During an event co-hosted by Food Tank and the Clover Sonoma, panelists highlight paths forward to create a more sustainable dairy industry and strengthen local food systems.
Key to food systems change is the consumer, Clover Sonoma CEO Marcus Benedetti says. “Consumers want to reward an ecosystem they believe in,” he tells Food Tank. “It’s not good enough to just be organic. You have to meet consumers’ expectations [in terms of] how the land is being treated, how the animals are being treated, how, economically, those farming families are being treated.”
Benedetti explains transparency and storytelling are essential for dairy companies like Clover Sonoma and other producers committed to sustainable agricultural practices. With information, consumers can make better decisions and buy from companies that are supporting the health of the environment and their communities.
Food businesses also have an important role to play by ensuring that their work reaches and is representative of a wide variety of consumers, panelists say. The JEDI Collaborative, for example, is working to build a more diverse and equitable natural products industry.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion “isn’t a fad,” Gustavo Arellano, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times tells Food Tank. In addition to being ethical, “it’s good business.” He also explains it is necessary to invest in young people and support their interests at an early age.
Other panelists echo Arellano’s point, noting that the future of vibrant, local food systems relies on youth. That is why organizations such as FEAST, the Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation, and the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation focus on tackling childhood food insecurity and promoting food and nutrition education.
“Kids can be champions of change,” Lyndsey Waugh, Executive Director of the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation tells Food Tank. If youth are able to experience gardens and learn about different foods now, “they’re going to be committed to making those choices that are better for the planet and better for people” when they grow up, she says.
Experts also agree that improving food systems will take entire communities. “No one can do this alone,” Dr. Christina Ford, Board Chair for FEAST tells Food Tank. “We all need each other and we all need support.”