From Skeptic to True Believer: Reflections on How Far We Have Come

The views presented in these blogs are those of the authors.

I admit it: I was a bit skeptical coming into the AGree process. The goals were profound - develop agreement on what are the critical issues in food and agriculture – never mind the solutions – and then work with representatives across the supply chain, conventional and organic, left and right, big and small, as well as experts in nutrition, international development and rural development to advance solutions together. Really?!

I was eager to embrace the challenge! But could we possibly succeed, I wondered?

Needless to say, succeed we have. We have created a safe space for honest dialogue. We have had the hard conversations on issues on which we have held widely divergent positions. We have broken down silos and stovepipes to take a broad and integrated view of the food and agriculture system – from immigration to nutrition, from improving the productivity and environmental outcomes of U.S. working landscapes to increasing opportunities for small holders in developing countries to enter markets and improve their livelihoods.

On each of these issues, we defined the critical challenges and developed recommendations that will help us be better prepared for the challenges facing the global food and agriculture system. And now we are working together to drive change through policy advocacy, demonstration projects, and continued convening around thorny issues.

We all recognize there is a great deal more to do to complete AGree’s mission. And, we can take great pride in what has been accomplished. I have been converted from a skeptic to a true believer. As I’ve said to my AGree colleagues and others, we need to “bottle the AGree model.” We need to replicate the opportunity to bring diverse parties in food and agriculture to work through the tough issues. From the community and watershed levels to the federal and global levels, honest dialogue is needed to identify and advance inclusive, collaborative solutions that will help us achieve a healthier, more productive, and more sustainable future.

I am now ready to yield my seat at the table to someone else. Having served for nearly four years alongside my fellow Co-Chairs, Dan Glickman, Jim Moseley, and Emmy Simmons, other responsibilities are calling. And I feel comfortable stepping down because I am confident in AGree’s future.

AGree’s Co-Chairs, Advisors, and foundation partners are joined by allies across the food and agriculture system and in multiple levels of government. There is a community of people committed to working together to advance solutions. People who are able to set aside their preconceptions and biases and listen, so that they can craft solutions not in spite of their interests, but that indeed serve their interests. As we’ve learned in the sustainability arena, the social, economic, and environmental aspects of any issue are interdependent. We have to win at them all – or not win at all.

I am very pleased that taking my place will be Kathleen Merrigan, former USDA Deputy Secretary and currently Executive Director of Sustainability at George Washington University. Kathleen has always been a bridge builder in the food and ag policy space – she is equally at ease among CEOs, policy wonks, farmers, Senators and members of Congress, heads of state, academics and students. She is brilliant, an extraordinary listener, and profoundly dedicated to promoting sustainable food and agriculture solutions. She is an ideal choice as we move from recommendations to implementation.

With much gratitude for what we have accomplished together and for what I have learned over the past four years, I look forward to supporting AGree as it shifts its focus to implementation.