Plenary Sessions

Keynote Address & Panel Discussion

Envisioning the Next 30 Years of Sustainable Agriculture: A Conversation with USDA Leaders

This session featured an engaging panel discussion on the challenges and opportunities related to the sustainability of U.S. agriculture over the next 30 years. Deputy Secretary Censky was joined by former Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden in a discussion with moderator Alan Weber.

STEVE CENSKY is the Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He was sworn-in on October 11, 2017 after being unanimously confirmed by the Senate. Mr. Censky previously served for the past 21 years as CEO of the American Soybean Association, a national, not-for-profit trade association that represents United States soybean farmers on policy and trade. Mr. Censky began his career working as a legislative assistant for Senator Jim Abdnor (R-SD). Later he served in both the Reagan and George H. W. Bush Administrations at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, eventually serving as Administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service where he was involved in running our nation’s export programs. Mr. Censky received his B.S. in Agriculture from South Dakota State University and his Postgraduate Diploma in Agriculture Science from the University of Melbourne, Australia. He grew up on a soybean, corn, and diversified livestock farm near Jackson, Minnesota. He and his wife Carmen have two daughters in college.

KRYSTA HARDEN is the Vice President of External Affairs and the Chief Sustainability Officer of Corteva Agriscience™, Agriculture Division of DowDuPont™. Prior to her role at DowDuPont, Ms. Harden was DuPont Vice President of Public Policy and Chief Sustainability Officer, joining DuPont in February 2016. Before joining DuPont, Ms. Harden served as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), where she helped to shape food and agriculture policy, including leading implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill. At USDA and throughout her career in agriculture, Ms. Harden has focused on growing the ranks of agriculture and expanding opportunity for women, young people, immigrants, socially disadvantaged producers, returning veterans and retirees. Prior to her service as deputy secretary, she held USDA leadership positions as chief of staff to the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and assistant secretary for Congressional Relations. Preceding her service at USDA, Ms. Harden spent five years as CEO of the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD), providing national leadership for natural resource conservation and representing thousands of conservation districts across the nation. In addition to serving as CEO of the National Association of Conservation Districts, she has also worked with the American Soybean Association as senior vice president of Gordley Associates, where she concentrated on conservation and renewable energy issues. She also served 12 years on Capitol Hill, as staff director for the House subcommittee on Peanuts and Tobacco, and as chief of staff and press secretary for former Congressman Charles Hatcher. Ms. Harden received her B.A. in journalism from the University of Georgia.

Envisioning the Next 30 Years of Sustainable Agriculture: Food System Experts Weigh In

This session featured an engaging discussion with three food system experts on their vision for the next 30 years, and how the entire food system is responding and will respond in the future to challenges and opportunities.

BETH ROBERTSON-MARTIN leads the organic and non-GMO sourcing group at General Mills with a particular focus on developing deep industry relationships to create new alliances and break down barriers. She has extensive experience building strong relationships with suppliers, manufacturers and farmers. Her commitment to creating a more sustainable food system stems from her early years of growing up in a farming family in Southeastern Missouri. Prior to joining GMI in 2012, Beth led sustainable sourcing groups in the furniture and apparel industry. Before moving into procurement, Beth developed risk management strategies and portfolio management techniques in the financial industry.

Beth has a Bachelor of Science in Econometrics and a Master of Science in Economics from Washington University in St. Louis.

CHARLIE JACKSON is the executive director and a founder of ASAP (Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project), a nonprofit organization in the Southern Appalachians with a mission to help local farms thrive, link farmers to market and supporters, and build healthy communities through connections to local food. His experience includes training farmers in marketing and farm profitability, developing and implementing local food campaigns, and creating local food systems that are socially just, health promoting, sustainable, and that build local economies. He is the author of numerous food assessments, feasibility studies, and scholarly articles and a researcher on local food system development with ASAP’s Local Food Research Center. He was inducted into the Western North Carolina Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2017.

STEFANI MILLIE GRANT is Senior Manager, External Affairs & Sustainability for Unilever, a food and personal care products manufacturing company. In her role, she works with brands; procurement; suppliers; and farmers to implement Unilever’s Sustainable Agriculture Code and deliver Unilever’s sustainable sourcing goal in the U.S. and Canada. Ms. Grant also works together with elected officials and NGO’s on Unilever’s sustainability efforts.

Prior to working for Unilever, Ms. Grant was a Vice President with Stateside Associates, a consulting firm in Arlington, Virginia, where she worked on agricultural and conservation issues for a major equipment manufacturer and also the Department of Defense.

