Fields with beans in the foreground and mowed alfalfa in the background

Sustainable Agriculture Policy with Ron Kroese

Ron Kroese interviews 45 men and women on the history of sustainable agriculture policy in this limited podcast series available on Apple, Audible, Google, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

These episodes are a part of an oral history archive documenting the development and evolution of public policies to advance sustainable and organic agriculture going back to the 1970s. The people featured are among the key leaders and advocates who played significant roles in devising and promoting the laws and government programs that continue to undergird efforts to achieve a sustainable farming and food system in the U.S.

Ron developed the “National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive” video series alongside the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. The Center for Rural Affairs brought the interviews to the podcast platform.

These interviews are also available as video recordings and transcripts here.

Episode guide

13. Dana Jackson & Loni Kemp, sustainable ag leaders

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Description: Dana Jackson and Loni Kemp are women powerhouses in the sustainable ag industry. On this week’s podcast, they talk with Ron about rural issues in general, water quality, soil health, climate, and food security.

Dana and Loni both started their careers in the 1970s, and discuss the evolution of sustainable ag in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s.

Loni was a senior policy analyst at the Minnesota Project from 1979 to 2008, directing the agriculture and water program. She was a founding board member of the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, now merged into the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. 

From 2002-2004, Loni was awarded a Food and Society Policy Fellowship from the Kellogg Foundation. She served as a board member of the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. 

Loni created Kemp Consulting, an independent consulting firm that advises on agriculture, renewable energy, conservation and climate change. Clients have included National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Land Stewardship Project, McKnight Foundation, Energy Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, among others.

Dana was employed in sustainable agriculture from 1976 until 2012. She co-founded The Land Institute in 1976 and served as co-director, then director of education until 1993. 

For one year, she was a program associate for The Minnesota Food Association, then was hired to be co-director of the Land Stewardship Project. After 12 years, she changed roles to work in Land Stewardship Project's Food Systems program, creating and coordinating the St. Croix Valley Buy Fresh Buy Local Chapter. 

Dana and her daughter Dr. Laura Jackson co-edited The Farm as Natural Habitat: Reconnecting Food Systems and Ecosystems. Dana served on the boards of directors of five sustainable agriculture organizations (including the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture), and still remains active in the field as an advisor to the Wild Farm Alliance, Our Community Food Projects, and the Pollinator Friendly Alliance.

Dana’s honors include a Pew Scholar's Award in Conservation and the Environment in 1990, designation as "Sustainable Woman of the Year" in 2007 by the Women, Food and Agriculture Network, and an award from the Rural Sociological Society in 2012.

The interview was conducted on Oct. 21, 2015.

Links this episode
National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive
“The Farm as Natural Habitat: Reconnecting Food Systems and Ecosystems”
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Land Stewardship Project
The Land Institute
Women, Food and Agriculture Network

Released: May 25, 2022

Click here to watch the video and view the transcript.

12. Sister Mary Tacheny, devoted to rural relationships and the greater Earth

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Description: During the farm crisis of the 1980s, Sister Mary Tacheny returned to her farming roots, helping the church respond during a difficult time. She knew where she was needed, working with rural leaders on policy as well as assisting farmers directly.

This week, Sister Mary tells Ron about growing up on a small dairy farm southeast of Mankato, Minnesota, where she and her siblings went with her parents each Sunday to check the fields. She talks about her years working with farmers and rural leaders as well as creating the Center for Earth Spirituality.

Sister Mary is a School Sister of Notre Dame of the Mankato, Minnesota, campus of the Central Pacific Province. Her family continues to farm the land where she grew up. 

After 28 years as a secondary teacher and administrator, Sister Mary became the educational consultant to the Minnesota Catholic Bishops and their Rural Life Directors. Her task was to help the church respond to the crisis farmers were experiencing in the early ‘80s when the banks and other lending institutions were foreclosing on mortgages and farmers were losing their farms. It was a time to unite people and support one another, to work toward solutions together. This became sister's passion for the next 25 years.

In 1996, Sister Mary helped establish the Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Ministry, now the Living Earth Center, to bring together people who were passionate about ecological solidarity and enhancing right relationships between each other, the local community, and the greater Earth. Starting first as a small community garden and advocacy group, Living Earth Center grew to be a network of gardeners, volunteers, and advocates.

