Editor’s note: This morning, I was pleasantly surprised by a response from Dr. Jon Hagler, Director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, to Sunday’s post on the Governor’s Conference on Agriculture, and the issues that have been raised by activists concerning the proposed agenda for the event. With permission, I’m publishing his response… I hope you’ll chime in with your thoughts.
It has been said that the fields of progress are often sown with the plow of discontent. With these words in mind, I feel it necessary to respond directly to your readers and their recent interest in and discussion of the Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture.
As I stated elsewhere, with respect to the Governor’s Conference agenda, the Department attempts to strike a balance, albeit an imperfect one, among all segments of agriculture. The topics for this year were determined by the level of interest expressed to us from various individuals and groups and the availability of presenters.
We at the Missouri Department of Agriculture are proud of our efforts on behalf of small farms and local foods. This past year, the Department hosted no less than 9 conferences on localized agriculture and related areas and our staff presented at an additional 9 conferences or workshops. I personally have participated in numerous private meetings on this topic and have made local food initiatives one of the Department’s top priorities.
This year we launched the first Missouri Department of Agriculture community garden on the lawn in front of our building to demonstrate the importance of local foods. First Lady Georganne Nixon came over to dedicate the “Growing Together Garden” and many individuals pitched in to bring attention to local foods efforts. We also toured, highlighted and supported numerous farmers’ markets, agritourism operations, community gardens and other local foods efforts in an effort to educate consumers on the availability and benefits of local foods.
Moreover, we are in the process of transforming our Ag Business Development Division to revitalize and focus their efforts specifically on meeting the needs of farmers. This important initiative is designed to get more people involved with AgriMissouri, draw more attention to the availability of local foods and, most importantly, to provide the support and tools producers need to thrive in an ever changing marketplace.
We already have several major initiatives in the works for this Spring including an agritourism/local foods high profile event and a comprehensive community and local garden effort. In addition, we will continue our ongoing conference and workshop sponsorship and participation. In fact, in these extreme budget shortfalls, we have asked for new funding in only one area – local foods and community gardens.
I fully realize the Governor’s Conference cannot be all things to all people. Yet, I believe small farmers, as well as large, care about issues such as animal welfare, renewable energy, agritourism and the like. And yes, my guess is that they also care about sustainability, cap and trade and the thousand other topics not covered with this one conference.
The point is that while the balance is imperfect, it is only one part of a far more comprehensive effort to move all of agriculture forward. It’s time that individuals segments within agriculture quit attempting to plow the fields of fellow farmers and start tilling more fertile ground. We have made tremendous progress this year, but there is plenty to do and much more to be accomplished if we plant our rows in the same direction.
I appreciate the energy, opinions and the creative ideas. I look forward to hearing your reader’s suggestions for sowing the fields of progress.
Dr. Jon Hagler
Director of Agriculture
Image credits: Missouri Department of Agriculture