Farmer Lee Jones is the closest thing America has to a celebrity farmer. Perpetually clad in overalls and a red bowtie, Jones — named one of The 60 (Plus) Coolest People in Food and Drink by The Daily Meal — runs The Chef’s Garden, a specialty farming operation providing quality produce to chefs all over the country. He also hosts the annual Roots Conference, the third annual iteration of which took place this week in Milan, Ohio, at Jones's Culinary Vegetable Institute, an event at which farmers, chefs, and other industry movers and shakers are invited to weigh in on the future of agriculture.
This year’s conference theme was Taking Action, and speakers ruminated on how we can improve our food system, from eliminating waste, to embracing the whole food movement and providing clean water for everyone.
We caught up with Jones between sessions and asked him about some issues discussed at the conference, most notably his opinion on Monsanto’s Roundup, a line of herbicides. A committee appointed by the World Health Organization recently labeled glyphosate, a major ingredient in the herbicides, as a “probable carcinogen.”
“We are very aware of the situation surrounding Roundup and are very concerned about its long-term negative effects on soil quality and human health,” Jones told The Daily Meal. “We have seen damage to the microbial community from chemicals like Roundup: Damage that takes many years of remediation efforts to recover from…..When the antagonist suffers, the pathogen thrives, very similar to the human body…. I have heard several farmers indicating that their yields are on downward trends after multiple years of Roundup application.”
He then went on to explain that that The Chef’s Garden does not use Roundup and instead uses organic methods like planting cover crops and using compost teas to “help microbial communities thrive” without having to use herbicides and pesticides.