April 24th, 2019. I'm your host Phil Lempert.
Phil Lempert:
0:21
Over the past year, BoBCat Studios lived with five farmers from Alaska to Virginia, Utah, Tennessee and New Hampshire. Thom Beers, one of the cofounders of BoBCat - in fact, the B in BoBCat - will join us to share what he learned about the American farm. Thom is a renowned producer, TV executive, and narrator, who built a reality TV empire with more than 60 series, multiple Emmy Awards, PGA Awards, Factual Entertainment Awards, CableACE Awards, and the list goes on and on. Founded with another hit maker Jeff Conroy, and digital media innovator Sarah Bernard, who was Director of Online Engagement in the Obama White House, among other accolades, BoBCat is known for reinventing traditional production culture by integrating tech world thinking and specializing in nonfiction and unscripted storytelling for both traditional and digital platforms. BoBCat's partners have made more than 2000 hours of programming over 12 networks, including The American Farm, which is airing now on HISTORY. Thom, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Thom Beers:
1:28
Phil, it's great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Phil Lempert:
1:30
So, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance is thrilled that you and BoBCat took on The American Farm story. It's a story that most consumers don't know. What made you interested in even doing the series?
Thom Beers:
1:42
Well, you know, I spent my entire career in that kind of extractive reserves world. I've made shows called Axe Men about timber and Ice Road Truckers about trucking. I've made, you know, I've got gold mining shows, I've got Deadliest Catch, crab fishing, sword fishing, oil, you know, so I love the kind of hard work in real, authentic, kind of blue collar, life. I grew up on farms in upstate New York and so it's kind of a subject that's near and dear to me and it's a subject that I always wanted to tell.
Phil Lempert:
2:20
So, I'd love to hear your takeaways from each farmer. Now don't reveal too much, of course, because we want everyone to tune in to The American Farm on HISTORY, but give us a snapshot of these five families.
Thom Beers:
2:33
Well, I'd say, starting up in Alaska with the Meyers' family, it's an interesting thing that they've done. The Meyers farm, they're growing on basically three feet of soil, beneath that is frozen earth. So, that's their only world, is that three feet. And so they are making the most incredible go at bringing fresh vegetables to parts of Alaska that, usually, it takes a week to get a carrot to. So, I love the challenge of that and the ingenuity it takes to actually make it work. Mr. Meyers is the kinda guy that's self-taught, self-schooled, and incredibly genius. He builds a machine that he can't necessarily order on a mail order catalog. So, he needs something, he figures out how to do it, he makes it. So, his ingenuity is something that is profound.
Thom Beers:
3:23
Going to the Robertsons', up in New Hampshire. Their story is really interesting to me because you've got a dairy farm with limited resources. Obviously, you know, there your cattle are and then you've got pastures for growing corn to feed the cattle for the dairy farm. But now you've got three sons that have all come back from college and all of them want to be farmers. They want to live and work on the farm. So how do you make that sustainable? How do you make that sustainable? Now you've got four families to feed, and each one of them eventually will get married, and they'll have children. So it's the economics of that are kind of fascinating. G
Thom Beers:
3:58
Going to the Griggs family, you know, their challenge - when we cast the show, I looked for people that had, obviously they had to be family farms, not corporate farms. So the family-owned farms, multi-generational, and they all had to have, basically, they had to be kind of high-risk, high-reward. So they all were taking chances. They were all gambling the farm. And the Griggs, you know, they're the perfect family for that. They had just bought a brand new chunk of acrage that they didn't know whether it would work or not. So, there they are, over-leveraged and trying to make a new farm work. So, that was fascinating to me. And also they've got a terrific young son, Carter, who's just a funny kid. So, he was a little bit of the comic relief that you had. And also, when we cast the farms, I needed areas where people would be either facing flood damage, or tornadoes, or frost, or pestilence, or drought.