Sister Mary celebrated 75 years of service as a School Sister in 2020. At that time, she continued to be an active member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame Earth Committee championing the Living Earth Center.

The interview was conducted on Nov. 24, 2015.

Links this episode:
National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive
Living Earth Center (formerly Center for Earth Spirituality and Rural Ministry)

Released: May 18, 2022

Click here to watch the video and view the transcript.

11. Roger Blobaum, organic farming & food policy advocate

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Description: Roger Blobaum worked on a title for the 1965 farm bill, more than 50 years ago. Then, a 1971 visit to a farm near Grinnell, Iowa, changed his life. After seeing the black soil and healthy earthworms, he decided to make organic farming his focus and life’s work.

This week, Roger talks with Ron about decades of work on sustainable ag, with a particular interest in organic work. They highlight the first organic bill in the 1980s, organic research (one particular report was saved from destruction under a new administration), and Roger’s international organic ag work in China and elsewhere.

Roger, an agricultural consultant, has been a leader in organic farming research, education, advocacy, and policymaking since the early 1970s. He has served on boards of more than 30 regional, national, and international organic, sustainable agriculture, and renewable energy organizations.

He now serves as a partner in developing a national organic and sustainable agriculture history collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

He was a founding director of the International Organic Accreditation Service, a founder and associate director of the World Sustainable Agriculture Association, and a participant in the process of setting international organic guidelines.

Roger co-chaired a coalition of national consumer, environmental, faith-based, and other organizations that helped shape the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act and push it through Congress.

His research contributions include developing and coordinating Ceres Trust organic research programs that awarded more than $6 million in grants to land grant university faculty and graduate student researchers. 

The interview was conducted on Feb. 10, 2016.

Links this episode:

National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive
Roger’s organic farming website

Released: May 11, 2022

Click here to watch the video and to read the transcript.

10. Amy Little, organizer & activist

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Description: Amy’s love of sustainable ag comes from her rebellious nature. A trait she’s had her entire life.

This week, Ron speaks with Amy Little, an organizer, trainer, and consultant on issue advocacy and electoral campaigns at the local, state, and national levels. Managing campaigns, building coalitions, developing policy advocacy, voter and civic participation operations, and strategy planning are methods of organizing she is most known for. 

Organizations that Amy has worked for include a broad range of social and racial justice, sustainable agriculture, environmental, and civic engagement nongovernmental organizations. Included among them are National and State Citizen Action groups, AFL-CIO, Progressive Action Network, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, the Midwest Academy, and Planned Parenthood

In addition to local/state elections, federal electoral campaigns include senate races of Wellstone, Harkin, and Lautenburg; congressional races of Hall, Pallone, Torricelli, Peterson, Bradley, and Florio; and the Presidential races of Obama, Kerry, Gore, and Clinton. 

Amy was founding director of the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, a broad grassroots network which later merged to become the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. 

Amy's work with voter registration and GOTV efforts, in partnership with then-Senator Barack Obama, is also a highlight of her career.

The interview was conducted on Feb. 10, 2016.

Link this episode:
National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive

Released: May 4, 2022

Click here to watch the video and view the transcript.

09. Mark Lipson, organic farming pioneer

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Description: Where did the Early Girl variety of tomato come from? Why is it suited for dry farming? Mark Lipson tells us in this week’s episode, and chats with Ron about organic agriculture, research, and public policies.

Mark is a 30-year pioneer and influential leader in the organic farming and food community in California and nationally. In 2016, he received the "Champion of Sustainable Agriculture Award" from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

He served a 4-year term as the Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Policy Advisor in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, from 2010 to 2014. At the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), he led the department-wide Organic Working Group and co-led the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Task Force.

Since 1983, he has been a member in Molino Creek Farm, a cooperative multi-family organic farming community near Davenport, California, and the original home of the famed, dry-farmed tomatoes.

He was the assistant executive director of California Certified Organic Farmers and the policy director at Organic Farming Research Foundation. Mark served as a Trustee of the Homeless Garden Project and the Organic Center.

Mark currently serves as Director of Policy and Regulatory Engagement at the Heartland Health Research Alliance. He is a staff affiliate for Organic Agriculture Policy at the University of California at Santa Cruz, affiliated with the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.

The interview was conducted on Dec. 15, 2016.

