Louisville, Kentucky, was Ground Zero for the future of agriculture. At least last week.
In a hotel conference room in downtown Louisville, nearly 200 organic activists and industry representatives gathered for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting. This NOSB lacked some of the fireworks of the board’s April meeting in San Antonio, Texas, which included a sit-in protest complete with arrests and handcuffs.
In Louisville, the atmosphere was more civil, but no less passionate. Anyone who believes that the USDA Organic seal is a meaningless marketing label should sit through three days of deliberations on topics such as whether sherry cooking wine can continue to be allowed as a minor ingredient in certified organic food.
But the National Organic Standards Board meeting was only part of Louisville’s role in the future of agriculture last week.
By the second day of the meeting, the hallways outside of the NOSB meeting room started to fill with teenagers in blue jackets; the first wave of roughly 70,000 high school students and advisors arriving for the annual National FFA Organization national convention.
Formerly known as the Future Farmers of America, the FFA is a major resource for students enrolled in vocational agriculture courses in classrooms across rural America (and a few urban schools as well).
By coincidence, the National FFA convention was held during the same days as the NOSB meeting, except at the state fairgrounds across town in Louisville. Unfortunately, much of the content at FFA was much more far-removed than just a few miles.
Throughout the course of the three-day national convention, the major biotech and chemical companies steadily courted the students with presentations and information promising that a bright future on the farm includes a dependency on chemical fertilizers and GMO crops. Ag advisors and teachers were provided an opportunity to attend workshops on how they could better incorporate materials into their curriculum to introduce students to better farming through chemistry.
As I shuttled between the two venues, I thought that perhaps—just once—the NOSB should have suspended its deliberations and set up a pavilion at FFA to reach out to the students who are working to determine their future in agriculture.
After all sherry cooking wine is important, but not nearly as important as connecting with the young people who will be plowing the soil in the years ahead.