Jim Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural, welcomed participants to the three-day symposium and emphasized the importance of dialogue and forthright discussions. The premise of this symposium, he said, is that the agri-food sector is buffeted by substantial forces: market globalization, intensive industrialization, and ecological pressures. These forces determine to a great extent the way farms operate, impacts to the land and who will be able to farm in the future. At the other end of the food chain, questions are raised about the nutritious value of the foods produced and how to ensure sufficient food on a constant basis so that all may eat.
Ennis reviewed the symposium agenda and stressed the importance of feedback from everyone as participants and, more critically, as leaders in their communities and broader networks. Opportunities for discussion would take place at individual tables that each had assigned scribes; time was also allotted a Q & A period after each presentation. Then on the last day of the symposium, a two-hour session would be devoted to comments and reflections by Participants.
Ennis also noted that Catholic Rural Life is a principal sponsor of the Faith, Food and the Environment project. He added that he is also helping to coordinate a second symposium to be held in Milan, Italy, in late June 2015, along with the International Catholic Rural Association and Pontifical Council for Justice & Peace as main hosts.
Besides himself as one of the Symposium presiders, Ennis acknowledged two others:
Doug Peterson is president of the Minnesota Farmers Union; he has served seven consecutive terms since 2002 as the MFU. Prior to that, Peterson was a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives for twelve years. He has gained recognition across the state as a strong advocate and leader for rural communities. Peterson also serves as secretary of the National Farmers Union, a voting delegate of the World Farmers Organization, and board chair of Farmers Union Enterprises, which is a principal sponsor of the Faith, Food and the Environment project.
Jerry Hagstrom is a columnist for National Journal. He writes and publishes The Hagstrom Report, a daily e-newsletter on agriculture; he also writes for DTN, an Omaha-based agricultural news service, Agweek, which is published in Grand Forks, N.D., and for the Capital Press, a West Coast agricultural newspaper. The American Journalism Review has named Hagstrom one of its “unsung heroes” for “sterling work in the shadows” covering agriculture.
At the end of his introductory remarks, Ennis turned the podium over to Doug Peterson, who introduced the first speaker: Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)