Thom Beers:
4:53
And you know, obviously, the Sunderland of family in Utah on the first season, they faced an extraordinary drought where they basically almost lost their farm because they couldn't bring water to their crops. They had to make really crucial decisions. They had to sell off a lot of stuff to make it all happen. That was the challenge for them. And then you get to the Boyd family, you know, the Boyd farm in Virginia. Now you've got a guy in John Boyd who's a third-generation farmer and the farm has been in the family for a hundred years. And his problem is that he's got one son who doesn't necessarily want to be a farmer. So, who does he pass it down to? Where's that next line? And so that was the big challenge for the Boyds. And the son went and worked for his dad on the farm for a season and made his decision at the end. So each one of them have unique challenges, unique family dynamics. There's a lot of joy, a lot of hard work, and a lot of heartache. So it's just filled with just great storytelling.
Phil Lempert:
5:51
Was there one aha moment when you just knew that this was going to be a huge success because of something that was said or done on the farm?
Thom Beers:
6:00
Oh, that's a great question. I've gotta be honest, it was so many aha moments. We were looking for one on each farm. I just think that the Sunderlands, in what they did; the daughter, she basically made a decision to do like kind of a tourist attraction and everybody kind of pooh-poohed the idea of it and then it turned out to be - you know, I don't want to give it away. But it was a real aha moment when they finally realized what she had done and it was pretty spectacular. And also, just watching - the bank plays a big part in a lot of these farms. Either you owe the bank or you've got to pay the bank; financing is the number one challenge in all of American farming, followed quickly by, obviously, weather and pestilence and then markets. What I liked about The American Farm story from the very beginning, was that these people, every day they face a new challenge and everyday they get up and they go to work. That's their job and they face it head on. I think that that kind of honest American work ethic is something that I like to celebrate.
Phil Lempert:
7:08
So what advice, having gone through this whole experience with these five families, would you like to give to someone who's interested in becoming a farmer and having it as their job and as their profession?
Thom Beers:
7:21
Well, I think that the aha moment that I really learned was that, this isn't an occupation. It's not a job, it's a lifestyle. You know, you have to actually want to work 80 hours a week. You want to be outdoors, you want to basically learn new stuff every day and be ready to fix anything. You know, that's the stuff that I found, not one of these people that I look at it and say, "this is their job." It's their lives. And I think that's the critical differentiator. And the American farmer, that these guys, they get up every morning and they live it. They don't work it.
Phil Lempert:
7:58
Well, Thom, thank you for bringing The American Farm to HISTORY, for being able to have all of America really look at it. And thank you for joining us on Farm, Food, Facts. Over the next few weeks, we'll be inviting each of these farmers - the Boyd family, the Sunderland family, the Griggs family, the Robertson family, and the Meyers family - to join us right here and share their experiences being on the other side of BoBCat's cameras. And now, the news you need to know.
Phil Lempert:
8:32
Fixing food systems is imperative for meeting Sustainable Development Goals. Global leaders have united to set themselves a series of ambitious goals and targets in the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. According to Martin Koehring, Managing Editor and Global Health Lead at the thought leadership practice of the Economist Intelligence Unit, we need to shift to sustainable food systems in order to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. This is because food is the common thread that links all 17 goals. He says SDGs focusing on areas such as hunger, health and climate seem to be the obvious beneficiaries of a shift towards sustainable food systems, but there are important linkages between food systems and perhaps less obvious SDGs too, such as those on poverty, gender equality, and sustainable cities and communities. So, reforming food systems is a vital initial step in constructing a sustainable future. He also notes that the earlier policy makers realize that reforming food systems will provide a powerful lever for sustainable development, the closer we get to meeting them. What groceries need to know is that every grocery retail, every farmer and every brand has a responsibility to understand and meet the 17 sustainable development goals if we're going to build the foundation for the future of food and society on our planet.