An Iowa native, Ms. Grant holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Iowa and a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting and Public Administration from Buena Vista University.

Taking Root: Farmers and Ranchers Share Their Perspectives on the Next 30 Years of Sustainable Agriculture

Farmers and ranchers are the iconic champions of American agriculture. Their perspectives greatly shape the agricultural landscape, and their familiarity with hands-on agricultural issues makes them uniquely qualified to speak to the needs, challenges and opportunities for the future of sustainable agriculture. This panel featured an enlightening discussion with four visionary producers about the next 30 years of sustainable agriculture.

ANNA JONES-CRABTREE owns and operates Vilicus Farms with her husband, Doug. Vilicus Farms is a first generation, organic, dryland crop farm in Northern Hill County, Montana. They grow a diverse array of organic heirloom and specialty grain, pulse, oilseed and broadleaf crops under a seven-year rotation. In only eight seasons, Vilicus Farms grew from a 1,280-acre farm to a 5,000 acre nationally recognized farming operation by using USDA’s beginning farmer programs, employing extensive conservation practices, and fostering unique risk sharing relationships with food companies and land investment firms.

Anna launched Vilicus Training Institute (VTI) in 2015. A Vilicus Farms apprenticeship is a multi-season training and mentoring program that immerses highly motivated young professionals in organic farm operation and management, with an ultimate goal of supporting new and successful farm owners and operators.

Anna is a Donella Meadows Leadership Fellow and a recipient of the White House Greening Government Sustainability Hero Award. She holds a doctorate in Civil and Environmental Engineering with a minor in Sustainable Systems from Georgia Institute of Technology. Anna served on the USDA Secretary’s Advisory Council on Beginning Farmers & Ranchers. She held the Farmer Representative seat on the Board of Timeless Natural Food, a supplier of gourmet organic lentils and specialty heirloom grains. Most importantly, Anna, Doug, and their three Jack Russell Terriers, are avid members of the Lentil Underground.

FAITH GILBERT is a farmer, farm business educator, and community organizer in New York’s Hudson Valley. She is a partner in Letterbox Farm Collective, a diversified commercial market farm now entering its 6th season. Faith is the vegetable manager and administrative lead for Letterbox, and worked with her partners through major planning and development projects including land acquisition in 2014 and successive growth leaps resulting in 1900% expansion in five years. Faith is the author of Cooperative Farming, a SARE-funded guidebook on forming and sustaining collaborative businesses in the food system. Outside the workday, she engages in community organizing projects around issues of food and economy.

KEITH BERNS combines over 20 years of no-till farming with 10 years of teaching Agriculture and Computers. Together with his brother, Brian, Keith co-owns and operates Providence Farms, a 2000 acre diversified family farming operation in Bladen, Nebraska and Green Cover Seed, one of the nation’s leading providers of cover crop information and seed. Green Cover Seed has grown from supplying seed and information for 1,000 acres of cover crops in 2009 to over 750,000 acres in 2017. Through Green Cover Seed, Keith has experimented with over 100 different cover crop types and hundreds of mixes planted into various situations and has learned a great deal about cover crop growth, nitrogen fixation, moisture usage, and grazing utilization of cover crops. Keith also developed the SmartMix Calculator™ one of the most widely used cover crop selection tools on the internet. Keith has a Masters Degree in Agricultural Education from the University of Nebraska and teaches on cover crops and soil health more than 20 times per year to various groups and audiences.

Swanson Family Farm, LLC was established in March of 2008 because WAYNE SWANSON dreamed of owning a small farm to raise food for his family and friends. Wayne grew up in Woodbury, NJ. He also lived a few miles from his grandparents’—Claude and Artie’s—10-acre farm. Everything Swanson Family Farm is and will be is a direct result of the seed planted by Wayne’s parents and grandparents.

Swanson Family Farm is a 32-acre farm run by the Swansons: Wayne, Charmaine (his wife) and Jekhi (his son). The farm specializes in grass fed and pasture raised beef, lamb, goat and pork. The Swansons feature GA Pineywoods Cattle, hair sheep and heritage breeds of goats and hogs. Their aim is to provide the highest quality products raised the way God intended: on a pasture or in the woods. They do not feed commercial food or use steroids or hormones on their animals.

Swanson Family Farm products can be purchased on the farm, at the local farmer’s market, via private chefs or at one of their partner restaurants.

All conference plenary and breakout session videos and are available in a YouTube playlist organized by session.