Ten Questions with Billy Burdett, Executive Director of Advocates for Urban Agriculture

From foodtank.com
Marisa Tsai

Food Tank, in partnership with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, is hosting the 1st Annual Chicago Food Tank Summit on November 16, 2016. 

This event will feature more than 40 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students will come together for interactive panels, networking, and delicious food, followed by a day of hands-on activities and opportunities for attendees.

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Billy Burdett, the Executive Director of Advocates for Urban Agriculture, who will be speaking at the summit.


Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture? 

Billy Burdett (BB): My “Global Ecology” course while an undergraduate at U of Oregon in 1995! I was already very much in love with the natural world and a big greenie, but the class opened my eyes to how our food system impacts the environment and public health.

FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?

BB: A reprioritization of government subsidies and other supportive policies, paired with the development of food hubs and cooperatives present a huge opportunity for moving to a truly sustainable, local/regional food system.

FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?

BB: There have been some very exciting recent innovations in sustainable year-round food production in urban areas like Chicago via aquaponics/hydroponics/vertical farming, but really I’m most excited about the confluence of a wide range of farming/gardening projects, policy initiatives, innovative food businesses, and other efforts that are bringing sustainably/locally/regionally produced food to more people.

FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?

BB: I have two, and they’re both in my family! First is my great grandfather James Henderson Burdett, who founded the National Garden Bureau after WWI and was a pioneer of the Victory Garden movement in Chicago and nationwide, writing the Victory Garden Manual in 1943 and helping victory gardens to produce 40% of the nation’s produce at the height of WWII. Second is my wife Katie Burdett, who created an amazing urban farm from scratch for Big Delicious Planet, which as a result was deemed the “Greenest Caterer in America” and Chicago’s only 4-star Green Certified Restaurants by the Green Restaurant Association.

FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?

BB: Love of nature, love of food, love of community!

FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn't have to deal with?

BB: The size and power of industrial, multinational food production and distribution has never been so deeply entrenched.

FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?

BB: So much of this comes down to public awareness and support for local and sustainable food production/distribution. Reaching a critical mass will translate to the kind of governmental/institutional change in terms of funding and infrastructure that’s needed to truly transform our food system.

FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?

BB: Grow and buy local food whenever possible!

FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?

BB: I’d like for the next generation not to have to worry about chemical and fossil fuel-based practices (both in food production and distribution) contributing to catastrophic climate change, water pollution, and other environmental problems.

FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?

BB: Subsidies. More subsidies for sustainable, smaller scale, diversified farms, less for big ag. And reign in biotechnology! Any GMOs designed to facilitate the application of chemical herbicides and other poisons should not get USDA or FDA approval.


To find out more about the event, see the full list of speakers, and purchase tickets, please click HERE. Interested participants who cannot join can also sign up for the live-stream HERE.

Want to become a sponsor of the Food Tank Summit? Please email Bernard at Bernard@foodtank.com

Want to watch videos from previous Food Tank Summits? Please click HERE

Sponsors for this year's Food Tank Summit in Chicago include: Almond Board of California, Annie’s Inc., Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, Blue Apron, Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Clif Bar & Company, Driscoll's, Elevation Burger, Farmer’s Fridge, Food and Environment Reporting Network, Inter Press Service (IPS), Niman Ranch, and Organic Valley. More to be announced soon.

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