Sandra Lerner

Farmer, Food Producer & Co-Founder Cisco Systems

Biographical Sketch
Sandra Lerner is the owner of Ayrshire Farm and Hunter’s Head Tavern in Upperville, Virginia. Humanely produced beef and poultry from the farm are offered on the menu at the tavern. Lerner also operates meatpacking, mail order and butcher shop businesses. A former director of computer operations for the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, Lerner is a co-founder of Cisco Systems and Urban Decay Cosmetics.

Presentation Summary
The American food system has changed dramatically since the days when farmers fed the animals they or citizens in their local area consumed at the table. In those days, the basic assumptions regarding the food system embraced a local rural economy, local ecosystem and local consumers. Today, we have a food system in which global companies not only produce food, but also control a significant portion of grain exports, supply fertilizer and seed and participate in farm programs. The increasingly high profile multi-national companies occupy in the world agricultural commerce, meat processing and food production begs the question: “Is there a place in America for small producers and family farms?”

Today, the average American farmer is 63 years old. Fifty-nine percent of them have a second, off-farm income. Fourteen percent have incomes below the poverty line. At the same time, one percent of all American farms are lost annually. Why is this happening? One reason is that U.S. farm policy does not recognize global trends in agriculture. Other countries have strong regulations regarding farming practices such as raising genetically modified crops, animal welfare standards and traceability of the origins of food products.

The market for organically raised farm products has grown dramatically — about 20 percent per year over the last ten years. Yet organic farming receives less than one tenth of one percent of public finding for research. In a number of ways, the emphasis in this country on conventional farming resembles the American automobile industry in the 1960’s. Our reliance on the industrialization of food brings with it problems that are likely to compound over time. Native farmers are unable to compete with cheap food imports and are thus forced off the land. Land is purchased by agribusiness companies and Mexican and Central American farmers emigrate to the U.S. as farm workers.

American farmers should oppose a farm policy that favors large multi-national agri-businesses. Such policies jeopardize our most basic form of national security — food. Farmers and farm advocates should work to change the farm bill by supporting country of origin labeling (COOL) which tells us where our food comes from and the National Animal Identification System that would enable us to quickly and efficiently trace contamination and diseases to their source. A new emphasis should be put on buying and selling locally. Legislators and businesses should be convinced to re-establish local food economies and consumers should be asking, whether food shopping or dining, this question: “Where is our food coming from?”

In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.