A farmer’s food for thought in 7 minutes

Dec 16, 2011

I recently went to this local Columbia, Mo., event called 20/20. It’s a bimonthly gathering that highlights culture-makers in town who are often hidden from the public as they create, research and organize innovative ideas. And here’s the twist: These passionate people quickly present their ideas while a screen behind them displays 20 images over 400 seconds.

The standing-room-only crowd lining the walls and sitting on the floor showed how well 20/20 has caught on. There’s something really attractive about its symposium-light style: no commitment and you can learn a lot in just an hour. Among the presenters was journalist and writer Emma Marris, who made an appearance this summer on Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes. Another person talked about how ancient youth remains show us how childhood has evolved over time.

The presentations were mostly based on academic research, but I was there to hear urban farmer Daniel Soetaert talk about a more simple idea -- food.  

Soetaert’s talk began with a description of himself as a college-aged young man: pretty intense and wanting to change the world. The only problem was Soetaert didn’t have the tools to make much of any change, and eventually he felt like a naive young adult blowing a lot of hot air.

Then a friend of his showed him how to grow food in a backyard setting.

Three years later he’s the co-founder and director of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. The organization has taken off in Columbia -- establishing a working farm, selling at the local farmers markets and providing educational workshops on how to grow your own food.

So what did he manage to say about local, urban farming in just seven minutes?

Soetaert believes food can be everywhere, and that’s the way he wants it. Farming to him means community, friendship, jobs, purpose and love. His speech was punctuated by thoughts like this: “If you are not doing something out of love, what are you doing it for?”  He farms out of love.

His final point was about the future of food. He asked the audience from where they think the next generation of farmers will come, and will there be enough farmers and food to go around. He ended with the same phrase he opened the presentation: “Food is good.”

Jessica Naudziunas reports for Harvest Public Media, an agriculture-reporting project involving six NPR member stations in the Midwest. For more stories about farm and food, check out harvestpublicmedia.org.