Imagine strolling down memory lane, only to find yourself at the intersection of journalism, farming, and climate change. That's exactly where I found myself during my recent conversation with multimedia maven and friend, Chip Carter. The founder of CBC3 Media and creator of the evocative television show, Where the Food Comes From. Chip and I unpacked the complexities of modern agriculture and the seismic challenges posed by climate change. Together, we navigated the hard truths about farming, exploring issues from the impacts of a changing climate on our farmers to the resilience required to overcome such adversity.
As we delved deeper into the labyrinth of agriculture, we found ourselves examining the role it plays in our daily lives, from the produce on our supermarket shelves to the mountainous waste we create. With Chip's insight, we untangle the thorny issue of food waste in the US, the organizations working tirelessly to reduce it, and how 'ugly' produce could be our secret weapon against this mammoth problem. In the final leg of our journey, we contemplate the evolving consumer landscape, the pressing need for sustainable business practices, and how we, as consumers, can play a part in this important change. So, buckle up and get ready for a conversation loaded with hard-hitting truths and eye-opening insights, where we talk everything from farming to food waste, consumer behaviors to climate change. Join us, and let's change the world, one bite at a time.
Welcome to Lost in the Supermarket. You know it's not very often that you meet somebody for a second time, and I want to roll back about 25, 30 years. The gentleman that you see with me, Chip Carter. We both worked for the Chicago Tribune, and Chip and I had some very meaningful conversations then about the food world. So, Chip, catch us up. What have you been doing for the past 25 years?Chip:
A little bit. You know, I was syndicated with Chicago Tribune for about 20 years. I was wrote a column for the Washington Post for a couple of years, went with the AOL group and Huffington Post in New York as a writer, and while I was there about 14 years ago now somebody handed me a camera and said why don't you try doing the crazy stuff that you do with words with this instead, and, in fact, why don't you go stand in front of the camera while you do it? So it was a very dramatic career shift that began in that moment and over the last few years has progressed. I made the decision in 2009 to come out of the more mainstream media and come back home to the country where I'm from. I'm a preacher's kid. My dad was a farm preacher in Georgia and Texas and we just moved from one little farm town to another, and in my late 40s, I started hearing the call to come on and tell the stories of my people, and that's what I decided to do. You and I first reconnected after the Tribune, when I was with one of the trade publications covering the produce industry, and all of a sudden, there you were again as a keynote speaker everywhere I went. So there I was standing in front of you after coming off another podium or lectern going fellow, I got some questions for you. We were having those kind of conversations. So then a few more years go by and about six years ago I started my company, CBC3 media, with the express intent and purpose of making a prime time television show called where the food comes from. It's centered on the farm, but we go upstream and downstream from the farm to tell you all the stories, show you all the invisible hands that are involved in feeding the world and keeping this fed. We know there are billions of people in the world. In this country only one and a half percent of the population is involved in agriculture. When JFK was president it was over 50, so now we know there are far few people feeding far more of us. The show's done very well. We premiered on RFDTV in January of 22. We're now on every Friday night 9: 30 pm and 12: 30 am Eastern time. Get that second broadcast for West Coast prime time heading into season four starts October 6. We're also available on demand on the Cowboy channel and the big news is we just signed a new agency deal that's going to start taking the show and all four seasons by the end of the year will be available on multiple other networks everywhere streaming broadcast, cable, satellite and OTT, which when they told us we were going to be on OTT during that zoom meeting, I actually had to Google under the desk to see what OTT meant. So it's everything that's not anything else is OTT. So it's a very exciting time. We're telling some very dramatic and wonderful stories. We say we are about the business of farming, but we are equally about the heart and soul of farmers. So that's the. That's the nutshell of the last 25 years.Phil:
Well, congratulations, it sounds fabulous, and let's head to the farm. Yeah, you're on farms. You're talking to farmers all the time. We're in an era of disastrous climate change. Sure, we know that, with hurricanes that we're seeing all the time, whether it's in Los Angeles, whether it's in Florida, we're seeing droughts. What's on the mind of farmers? You mentioned, when JFK was in office, how many farmers we had. Now we're down to this. I mean, are farmers just gonna throw up their hands and say, hey, you know, we can't make it anymore?Chip:
Not ever, or we'll all die. I mean. So that's, I love the idea of the well-meaning people who say all of our problems could be solved if everyone just planted a garden in the backyard. Well, we tried that once and we call it the bad old days, and it has things like famine and starvation. Anybody who has ever tried to grow so much as a pot of tomatoes on their back porch understands it's not that easy. So no, they're not going to quit. But you mentioned climate change, as about six years ago, the first farmer told me we think we're gonna have to relocate the farm. We're either gonna have to move north or south to keep our market window. So look, you know, we're filled from the retail side. Everything's based on contracts and market windows. If you're growing cherries in Washington state, you've got a market window, and if you're growing oranges in Florida, you've got a market window. And it was about six years ago. I heard for the first time we're gonna have to move, and I've heard it with increasing frequency sets. We just made an episode. We spent a day at the University of Georgia with one of the world's leading climate change authorities, specifically on how climate change is impacting agriculture and will continue to impact agriculture. And I went in there hoping we were gonna have this conversation where she was gonna share all of these wonderful projects that are in development that are gonna save us all. We didn't get any of that, Phil. I mean, the whole day I'm kind of like she's holding back, she's saving back. She's gonna give us the cherry note, the cherry on top, at the end to make it all better, and there was no all better. So there's a million questions and that's a million problems and fortunately, smarter minds and ours are at work trying to solve those problems, but we're gonna see that lead to dramatic changes in production and relocation, you know, and people are kind of like okay, so they have to live with the family far from two hours north. So what? Well, that family's probably been there farming for 120 years. That's where their roots are, that's where their people are born and buried, that's their lives. So you're not just talking about going and replanting some fields a couple of hours north, you're talking about changing your entire life and there's no conceivable answer in the near future and in the short range. Remarkably, what we're seeing on the research side is probably the greatest hope right now, as we see a lot of the seed companies and the researchers private, public, university, everything are working on. Next, new varieties. I've always joked. I've been joking for the last 15 years. All farmers want is a crop that will plant and harvest itself and grow without any water. That's all they want. Incredibly, researchers have made a lot of progress on those struts. They're coming out with new varieties that are more heat tolerant, that are more drought tolerant, that need less water to produce. The answer will be in science and make no mistake about it. The answer will be in the hands of the scientific community and the farming community. And what has always struck me as remarkable about that? We know a lot of more conservative Americans and rural Americans are somewhat suspicious of science and they look at science with the leery eye. I do not know a single farmer who does not have implicit trust in science, explicit trust and faith in science. The solutions are there, they'll be there. We're working on them. What are they now? Big question mark hanging over everybody's head and everything. So I don't know. Let's find out, Phil.Phil:
Yeah you're talking about new varieties. When I go into the average supermarket today, there's probably about 500 SKUs in the produce department. Do we need 500 SKUs? Is it part of the problem that you know we've created not the varieties from science that you're talking about. That's more heat resistant and so on. But you know I can walk in and see you know 13 different varieties of apples. Do we need 13 varieties of apples? Is that part of the problem?Chip:
Well, it's lovely to have them, and I'll tell you what it's researched. It's given us all these new amazing grapes. You remember 10 years ago when grapes came in red, green or black and that's what you had, and now they're cotton, candy and jelly bean and everything else. That's just breeding. I think that's great. I think that kind of diversity is great and I guarantee you we eat a whole lot more grapes now. We eat it a few years ago. But do we need more varieties filled to you like bananas? Yes, love bananas. Bananas are good. Guess what? In a few years, you probably ain't gonna have no bananas out of Central and South America. You know why there's a blight currently in that country. Almost the entire banana deal in Central and South America is all planted in one variety cavendish, cavendish yep. When you practice monoculture, that is, when you plant one variety of one thing and only one variety of one thing, you leave yourself very, very vulnerable. If a new disease comes along, if a new pest comes along that likes that particular variety, you're in danger. And right now in Central and South America, bananas are endangered. No one knows what to do. They're popping as hard as they can, they're just popping out bananas and they will as long as they can, but that banana population is going to disappear. Now, the really incredible thing about that the short-sightedness of it is that already happened once before. You might remember, when we were kids there was an old song we sometimes ran around singing and you'd see it on the three stooges or something, the yes, well, you have no bananas. That's because when that song was written they had no bananas. The banana plantations in Central and South America at that time had been planted in a variety called the Gros Michel Only one variety, monoculture. There was a blight, there was a disease. It wiped out the Gros Michel. You know, when you have a banana candy or a banana popsicle or something and it tastes like that banana flavor in your head, but it doesn't taste like a banana that you peel and eat, it's because those flavors were developed based on the flavor of the old Gros Michel and we got used to that for sweets and treats, and so they never changed it. But now they've replanted all of the Gros Michel with Cavendish. They've done the same thing again, and a hundred years later we're looking at the exact same problem. So, yes, we do need varietal difference. We might not need 15 different branded apples. You know a Fuji and this and the other. But we must have variety in varieties in order to protect agriculture and protect crops.Phil:
