Roots Conference

Do you hear that? It’s a call to action. The issues plaguing the food industry today are frightening. A report from the Global Harvest Initiative states that the demand for food, feed, fiber and fuel will likely outpace food production in 2050. With the population expected to reach at least 9 billion, parts of the world still lack clean drinking water and $1 trillion worth of all food produced worldwide is lost or wasted. And those are just a few examples.

Are you feeling that call to action yet? The third annual Roots Conference at the Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio stresses the importance of not only adhering to and preserving important culinary traditions, but also illustrates how vital it is to look to the future for sound solutions for the problems we collectively face. 

Led by The Chef’s Garden farmer Lee Jones, the conference attracts farmers, chefs, academics, food scientists, journalists and consumers and inspires them to ask themselves what they can contribute to heal and improve the world. “When that group gets together, it’s the most action-oriented group of people,” Jones says. “They have a common thread of food and food supply. It’s unbelievable the powerful people that are drawn to the food world.” 

Jones started the Roots Conference after attending the MAD, the international culinary symposium founded by Danish chef Rene Redzepi. The name of the symposium – MAD – is taken from the Danish word for food. “The conversations were so timely and relevant and that wasn’t really happening here the way it should,” he explains. 

The theme of this year’s conference is “Taking Action” with a goal of providing tangible solutions, inspiring thought-provoking conversations, exchanging crucial information and developing powerful connections among people from across the globe. “There is a lot of networking happening,” Jones says. “Someone might be working on something similar to you. Our speakers talk about what they are working on and after the talks, anyone who wants to take that further can go and sit with them to take it to the next level.”

Let’s Talk

The Roots Conference invites a different group of speakers every year to talk about what they are doing. For example, Rabbi Alexander Rapaport co-founded the first kosher food kitchen in Brooklyn, N.Y. and partnered with Jones and The Chef’s Garden to receive fresh produce.

“This was particularly meaningful to me and really struck me,” Jones says. “In my mind, I thought if someone was hungry for food they would be grateful for a warm meal. I never considered the reality that someone may have a religious conviction and may not be able to consume that meal without jeopardizing their religious convictions.”

One of goals at The Chef’s Garden is to minimize waste and Jones looks for every opportunity to reduce it. Produce that is still great quality, but may not meet the grade is shipped FedEx for free to the kosher kitchen. “In the meantime, we get a great product to folks,” he adds. “It’s this type of example of things that can happen when you network. There is no telling where this ends up because there are so many networking opportunities.” 

Topics at this year’s conference include global waste, fermentation, the potential for seaweed to change the world, the chef activist and clean water for everyone. “It’s not about growing to some giant number,” Jones says. “These powerful and effective conferences are focused on a particular goal. That goal is really not about growing to a number, but continuing to make an impact socially, environmentally and sustainably. The future is going to be driven by collaboration. All of us is smarter than one of us.” 

During the conference, attendees will eat their own words. “There is a panel where they talk about food waste and ways not to be wasteful with things most people might throw away,” says Stephenie Medina, account supervisor at Bread and Butter Public Relations. “There is a meal that will be made from food waste type of items. Attendees can sit down, see and eat food prepared in a way that maybe they hadn’t thought about. They are seeing and engaging in what they are talking about.” 

The Chef’s Garden

Jones is considered a pioneer of the sustainable agricultural movement and continues to keep the family run farm – The Chef’s Garden – on the cutting-edge of the produce business. He says his family’s 300-acre vegetable farm in Huron, Ohio grows the tastiest and most nutritious specialty vegetable herbs and microgreens, the shoots of salad vegetables.

“What better place to host an event [the Roots Conference] of this magnitude than right here on the farm?” Jones asks. “There is no personal agenda for The Chef’s Garden to host this event. We are providing a nice environment for conversation and dialogue.”  

Just a couple miles from the farm, Jones started the Culinary Vegetable Institute, which provides a place for the world’s most innovative chefs to share knowledge, experiment and discover techniques for growing and preparing flavorful varieties of vegetables. “We believe quality food should be available to everyone,” Jones says. “There are powerful things happening in the world and the Roots Conference allows us to share what we are doing, magnify and support it, and work together to increase the efforts. We really want the attendees to feel empowered by collaborating and finding ways to work together. The theme of Taking Action is about moving things forward.”

Follow our coverage of the event Sept. 21-22 on Twitter @FoodandDrinkMag and Facebook at Food & Drink Intl. 

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