With a stated goal of confronting food and agriculture policy issues in the face of global uncertainty, an initiative called AGree was launched recently by a broad-based coalition of leading industry figures. Citing challenges like a rapidly increasing global population, limited arable land, pressure on fresh water quality and availability and environmental degradation, the initiative’s organizers say this is a pivotal time to be addressing policy issues.

AGree’s mission is to foster dialogue about important agricultural issues and to provide meaningful data, research and insight that will inform policy decisions. The leaders of AGree include Dan Glickman, former congressman and secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under President Clinton; Gary Hirshberg, chairman, president and “CE-Yo” of Stonyfield Farm; Jim Mosely, former USDA deputy secretary under Presdent George W. Bush and Indiana farmer for over 40 years; and Emmy Simmons, former assistant administrator for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The initiative, which is funded by eight leading charitable foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is set to fill a void in current discussions about agriculture, according to organizers. These dialogues frequently lack perspective across multiple frames of reference, such as those that concern energy, rural economies, environment and health.

“AGree is starting with no pre-set solutions. We will work on these issues from a different and more comprehensive approach,” AGree’s executive director Deborah Atwood told WholeFoods. Specific areas of focus include improving agricultural productivity along with environmental performance nationally and globally, enhancing the availability of and access to nutritious foods, and promoting the economic interests of rural communities.

The effort was announced at a press conference held in Washington, D.C. and attended by the group’s leaders. “The organization will create a process for finding food and ag solutions without relying on the ‘us vs. them’ dynamic that currently dominates the debate,” Atwood says. Though they hold diverse opinions, there is mutual recognition among the group’s leaders that current food and agriculture policy is not sustainable, according to Atwood.

Early on in its existence, the initiative will be listening to stakeholders like farmers, conservationists, financial leaders and health specialists, to gain insight into the nuances of these issues. “Meaningful dialogue and agreement between the different factions will not come quickly or easily, of course. This is why AGree is at least an eight-year initiative. The 2012 farm bill alone is not our goal,” Atwood says.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2011 (online 5/20/11)