The President of Food Tank on Farmers, Nutrition, and Rural Farming
Last month we had the privilege of learning from President of Food Tank Danielle Nierenberg. Danielle visited San Diego to speak at the Berry Good Night, a convening of local food activists, farmers, chefs, winemakers, artisans, and foodies of all stripes. Her discussion covered everything from rural farming, gender disparities in agricultural, the importance of dialogue, and nutritional density. Below, we share the highlights from her discussion…
On learning from smallholder farmers:
Danielle has visited over 70 countries to learn what factors create sustainable food systems. She’s spoken to small-scale farmers, nutritionists, and scientists on her quest to build a global community for safe, healthy, and nourished eaters. Through Food Tank—a food and farming think tank—she works to educate, inspire, advocate, and create food system change.
Danielle interviewed smallholder farmers around the world and found that they were just as interested in learning from her and she was from them. “They interviewed and taught me,” she said. “Farmers want to share information with each other, wherever they live.” She founded Food Tank after encountering hopeful stories in agriculture in overlooked parts of the world. “I was seeing a lot of hope in really unexpected places, like Sub-Saharan Africa and around Latin America. I wanted to tell those hopeful stories.”
“I’m not trying to romanticize small farming—I know how hard it is,” she added. “But I think in a lot of ways we can go forward and build a sustainable food system by looking back, looking to our elders and indigenous people.”
On dialogue with large corporations:
Danielle sees Food Tank as a conduit for telling stories and starting dialogue. She frequently speaks to and with big agriculture corporations, companies most people working toward sustainable food systems dismiss. But as she put it, “preaching to the choir doesn’t get you anywhere. I might not ever agree, but I still need to talk to them.” She strives to bring large corporations together with small farmers and food justice advocates in order to initiate necessary dialogue. She believes creating conversations will move the food system forward in ways that “nourish us all and nourish the planet.”
On female farmers:
43 percent of the world’s farmers are women, yet these farmers are routinely denied services including education, agricultural training, and resources. The UN estimates that if women had access to the same resources as men, they could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent! “Women are both farmers and the nutritional gatekeepers of their families,” Danielle said.
The nutritional quality and density of our food is going down. In large part this is because we’re not investing in soil, the most important input we have. “If you treat your soil and your famers poorly, you won’t have good nutrient quality in your food,” she said. Of course, the opposite is also true. Food producers who invest in their human and natural resources, and tend to the soil, see an increase in their food’s nutritional density.
There are nearly 800 million hungry people in the world—but there are also millions of overweight people, and the two groups often live in the same communities or even the same households. Overweight people are often malnourished, too, Danielle said. “We’re focused on filling people up with empty calories, and we’re not focused on nourishing them as we should.” In other words, not all food is created equal; reducing hunger requires increasing the nutritional quality and density of food.