Links this episode:
National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive
Molino Creek Farm
California Certified Organic Farmers
Organic Farming Research Foundation
Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems
Heartland Health Research Alliance

Released: April 27, 2022

Click here to watch the video and view the transcript.

08. Ferd Hoefner, Founding Policy Director of NSAC

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Description: In this episode, Ferd Hoefner outlines the role of sustainable agriculture in each farm bill from the early 1970s to the present, and talks about policy that was enacted—and advocated for—in between farm bill years.

He tells Ron about his start in Washington (an unusual first day of work), a “commandeered” report, the beginning of the organization now known as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), and more. Yes, this is an extended listen, and sometimes gets wonky, but you want to tune in.

Ferd is the Founding Policy Director at NSAC, and has been a leader in the sustainable agriculture community for over 30 years. He led NSAC’s federal policy work as Policy Director from 1988 through 2016 and served as Senior Strategic Advisor from 2017 to 2020. He continues to mentor and advise the coalition in a consulting role.

NSAC is a leading voice for sustainable agriculture in the federal policy arena, joining together the interests of over 100 grassroots farm, food, conservation, and rural member organizations to advocate for federal policies supporting the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Among the many federal programs that NSAC has successfully developed and championed are Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, Wetlands Reserve Program, Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, Beginning Farmer Down Payment Loan Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Farm to School Grants, Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Whole Farm Revenue Protection, National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, and Value-Added Producer Grants, among others. 

Prior to NSAC, Hoefner for nearly a decade represented Interfaith Action for Economic Justice and its predecessor, the Interreligious Taskforce on U.S. Food Policy, on federal policy on farm, food, and international development issues. He has also served as a policy consultant to numerous faith-based organizations and NGOs. He did his undergraduate studies at Oberlin College and graduate work at Wesley Theological Seminary.

The interview was conducted on Dec. 6, 2015.

Links this episode:
National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
Center for Rural Affairs
USDA Economic Research Service
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)
Farm Service Agency (FSA)
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

Released: April 20, 2022

Click here to watch the video and view the transcript.

07. Craig Cox, devoted to the outdoors

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Description: In his early years, all Craig Cox wanted to do was be outside. He and a friend would hunt snakes along the bluffs of the Mississippi River near St. Paul, Minnesota, so he can take them home to put in an aquarium.

In today’s podcast, Craig talks with Ron about growing up hunting, fishing, and hiking, and how that shaped his career of working with wildlife, ecology, and natural resources.

Craig has devoted his working life to conservation since joining the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in 1977 as a field biologist. In 1989, Craig moved to Washington D.C to accept a position as Senior Staff Officer with the Board on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences, where he completed three major studies, including “Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture.”

In 1994, he joined the staff of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry to lead the development of the conservation title of the farm bill that was passed in March 1996. 

Craig then joined the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service as a Special Assistant to the Chief and served briefly as Acting Deputy Under-Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment in the Department of Agriculture. He moved to Iowa in 1998 to become Executive Director of the Soil and Water Conservation Society. 

In August 2008, he joined the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Currently, he is the Senior Advisor on Agriculture and Environmental Policy at EWG.

The interview was conducted on Sept. 4, 2015.

Links this episode:
National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive
Environmental Working Group
Soil and Water Conservation Society

Released: April 13, 2022

Click here to watch the video and view the transcript.

06. Al Kurki, sustainable and food systems policy activist

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Description: Al Kurki talks with Ron this week on energy issues and policies related to farming.

Al grew up in northernmost Wisconsin and for 8 years worked as a logger like his father and grandfather had.

He has worked on sustainable agriculture and food systems issues since 1984, first as the ag staffer and executive director of the Montana-based Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO), and more recently as a farm and energy program specialist with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

The interview was conducted on June 12, 2017.

Links this episode:
National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive
Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO)
National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT)
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
Center for Rural Affairs
Land Stewardship Project
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)
ATTRA

Released: April 6, 2022

Click here to watch the video and view the transcript.

05. Lydia Villanueva, diversity farming advocate

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Description: Ron’s guest this week is Lydia Villanueva, the director and founder of CASA de Llano, Inc., a nonprofit rural outreach center that unites the regional education and training interests of other groups with the goals of a community-based, grassroots organization.

The organization works toward identifying Latino farm owners in the Texas Panhandle (Hereford, Texas) and also works to build leaders who are empowered to take ownership of their own communities.

