Far Afield: The reach of agriculture

Today, when I was trolling through a stack of dutifully hand-recorded interview notes and research articles with punny names such as, "Reaping the benefits," I came across a fact I had long forgotten about, from the International Food Policy Research Institute: For every dollar of additional income created in the agriculture sector, the economy as a whole will grow by about 2.5 dollars.

This bite of information stuck out at me today, at a time when I'm grappling with how to make a conversation about agriculture, the focus of "Food 2.0: Feeding a Hungry World," eye-catching to audience members who are much removed from farm fields. I think people see the word "agriculture" and they get, at some common-sense level, that it's connected to food. But their food? And in a beneficial way?

How do I make agriculture relevant to YOU. Especially today, when the hipper cousins "local" and "organic" are marketed as more wholesome and trust-worthy than agriculture. I see people shuddering at the very vision of giant plows mutilating hundreds of miles of earth. It was in this state of concern that I rediscovered the above fact. Upon reading it, I found myself relieved, as if I was sitting in an airless room and then, suddenly, someone cracked a window.

This fact reminded me that a conversation about agriculture can feel stagnant if it's unidirectional, because the conversation deserves to be multi-directional: what happens to a crop in a field can lead to many outcomes. For some, that outcome is a Green thing. It's food choices that are meant to protect the planet from greenhouse gases, high-carbon diets, and fertilizer. For others, it's Health. The Gates Foundation recognizes this connection. If a field is barren, a farmer and her or his family ends up hungry. If they are hungry, their immune system is weaker. So they fall ill more often. On top of that, it takes longer to get well. Work is missed. And so is school. Which means agriculture is also Poverty and Education and, in the end, it's Economics -- just like the International Food Policy Research Institute fact points out. Each of these impacts are critical to remember when discussing ag. Which leaves me with a question: what is your way "in" to Agriculture?

What topic draws you into the discussion, when your life is lived away from a farm and there's a bodega on every corner?

—Molly Webster

Molly Webster is the producer for "Food 2.0: Feeding a Hungry World," a World Science Festival program that explores how science and technology solutions can improve agriculture -- and life. Learn more by attending the event on June 4, 2010, at 7PM in NYC.

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"For every dollar of additional income created in the agriculture sector, the economy as a whole will grow by about 2.5 dollars"

Talk about food for thought!

Agriculture truly is an important part of the economy. Nice post.