So when you look across the globe, we have a lot of situations like the bananas. You look at what's going on with citrus greening, you know, in Florida and Arizona destroying orange groves. Yet alone, you know, the ones that are still standing probably get destroyed by the hurricanes. But you know, is the problem.Chip:
By the developers.Phil:
Yeah or exactly. Or it's the problem when we look at monoculture that it's just easier for farmers to do that, you know, or the seed companies, or whatever. How do we move away from what you're describing, which saves our food supply, gives us better tasting products, gives us safer products? How do we move that?Chip:
We keep encouraging that diversity. That is what started this whole conversation. What the retailer ultimately decides to put on their shelves is up to them and certainly, as you of all people know, what decides that is what the people buy and what the people go to them and say they want. Most farmers in most crops are already aware enough to practice to not practice monoculture. I'll give you a perfect example about a Vidalia onion Fantastic, wonderful. One of my favorite things, one of my favorite stories, is the Vidalia onion. There's not just one variety of Vidalia onion. They plant 45 different varieties of Vidalia onion. You would never know to look at one taste, one smell, one cook with one that it was a different variety from the one sitting next to it. They do that to maintain diversity in the crop, to protect from diseases and pests, and also some of the varieties might bear earlier. They might come up, might be ready two weeks before a different one and, of course, in any season. Now what a farmer is trying to do is stagger that they're harvest, so you don't get everything it wants and have to deal with it, but you have a flow that you can manage and supply the marketplace. So I think we're always gonna need variety of development. It's a critical part of agriculture. Will it be part of our real world in the supermarket moving forward? I don't think so, but I think there are probably different pressures that are about to reshape the mix of the skews and what's on the shelf in our supermarkets, and the two things that are impacting that are gonna be food miles, food waste and the public opinion that is starting to gather and is going to become a force. As regards food miles and food waste, whether we want to change the system or not, they're about to make us change the system.Phil:
So I'm glad you bring up food waste. We all know the numbers that, depending on who you listen to, between 30 and 40% of all of our food in the US is wasted and that's a crime as we have people going hungry. It's a crime where we just have crops laying in fields because there's no workers to pick them, and so on. The big question is how do we fix this? How do we stop wasting food at home?Chip:
We know we waste about half of what we buy. One thing that's amazing and we work very closely with a couple of wonderful organizations Feeding America and the Society of St Andrew. I think everyone's heard of Feeding America. Society of St Andrew is actually a gleaning society and that comes from the old biblical term the people who would go into the fields after the commercial harvest and gather whatever was left and that's how they survive. That's what Society of St Andrew does as a volunteer and anyone can get involved, look them up and give them a call. It's great fellowship and a lot of fun and you're helping people. But we've learned through all of those associations and some of the shows that we've done. Yes, at home we waste half the food we buy, but 40% of our crops that are planted are left in the field after commercial harvest and the reason for that is retail. And the reason that retail does that is because of us. They've trained us to do that. We were harvesting cabbages with Society of St Andrew in North Florida and they were beautiful. They were the size of basketballs. It was the most perfect cabbage I've ever seen in my life. And we were with L&M, the L&M company. These L&M farms out of North Carolina. This is one of their Florida farms and these were the cabbages that were going to Feeding America and going to the food bank. I was like why? What on earth? This is the most perfect cabbage I've ever seen. You know what the answer was it's too big Supermarkets. Retail has a certain spec, they have a certain size. This cabbage can be no smaller than this and no larger than this. If they put out the big basketball size cabbages that were perfect, they set an expectation that the next time you're in the supermarket You're gonna have basketball size cabbages and when they're not there you're gonna be disappointed. So that's partly retail's fault, that's partly our fault. They trained us that way. We shop with our eyes, we eat with our eyes. We're looking for the perfect produce no blemishes, you know, no drips, no runs, no errors, as they say. The first thing that we're gonna have to do and retail's gonna have to help, and people like yourself