Friday, April 6, 2012

Ben Hewitt Speaks at AgriTunity 2012, Sumter County, Fla.

Ben Hewitt, author and farmer, spoke this year at AgriTunity in Sumter County, Florida. His speech, "The Future's In The Dirt," was about the inspirational journey of Hardwick, Vermont, and how it relates to the rest of the country.

His talk included the history of Hardwick, and his Four Commandments Of Local Food: (1) It shall feed the LOCALS; (2) it shall be CIRCULAR; (3) It shall be based on SUNSHINE; (4) It shall offer viability to PRODUCERS.

Before he could expand much on these points, he stopped to give his opinion about Big Agriculture.

"Even though I am an advocate for small scale diversified agriculture. I want to make it perfectly clear. I believe very much that we need large scale agriculture in this country. We'd be in deep do-do without it...I'm not framing this issue as us against them. I think there is a real opportunity for us to help small struggling rural communities by working towards more recognized food systems. But we still need big farmers.

"My Grandfather was a commodity farmer in Iowa. I think oftentimes this issue is framed as the people that are doing big scale commodity agriculture are bad people. I hate this...Farmers in this country, whether they're farming thousands of acres or an acre, almost ubiquitously care about the people they're feeding."

He also talked about how diversity encourages collaboration amongst producers.

"If they're not always in competition with each other then they feel like they are collaborate. In Hardwick, there's an immense amount of collaboration among the small scale Ag producers...They work together...loaning each other workers and sometimes money. There's been half a million dollars that has informally changed hands in that town..."

He had an nontraditional idea of how food should be priced.

"I don't think food should be cheap...I think food should be priced at what it really costs to produce food that is healthy...and produced in a way that is respectful to the environment, and to the workers who are producing it. That's what food should cost..."

He also showed some tourism dollar statistics and equated them to the agricultural area.

"Part of creating an honest food economy means that these jobs aren't necessarily horrible jobs...The producers in our region are generally starting people at twelve bucks an hour...and everyone is making well above what would be considered a livable wage..."

He finished by talking about value added agriculture.

"Instead of thinking about what is it going to cost? What are we going to have to give up? Let's think about the status quo in this country. What's going on in this country right now...This is not a partisan issue...You can acknowledge, we have a problem right now particularly in our rural communities...I want people to think, what is the challenge going to be if we keep going down this same course..."

AgriTunity is an annual event in Florida where farmers, scientists, and the public get to mingle. It is held every year on the Sumter County Fairgrounds, on the last weekend of January. The University of Florida (UF) organizes and collaborates with the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Extension Offices of Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Pasco, and Sumter County. It includes an trade show, outside displays, workshops, and amazing key note speakers.

To find out more about this event go to the Sumter County UF/IFAS extension office at

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