When change is needed, how do you know where to start? We recently asked eleven influential figures in sustainable agriculture — including scientists, authors, nonprofit leaders, and journalists — to share how they would like to see more funds directed to advance sustainable agriculture and build healthy food systems. With a diverse range of backgrounds represented, each contributor had a unique perspective on the issue.


“To truly recreate a sustainable food system based on good agricultural practices, systemic problems in our current system have to be addressed. In the short term, consumers can tackle some problems by promoting the labeling of genetically modified foods and joining together to urge the FDA to ban the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture unless the animal is sick. We can also join together to advocate for a competition title in future Farm Bill legislation. Focusing our energies on winning each issue can really make a difference!”

– Wenonah Hauter, author of Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food


“I would like to see more investment in community-owned food infrastructure. It is extremely hard to raise capital for these projects, such as food co-ops and commercial kitchens, but they are important components of building robust regional food economies that work for producers and consumers alike. Secondly, more independent media is essential.The agrichemical industry has a powerful, well-funded lobby as well as a burgeoning PR effort to defend its interests.Meanwhile, independent, investigative, critical media is drying up, and there are only a handful of non-profit publications that employ journalists who examine the claims of the agrichemical industry critically.”

– Tom Philpott, Mother Jones food and agriculture correspondent


“Some of the largest payoffs can come from more investment in nutrient-rich foods. For most of the last century, the biggest investments have been in calories and yields. As a result, the world has been very good at filling people up, but not actually nourishing them. With roughly 1.5 billion people who are obese, another one billion people are hungry, and at least two billion people who suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. We’re obviously not doing something right! By investing in perennial crops and in indigenous and traditional foods, we have an opportunity to not only produce more nutrient-rich foods, but we can also build up soils and protect biodiversity — it’s a win-win-win!”

– Danielle Nierenberg, Food Tank co-founder


“I see a pressing need to identify more varieties of fruits and vegetables that are highly beneficial to human health, and that can be grown with little or no chemical intervention. Disease-resistance and high phytonutrient content often go hand-in-hand, and by testing disease-resistant varieties for their nutritional content, we could identify plants that would support healthy consumers, a healthy environment, and healthy farm workers.”

– Jo Robinson, author of Eating on the Wild Side


“I would like to see funds go to support the development of data about the viability of food businesses that support social and environmental justice, high-quality artisan food, and small-farm based businesses and, in addition, information campaigns about the long-term health and environmental impact of the current agricultural paradigm.”

– Anya Fernald, Belcampo Meat Co. co-founder and CEO


“The biggest need is in training farmers in sound and sustainable management practices, which are better suited to a world of changing weather, water scarcity, labor scarcity, soil degradation, and loss of pollinators, chemical contamination, and other challenges. In addition, there needs to be more investment in assessing and communicating (to farmers!) the positive impact of these improved management practices.”

– Tensie Whelan, Rainforest Alliance president


“I cannot overstate the threat of antibiotic resistance to public health. Pew Charitable Trusts, GRACE Communications Foundation, National Resources Defense Council, and other groups are investing substantial funds into political efforts. However, I’m afraid research funding is lagging behind.I would like to see more money invested in researchers at private universities, who have the freedom to ask the right questions and answer them honestly, close critical knowledge gaps, inform policymakers, do regular media outreach, and develop novel approaches for curbing the tide of new antibiotic-resistant pathogens from food-animal production.”

– Lance Price, Ph.D., George Washington University Department of Environmental and Occupational Health


“More funding of public plant breeding programs would allow researchers to better utilize our existing genetic resources, especially with stronger support for the technologies that indirectly enable genetic research. Specifically, more research into perennial grains as food crops and domesticating and breeding these grains could lead to real differences regarding sustainability. I also believe that willingness to explore how genomics and conventional breeding could be used together would be beneficial. Finally, I’d like to see better education for the public on genetics and genetic breeding to counter misconceptions about the technology.”

– Jane Dever, Ph.D., Texas A&M University and National Genetic Resources Advisory Council


“My priorities include broadening the possibilities for investment in sustainable agriculture and building healthy food systems. The Austin Sustainable Food Center is providing program replication training for groups around the country to develop programming around growing, sharing and preparing healthy, local food. On the national and global front, there are many groups doing on-the-ground work as well as policy advocacy that cannot be ignored. The Organic Consumers Association, Food Democracy Now, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Cornucopia Institute, Wholesome Wave, Heifer International, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are just a few!Finally, any of our elected officials who support sustainable agriculture and strong local food systems will help shape the future in this arena.”

– Ronda Rutledge, Austin Sustainable Food Center executive director


“New Farm Bill and EPA legislation that includes strong environmental programs such as pollution control and mediation, supporting native cover crops to prevent erosion, and integrating wildlife habitat into our agricultural landscapes would have far-ranging impacts on improving the health of the land. I also believe that an increased emphasis in USDA budgets for the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation for research on how we can store our genetic resources would benefit long-term sustainable agricultural resources and help preserve vulnerable plant species.”

– Kathryn Kennedy, Center for Plant Conservation CEO


“It is easy to see the barriers to a more sustainable system, including access to markets and capital, loss of farmland to development, a lack of sustainable agriculture knowledge and practices, and our current eating habits. Developing a robust, sustainable food policy at the local, state, and regional levels is essential for overcoming these barriers. I’d also like to see more investment in developing scenarios, such as the Food System Map Project, that would enable America to change from a national production system to a more regional food system.”

– Bob Martin, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Food Systems Policy director

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