Five Questions with Niman Ranch Pork Company’s Paul Willis


Food Tank, in partnership with the George Washington University, is hosting the 1st Annual Food Tank Summit in Washington D.C. on January 21-22, 2015.

This two-day event will feature more than 75 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policy makers, government officials, and students will come together for panels on topics including food waste, urban agriculture, family farmers, and farm workers.

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Paul Willis, hog farmer and founder of the Niman Ranch Pork Company, who will be speaking at the summit.

Food Tank (FT): What will your message be at the Food Tank Summit?

Paul Willis (PW): We can work together as networks to help farmers reach the marketplace. We have a lot of small farmers who are not near the markets. There are many things that you can do to create systems so that those farmers can participate in the food system, which is what Niman Ranch has done.

FT: How are you contributing to building a better food system?

PW: We created a network of farmers that clean-raise livestock, and we've developed a system for those farmers to be part of the food system and reach customers in the marketplace.  

FT: What are the biggest obstacles or challenges you face in achieving your organization's goals?

PW: Supply. There definitely has been an increased demand for clean, healthy-raised foods, whether it's vegetables, fruits, or livestock. A big challenge is that we simply don't have enough farmers. The percentage of people in this country who are farmers is ridiculously low - less than one percent. That feeds to industrial farming. It reduces the number of small scale farmers who are raising and producing healthy and varied foods, and it keeps our small farmers from adding to a healthy food system. In a nutshell, our biggest challenge is that there are not enough farmers.

FT: Who is your food hero and why?

PW: There are two answers, really. There are many people involved in creating a healthier food system, and all of those people are my heroes. Probably most important to me, though, are my Niman Ranch farmers. Without those farmers, there would be no alternative to industrial pork, and no Niman Ranch.

FT: In 140 characters or less, what is the most important thing we can all do to help change the food system.

PW: Question where and how your food is raised.

The event is SOLD OUT, but interested participants can sign up for the live-stream HERE. Or JOIN US for dinner and a reception to celebrate Food Tank's two-year anniversary on January 21st at 5:30pm EST. This event will also sell out fast; REGISTER NOW.