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The biggest impediment to feeding people in this country sustainably is not enough farmers.

So said Michael Pollan at a Grist.org event this week in San Francisco. While he no doubt sees himself as an advocate for farmers, some in the agricultural community view Pollan as the enemy (for strarters, see Blake Hurst’s essay “The Omnivore’s Delusion“).

That’s why it was a pleasant surprise to hear Hurst agreeing with Pollan on NPR’s Talk of the Nation yesterday. NPR Host Neal Conan interviewed Pollan, Hurst, and Troy Roush (farmer and vice president of The American Corn Growers Association), and the two farmers more often than not, agreed with what Pollan was saying. In talking about farm subsidies, Hurst said:

So I think Mr. Pollan is correct. I mean, I think, and most farmers would disagree with me, but I think he is correct. I think that farm subsidies, the way they are now, probably do make the price of grain lower…But I think he’s right about that. I have no disagreement.” (click here for the transcript/audio)


The same thing happened  a couple weeks ago at the University of Wisconsin at Madison when Pollan took the stage in a packed arena of more than 7000 people, some of them wearing bright green t-shirts emblazoned with “In Defense of Farmers.” The slogan, an obvious pun on Pollan’s bestseller In Defense of Food, was inspired by the controversial decision to give first-year UW-Madison students a copy of the book. While the green-shirted farmers came looking for a food fight, they went home non-plussed because Pollan continually stressed that he believes “America’s farmers hold the key to solving the national health care crisis, climate crisis and energy crisis” (click here for a video excerpt). In fact, Pollan has never been overtly critical of farmers, but rather of the agricultural system that relies on crop subsidies, promotes  monocropping, and continues to support the Earl Butz agriculture philosophy of “get big or get out.” Jill Richardson of La Vida Locavore blog attended a follow-up panel at UW the next day and notes that Pollan was equally disarming of the Big-Ag advocates looking to argue with him. (See also Tom Laskawy’s Grist post on Pollan and Big-Ag.)

And now comes news that the scheduled Michael Pollan lecture at Cal Poly has morphed into a “panel discussion” because Harris Ranch Beef Company Chairman David E. Wood, has threatened to withdraw a pledged $500,000 donation for a new meat processing facility on the campus. Baker stated: “I find it unacceptable that the university would provide Michael Pollan an unchallenged forum to promote his stand against conventional agricultural practices.” The panel will now include Gary Smith, Monfort Endowed Chair in meat science at Colorado State University, and Myra Goodman, cofounder of organic vegetable company Earthbound Farms (more here). Anyone want to venture a guess as to how this panel will go, food fight or no?

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