can definitely and will definitely drive this message there's nothing wrong with an ugly bell pepper. It looks just as good, it tastes just as good, it smells just as good and it is every bit as nutritious. We're gonna have to learn to Take more of what we grow and do more with what we grow, and then the the next thing that we're gonna they have to do. It's the right thing to do for the economy, it's the right thing to do for the ecology. And again, whether we think so or not, or whether we even care about those things, the public is about to demand change, especially in food miles. Food miles add to food waste. But when people are sitting around asking questions like why are we burning fossil fuels and taking time and economic development To truck watermelons from Chile to Georgia, where they grow, just so you can have a watermelon in January? I never had a watermelon in January until I was probably 40. They just weren't there. They just weren't there. You did not expect the full citrus spectrum in the summertime. You're bringing up.Phil:
You're bringing up a really important point. I know something that that oboe is spoken about and urged consumers and retailers to do, but with your help may, maybe we can happen. When I was growing up, you only ate fruits and vegetables that were in season, yeah, and when you, when you had that, they were less expensive, they had more nutrition to it because of you didn't have to fly in. You know that watermelon from foreign country, yep, and they and they tasted better, how you know. I love your thoughts on this whole idea of going back to just eating what's in season.Chip:
You know, Phil, iceberg lettuce right, has no nutritional value. Right, right, Wrong, wrong. Iceberg lettuce is chock full of nutrition when it's harvested and in the first few days after harvest, by the time it gets to the supermarket on the East Coast and gets to you, that has evaporated. These are living things. They're dying from the moment they're harvested and as they continue they start to lose that nutritional value. How do we change that? I don't know. We go in a. I'm based in the Southeast. There's a major supermarket chain here that I won't mention, but it rhymes with schmublicks. So the summer in Georgia and South Carolina you cannot find a peach from Georgia or South Carolina. Georgia is the peach state, I perhaps should point out, but South Carolina should be the peach state because the production of peaches in South Carolina dwarfs Georgia and is second only to California. But schmublicks made the decision a long time ago. Sometimes in the Georgia and South Carolina deals, their problems like this year there was a late freeze caused a terrible blossom drop. Actually, what happened is they had too warm, an abnormally warm period ahead of what was projected to be the last frost date made all the trees blossom. They did get that last freeze made all the blossoms drop. Every blossom on the peach tree, same as with most fruit trees, is what becomes a piece of fruit. When all the blossoms are on the ground. None of them can turn into peaches. So next thing you know no peaches. If our previously unmentioned supermarket chain has a contract for Georgia and South Carolina peaches and they're all gone, then they just have to come out and tell their customers we don't have any peaches. But if they keep a consistent supply coming from California, then they will always have peaches. But you won't find in Georgia or South Carolina your Georgia or South Carolina peaches. That's a change that's gonna have to come at the retail level and that's a change Retail is gonna have to get used to saying and the public is going to have to get used to hearing we don't have that right now Because of weather, because of we're not gonna blame supply chain issues anymore. We're gonna have to redraw the supply chain and we're just gonna have to re-approach how we look at food. Our current food system is a byproduct of a very wealthy society, which America once was the wealthiest in the world. We're not anymore. We're a society that has plenty of problems, plenty of economic pressures, and we're gonna have to make some different decisions about how we're going to live, moving forward, and one of those things that we're going to have to decide is Do we really have to have anderines in the summer and do we really have to have watermelon in the winter? Those are just decisions. They're gonna start at the personal level, I'm sure, but at some point, retail is gonna have to get involved and go. We can't do this Responsibly and we can't do this sustainably. The good news is every study and survey you says you that that you see, shows that 80% the Millennial generation and below is looking to support companies that practice responsible corporate business and sustainable efforts. So they're gonna make us do it. They're gonna make us do it. We'd be wise to go ahead and be looking and studying about how we're gonna do that, how we're gonna answer those questions, how we're gonna keep those consumers satisfied. But we're dealing with a more savvy consumer now who's going to understand. We didn't want to transport this food Thousands of miles to make sure that you had it. Instead, we wanted to support local growers and local farmers, and right now we just don't have it. We will have it again. That's what we're gonna have to get used to.Phil:
Well, Chip, very well said, very insightful, as always. Let's lock arms together and get these words and messages out there, to the consumers and to the retailers. And thank you for joining us today on Lost in the Supermarket.Chip:
Thank you. One last plug #food not phones. Look it up. Thank you.