Our Food Lifeline: A SXSW Eco 2014 Preview

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How can we help family farmers feed the world while caring for the earth?

That’s the focus of World Food Day 2014, organized by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization.  It’s also a topic that is near and dear to my heart—I grew up as the fifth generation of family farmers, and I have the privilege of getting to know some of the most inspiring family farmers in the country through my work at NRDC.  And it’s a question I hope to address during next week’s 2014 South by Southwest Eco conference.

SXSW Eco brings thousands of the most plugged in thought leaders—techies, writers, farmers, and business leaders, among others—to Austin, Texas.  I’m honored to have been invited to participate this year, and here’s a preview of what I’m looking forward to most.

Why Soil Matters: Our Food Lifeline

Weather has always been a challenge for farmers. But recently, farmers are experiencing a disproportionate amount of the "wrong weather at the wrong time." Whether it’s a blizzard in Iowa in May or a drought for the centuries in California, farmers must cope with the new reality of climate change to secure our food future. 

Monday afternoon, I’ll discuss what we can do to secure our food future with Jonathan Cobb, a Texas farmer and champion of healthy soil and Brooke Barton, the Director of the Water Program at Ceres, a non-profit that mobilizes investors, companies, and public interest groups to accelerate and expand the adoption of sustainable business practices.  Our panel will be moderated by Katy Kiefer, producer and host of the radio show and podcast “What Doesn’t Kill You,” on the Heritage Radio Network. We’ll be live-tweeting panel highlights from @NRDCFood and @NRDC

More from NRDC: “Beer and Green Infrastructure can Save the World”  

If you’re more of a beer drinker than a foodie, I hope you’ll check out another panel with an NRDC participant on Monday afternoon. NRDC’s Josh Mogerman will join Ian Hughes of Goose Island Beer Company and Tracy Tackett from Seattle Public Utilities about why great beer needs clean water.

The craft brewing industry—makers of nationally respected brews, small business entrepreneurs and water quality experts—has a lot to say about maintaining high standards under the federal Clean Water Act. Those voices can also reinforce important work being done by local government units across the country to integrate new tools that use natural surfaces to collect, hold and filter storm-water: treating it as a resource as vast swaths of America toil through droughts. Green infrastructure brings aesthetic and green space amenities into our neighborhoods, while addressing dangerous flooding issues more cheaply than the costly concrete and steel infrastructure that cities have relied upon in the past. Keep your eye on @NRDCWater and @NRDC to follow the panel highlights.

More from NRDC: “Our Deafening Oceans”

On Tuesday afternoon, I am excited to hear from NRDC’s Western Director Joel Reynolds and Joshua Horowitz, author of the book “War of the Whales.”

In recent decades we have speedily industrialized our seas. All that shipping traffic, oil and gas exploration, as well as the large scale Defense Department sonar work have made the oceans a cacophonous place. That is tough for many denizens of the depths who know their world by noise. The world’s whales, dolphins and marine mammals use sound to communicate, avoid predators, find mates and maintain their awareness in the darkness of the sea. During this panel, Joel and Joshua will discuss the battle over ocean noise, talk solutions to these problems, and show clips from an upcoming documentary about this subject. We’ll be live-tweeting this exciting conversation from @NRDC.

These three NRDC panels are just a fraction of the engaging subjects SXSW Eco participants are tackling this year.  Check out the full SXSW Eco 2014 program guide to start planning your full conference experience!