Bay Journal

End the food fight so we can attend to business of cleanup together

  • By Steve Levitsky on March 28, 2017
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At recent panels, there was general agreement that no single food system — large or small, local or mass-distributed, organic or conventional — is inherently more sustainable, or the one answer for the future. We need all of them to meet market demands. (Dave Harp)

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal, its board or staff.

Recently, Perdue Farms had the opportunity to participate in two panels focused on agriculture and the Chesapeake Bay environment: the tongue-in-cheek-titled Food Fight sponsored by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, and Can Food Production and a Clean Chesapeake Bay Coexist? sponsored by the Center for Environment and Society at Washington University in Chestertown, the Sassafras River Association and Chester River Association.

Our fellow participants in these two forums included many who have been critical of agriculture and poultry production: the Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper, the Environmental Working Group, Fair Farms Coalition and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. We were joined by Trey Hill, a Maryland grain farmer recognized for progressive environmental practices, representatives of local food production, and sourcing and academic experts.

That sounds like a lineup for a “food fight.” Except, we all came to this recognizing we have common ground — literal common ground — the Delmarva Peninsula and its farms.

There was general agreement that no single food system — large or small, local or mass-distributed, organic or conventional — is inherently more sustainable, or the one answer for the future. We need all of them to support a diverse farm economy and meet market  demands. As Josh Hastings, policy manager of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, said, “We have the opportunity to create our own vision” for the future of Delmarva agriculture.

Both events were in stark contrast to what we often see in the news. Absent was finger-pointing. There was recognition of the progress made in many areas, including agriculture. We didn’t agree on everything, but there was a clear sense that continued progress in cleaning up the Bay requires working together to address all of the sources of runoff, including lawn fertilizer, stormwater, failing wastewater treatment plants, land-applied sewage sludge, and chemical and natural farm fertilizer.

We want to thank the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, the Sassafras River Association, the Chester River Association and the Center for Environment and Society for creating forums where diverse panelists, varied stakeholders and broad audiences came together to talk about that future vision. We appreciated the opportunity to participate, and look forward to being part of similar events.

We also promise to keep improving, just as we have been recycling poultry litter, eliminating all routine use of antibiotics, changing the way we think about raising animals and expanding organic production. Likewise, Delmarva’s farmers have implemented environmentally friendly best practices — and continue to do so.

All too often, we hear only the shouting at the extreme ends, with confrontation, the laying of blame and defensiveness making headlines.

Progress, however, will come from those who want to move toward a productive common ground. As we look forward to a New Year, let’s resolve that it’s time to end the food fight and work together for Delmarva, agriculture and the environment.

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About Steve Levitsky
Steve Levitsky is vice president of sustainability for Perdue Farms.
Read more articles by Steve Levitsky

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