Lydia served as the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) Policy Education Coordinator from 2005 to 2014. And continues to advocate for and promote diversity programs in the farm bill.

The interview was conducted on Aug. 8, 2017.

Links this episode:
National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive
CASA de Llano
NSAC

Released: March 30, 2022

Click here to watch the video and view the transcript.

04. Mark Ritchie, cooperative food movement leader

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Description: On today’s episode, Ron interviews Mark Ritchie about his journey from California’s cooperative food movement in the 1970s to Minnesota’s elected Secretary of State from 2007 to 2015, and everything in between. They chat about food to consumer and the definitions of natural and local foods. And, Mark talks about why his focus shifted from food to policy.

Mark is the former president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and is credited as one of the founders of the cooperative food movement in California. He led the Center for Rural Studies from 1974 to 1979.

The interview was conducted on Nov. 21, 2016.

Links this episode:
National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Released: March 23, 2022

Click here to watch the video and view the transcript.

03. Chuck Hassebrook, past director of the Center for Rural Affairs

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Description: This week, Ron has a conversation with Chuck Hassebrook on the importance of federal policy reforms that strengthen family farms, stewardship, agriculture research, and conservation programs. Chuck spent 37 years at the Center for Rural Affairs including 17 as executive director. He was instrumental in the formation of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

He also served 18 years as a Regent for the University of Nebraska, including two terms as Chair. His efforts led to tuition assistance for students from modest income families and the creation of a Rural Futures Institute, aimed at revitalizing small communities.

The interview was conducted on Aug. 2, 2015.

Links this episode:
National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive
Center for Rural Affairs
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
“Who Will Sit Up With the Corporate Sow?”

Released: March 16, 2022

Click here to watch the video and view the transcript.

02. Ricardo Salvador, long-time food security advocate

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Description: Ron’s guest this week is Ricardo Salvador and the two talk about food security, Ricardo’s upbringing in Mexico, and the definition of agriculture. As director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, Ricardo works with citizens, scientists, economists, and politicians to transition our current food system into one that grows healthy foods while employing sustainable and socially equitable practices.

Previously, Dr. Salvador served as a program officer for food, health, and well-being with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Prior to that, he was an associate professor of agronomy at Iowa State University, where he taught the first course in sustainable agriculture at a land-grant university. He worked with other faculty to develop the nation's first sustainable agriculture graduate program in 2000. Dr. Salvador was named a 2013 NBC Latino Innovator and received the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award in 2014.

The interview was conducted on Nov. 17, 2015.

Links this episode:
National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive
Union of Concerned Scientists
Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
HEAL Food Alliance

Released: March 9, 2022

Click here to watch the video and view the transcript.

01. Wes Jackson, co-founder of The Land Institute

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Description: This week, Ron interviews Wes Jackson, co-founder and president emeritus of The Land Institute. They talk about the roots of perennials, the challenges of taking a 50-year farm bill to Washington, and gene sequencing grains. “Life Magazine” named Wes as one of 18 individuals they predict will be among the 100 “important Americans of the 20th century.” In 2005, Smithsonian included him as one of “35 Who Made a Difference.” Wes was a 1990 Pew Conservation Scholar and a 1992 MacArthur Fellow.

The interview was conducted on Nov. 4, 2015.

Links this episode:
National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive
The Land Institute
“Nature as Measure” by Wes Jackson on Amazon
“Consulting the Genius of the Place” by Wes Jackson on Amazon
“Becoming Native to this Place” by Wes Jackson on Amazon
“New Roots for Agriculture” by Wes Jackson on Amazon

Released: March 2, 2022

Click here to watch the video and view the transcript.

Introduction

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Description: In this first full episode of “Sustainable Agriculture Policy with Ron Kroese,” Brian Depew, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, explains why we started this podcast.

We then bring you an episode of “Ear to the Ground,” a podcast from the Land Stewardship Project. In this episode, Brian DeVore with the Land Stewardship Project interviews Ron about his oral history project.

Special thanks to Land Stewardship Project for letting us include this episode of “Ear to the Ground" to introduce the series.

Links this episode:

National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive
Land Stewardship Project

Released: March 2, 2022

A big thank you to Ron Kroese and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture for assisting with this podcast project. Thank you to the Land Stewardship Project for the use of your podcast episode for the introduction. These podcasts are produced by Webberized