Jane Maland Cady, PhD, is hosting a free Food Tank webinar entitled “Research for Resilience: How Farmer Centered Research Powers Ecological Solutions” on April 12, 2017, at 12pm EST.

Jane is the Director of the International Program for The McKnight Foundation, which focuses grantmaking on sustainable livelihoods in 15 countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, particularly on agroecological research for smallholder farmers and natural resource rights for local communities.

Jane has extensive domestic and international experience working with community development initiatives and sustainable agriculture systems, through her teaching, evaluation practice, and on-the-ground implementation. Having grown up on a southern Minnesota farm, she is committed to promoting sustainability and equity in agriculture and food systems around the globe, involving farmers in the process.

Food Tank had a chance to speak with Jane about her background, inspiration, and thoughts on approaching solutions in the food system.

Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?

Jane Maland Cady (JMC): I was born into food and agriculture—in a southern Minnesota farm family. I became very interested in the differences between high-input oriented models of agriculture and ecological models in the late 1970s and had many heated conversations with my family about this. I was concerned early on about caring for the earth and our health and balancing that with a myopic view of productivity. In addition, I have always liked digging in the dirt and wanted to be able to grow food for myself and my family. It’s a great skill to have.

FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?

JMC: I am very excited about the growing recognition of using ecological approaches to growing food, particularly linked to the growing interest in rebuilding local and regional food systems. This not only builds regional economic and cultural vibrancy, but it helps us all stay healthier. Also, there is so much that we can learn from each other across the globe about how to maintain and amplify these local and regional food systems. Being able to exchange understanding and co-create new solutions is also inspiring to me.

FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?

JMC: I have many kinds of food heroes, as I get inspiration from people. I will mention two—Ron Kroese, co-founder of the Land Stewardship Project and a former Program Director for the Mississippi River Program at The McKnight Foundation. When I was first starting to understand the differences with the way we grow food and build food systems around that, I was searching for local Minnesota examples of sustainable agriculture. Ron’s work in Minnesota and, more broadly, with the Land Stewardship Project served as an organizational example making a difference for farmers and surrounding policy spaces. It bravely demonstrated a complementary approach to growing food, when sustainable ag was not kindly viewed upon by most. In addition, Ron is a kind, thoughtful, inspiring gardener, music lover, and committed individual.  Secondly, my heroes are the many female family farmers from around the world that work hard every day—growing food, raising their children, managing their households, preparing meals, washing clothes, and helping their children with their homework—that do not get the recognition they deserve. They inspire me and keep me grounded.

FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?

JMC: Soil health—it is the key to many other changes. If we can nurture and regenerate our soils, it implies so much more. We grow healthy soils by using ecological management practices, which means that water quality will improve, resilience to climate extremes will improve, and the food we grow on that soil can be just that much healthier and diverse for those that eat it.

FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?

JMC: Grow something that you can eat and eat it. Grow it in your yard, a bag, a pot, or a box, but grow it and share it with your family and friends. Talk about where your food comes from and how it is grown. When we pay attention to where our food comes, it makes a difference in what is grown. The saying “consumer as co-producer” has profound truth and we can begin to understand that by growing a bit of our own food and buying locally.

Click here to register for Jane Maland Cady’s free Food Tank webinar on April 12.