Ten Questions with Shepherd Ogden, Founder and President of The Cook’s Garden

Ten Questions with Shepherd Ogden, Founder and President of The Cook’s Garden
From foodtank.com, by Lani Furbank

Food Tank, in partnership with American University, is hosting the 2nd Annual Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. on April 20–21, 2016. 

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

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Shepherd Ogden, the Founder and President of The Cook's Garden. Shepherd will be speaking at the summit.

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

Shepherd Ogden (SO): I did not choose this work; it chose me. My grandfather was a vegetable grower and author and I started out in his garden in Vermont. Then I married a woman who wanted to live on an organic farm, and things just sort of snowballed from there. It was about 10 years before I realized I should be working on a larger scale than just the town I was born in.

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

SO: In my opinion, the two most important changes we can make are to label food so that we know how it is produced (especially, but not limited to, transgenic crops) and to prohibit utility patents on living organisms. Those two single changes will eventually wring the industrialization and corporatization out of the food system.

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

SO: Biologically-based ecosystem interventions to replace synthetic or chemical interventions via the use of beneficial microbial organisms to enhance the growth of crop plants, combat diseases and disorders, and increase the post-harvest quality of crops. We are at a critical mass moment in the development of these (true) biotechnologies.

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

SO: Just a little over 25 years ago, I was assigned to write an article about a small restaurant in Brunswick, Maine and visited it in March. The menu was indeed locally sourced—even in March—and I ended up writing about the farmer as well. The chef was Sam Hayward.

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

SO: My children and their children. Look at our parents and grandparents. Industrialization and commodification have destroyed the (absolutely) necessary diversity of our diets.

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

SO: Sorry to repeat myself, but what they escaped (though they paid with menu restrictions) was the reduction in what I like to call abundiversity. This is the essence and evil of commodification, which works wonderfully for objects but not for organisms.

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

SO: Regionalization and Pareto optimality of scale to rebuild our rural economies and keep farmland in production while lowering carbon demands.

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

SO: Buy local and regional and pay a living price and wage to the growers. The United States has one of the lowest food costs (as a percentage of family budget) in the world, and we are getting exactly what we pay for, with the rest going to healthcare costs to compensate.

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

SO: Sustainability in terms of economics and carbon balance. That can only be done by excising the industrial metaphor in food production.

FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the U.S. to immediately address?

SO: The funding gap for research into the materials and methods mentioned above. There is a famous old anecdote about how the Organic Farming Research Foundation put together a detailed analysis of the research budget(s) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and then requested a meeting with the relevant USDA official. When confronted with the reality that only one-tenth of one percent of the research dollars was going to broadly defined organic and sustainable technologies, he is reported to have said: “Really…that much?”

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 livestream HERE.

To join us at Food Tank's São Paulo, Brazil Summit in September 2016, please click HERE. To join us at Food Tank's Sacramento, CA Summit on September 22–23, 2016, please click HERE. To join us at Food Tank's Chicago, IL Summit on November 16–17, 2016, please click HERE

Want to become a sponsor of the Food Tank Summit? Please click HERE

Want to suggest a speaker for one of the Summits? Please click HERE

Want to watch videos from last year's Food Tank Summit? Please click HERE

Sponsors for this year's Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. include: Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, Chaia DC, Chipotle, Clif Bar, D.C. Government, Driscoll's, Edible DC, Elevation Burger, Fair Trade USA, Food and Environment Reporting Network, Global Environmental Politics Program of the School of International Service, Greener Media, Inter Press Service, Leafware, Niman Ranch, Organic Valley, Panera Bread, and VegFund. 

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