Roots 2014: Lee Jones on Keeping America Close to Its Food


Roots 2014: Farmer Lee Jones on Keeping America Connected to Its Food

The second annual Roots Conference will take place this weekend, October 19 and 20, at The Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio.

The symposium will cover a wide array of important food topics, from the preservation of the relationship between farmers and consumers to issues of food security and politics, to the value of seed systems and how modern technology protects ancient food traditions, and much more.

Speakers at the conference will include keynote speaker José Andrés, modernist cuisine proponent Maxime Bilet, culinary scientist Ali Bouzari, and many others. Food Network's Ted Allen will serve as the conference's master of ceremonies. 

In advance of the conference, The Daily Meal spoke with Farmer Lee Jones, the dedicated James Beard Award winner and one of The Daily Meal’s own “Coolest People in Food and Drink,” whose leadership at The Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio has been invaluable to the sustainable agriculture movement.

Farmer Jones will serve as the host of the Roots Conference 2014, the theme of which will be “Connect and Unite Through Food.” 

What do you think are America's most important food traditions that should be restored and preserved?

The most important food tradition should be to eat food as close to its original condition as possible. When I say eating a vegetable as close to its original condition as possible, that means zero processing. It's amazing the amount of the American diet which comes from processed foods. There is no processing that can improve upon the original fresh quality of a vegetable. When it is freshly picked it has the maximum nutrients, taste, and total quality that it could ever have. Even the best processing can do nothing to improve the quality; it only decreases it in varying degrees. It is impossible to improve on a fresh vegetable.

Food should come directly from the grower. Any intermediate step in the food chain has the potential to lessen the quality of food products. The ideal scenario would be food going directly from the grower to the end user.

For example, food from Central America goes through several steps including brokers, food service providers, and often many other steps to reach the end user. This method of delivery has the potential to degrade the quality or contaminate the product.


When we lose contact with when or how a product was grown, we have no idea what was done to it. This could include: chemicals applied, temperature fluctuations, contamination from outside sources, and the time lapse between growing and consumption. How a vegetable is cared for has a great deal to do with its preservation in its original condition. The grower's knowledge of how to maintain a vegetable in its prime condition is a critically important part of maintaining quality. There are so many things that can happen, even when you consider a local vegetable that can greatly deteriorate the quality. It all comes down to temperature control, freedom from contamination from any source and getting the product to the end user as quickly as possible.