Phil Lempert:
10:00
And here's how the industry is striving to meet an SDG in terms of sustainable ag water use. An urgent call for adapting agriculture and food systems. The first ever international forum on water scarcity in agriculture came together in March in order to issue a commitment which calls on governments and stakeholders worldwide to urgently undertake the 17 different actions as a means to address water scarcity in agriculture. These actions include supporting farmers and farmers' associations with improved access to financing and reasonable water management practices, while also recognizing the value of local and intergenerational knowledge, proposing ways to live with salinity and produce food from these areas, promoting a culture of sustainable water use in agriculture through improved water data, and identifying criteria and indicators for sustainable agricultural water use. The forum was assembled by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, the International Fund for Agriculture Development and the governments of Cabo Verde, Italy and Switzerland. What grocers need to know is that while many talk about creating an infrastructure to feed the growing global population, we must address and amplify the discussion about water. Forum sessions were organized around six main themes: water and migration, drought preparedness, financing mechanisms, water and nutrition, sustainable agriculture water use, and saline agriculture. Availability and the price of water is one of the biggest initiatives we must address in agriculture, and retailers must have a seat at the table.
Phil Lempert:
11:44
And speaking of water, high pressure processing can help keep foods fresh, healthy and safe. Consumers these days are looking for convenience, as well as high nutritional value, and additive-free, natural, functional products. In order to meet these demands, food processors are looking to nonthermal technologies like high pressure processing or HPP. It's a USDA approved process for a variety of foods, which uses safe, natural water pressure as a means to eliminate potential pathogens and food spoilage organisms. Unlike thermal technologies, which can destroy nutritional value as well as change flavors, HPP provides a solution for food processors who want to deliver more fresh, healthy, and safer options. One developing consumer trend is the clean label movement and shoppers are willing to spend more money in order to receive these "better for you" products. Consumers, especially the millennial generation, tend to research production methods before purchasing products, both to align with a retailer or brand's values and because of increased concern over food safety and the rise in foodborne illness, which makes HPP even more attractive. When using HPP, high pressure is transmitted evenly throughout the product, which renders vegetative cells of both spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms inactive. This does not happen when using traditional cooking or pasteurization methods, but processors can now take innovation to a new level, giving products like fresh juice, a safe and extended shelf life that would otherwise not be possible without using heat, additives, or preservatives. This extended life also includes the benefits of improved food safety. HPP also offers other benefits such as lower energy use. What groceries need to know is with consumer demand for fresh foods increasing steadily, HPP will pave the way towards helping in the production of fresh, safe food and beverages that everyone can enjoy. As consumers discover more about this technology, look to equip your staff to be able to explain exactly what it is and empower your shoppers.
:
14:00
And finally, in line with this week's topics of conservation and sustainability, the USDA, EPA, and FDA have released an inter-agency plan to combat food waste. Finally, the plan builds on an agreement that the three agencies reached last year. Strategies include collaboration with the industry to reduce waste across the supply chain. The plan, called Winning on Reducing Food Waste Federal Inter-Agency Strategy, includes six key priority areas that the agency will work together on over the next year. Number one, enhanced inter-agency coordination. Number two, increase consumer education outreach efforts. Number three, improve coordination and guidance on food loss and waste measurement. Number four, clarify and communicate information on food safety, food date labels, and food donations. Number five, collaborate with private industry to reduce food loss and waste across the supply chain. And finally, number six, encourage food waste reduction by federal agencies in their respective facilities. What grocers need to know is, in the U.S., more than one-third of available food goes uneaten through loss or waste. Great strides have been made to highlight and mitigate food loss and waste, but the work is just getting started. Grocery retailers have the opportunity to reduce their own waste, but even more importantly, to educate shoppers on how to avoid food waste at home, which remains the number one source of food waste.
Phil Lempert:
15:34
And thank you for joining us on Farm, Food, Facts. For more information on all things, food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit fooddialogues.com under the Programs and Media tab and visit us on Facebook at U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance or on Twitter at USFRA.