Opening Sessions

Jim Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, welcomed participants to the three-day symposium and emphasized the importance of dialogue and forthright discussions. The premise of this symposium 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, but 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 turned the podium over to Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, who introduced the first speaker:

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

In 2006, Amy Klobuchar became the first woman to represent Minnesota in the U.S. Senate. She has assumed leadership on a number of policy issues, from antitrust and competition policy to export and commerce standard. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Klobuchar worked closely with Minnesota farmers during the 2008 and 2014 reauthorizations of the Farm Bill. Her remarks will highlight some of the critical policy concerns surrounding agriculture, food assistance, and development.

1) The challenge to produce food for a growing world population

In her remarks, Klobuchar immediately acknowledged the challenge the world faces: providing food for all in a world of seven billion, expected to be nine billion by the year 2050 — just 35 years from now. Even now, too many go hungry, including children. The U.S. cannot produce enough for all, so we must teach the knowledge and expertise of agricultural production even as we continue to share our agricultural goods.

2) A Farm Bill to maintain Nutrition programs and Conservation programs

She mentioned her efforts on the past two Farm Bills and successes in maintaining the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/SNAP: keeping it intact for the benefit of women, children and low-income families. In respect to farm programs, she said she was proud to advocate for Conservation: to strengthen and extend such programs to protect farmland while providing incentives to farmers who practiced good stewardship.

3) Confronting climate change and increasing energy efficiency

Concerning climate change, she felt there were missed opportunities in the current and past Administrations: opportunities to reduce carbon emissions and improve renewable energy standards. But disputes in Congress and between Congress and the executive branch prevented any effective action. She would have preferred incremental action, or “getting what you can at the time” without worrying if it was enough. She expressed optimism that bipartisan support can be reached if bills focus on energy efficiency, which everyone can agree upon.

4) Combating hunger overseas: combination of food aid and farm expertise

She talked about overseas food assistance and how some in Congress would like to cut back or off. She felt this would be damaging to the U.S., both from a moral perspective and international relations. The federal government can work with church groups, as well as companies, to confront hunger where it persists and to aid in creating development solutions to improve food production where needed. Once again she called for a sharing of our technical expertise, along with the donation of food relief supplies.


Opening remarks were also made by Rev. Michael Czerny, S.J.

Rev. Michael Czerny, SJ, is Chief of Staff to the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. His remarks reflected the thinking of Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice & Peace, and one of the Vatican’s most influential leaders. (Cardinal Turkson is globally regarded as an authority on the ethics of ecology and is currently drafting Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical on the environment, expected to be published by mid-2015.)

1) Natural offshoot of the “Vocation of the Business Leader”

Rev. Czerny reflected upon the process begun in early 2011 by faith and business leaders to develop a resource titled The Vocation of the Business Leader. That stirred the challenge to go even deeper into particular vocations that are essential to the future of humanity, such as engineers; political leaders (both elected and professional public servants); and the judiciary. “But the most active project is this Symposium’s subject,” he said: “to explore the vocation of the agricultural leader in at least three dimensions: Food, the Environment, and Faith.”

2) The unique dimension of food

There is a unique dimension to food; it is not another commercial product or consumer item. Food is essential to human flourishing; its production is directly related to social justice and providing for everyone’s family and neighbors. The sustainable production of food is therefore a fundamental obligation to which all of us as members of society are responsible.

“We should lament that we have become disconnected from the land and how our food is produced,” Czerny said. This disconnection results in putting trust in an industrial agri-food system that controls virtually all the food in its many forms in the commercial market. (Get into “Milan Protocol” paradoxes: how can there be both hunger & obesity in today’s world? Why does industrial production of food lead to food safety & human health issues? Why are food crops grown for non-food purposes? (biofuels, lubricants)

3) The “agricultural problem” is actually many problems

Rev. Czerny alluded to other aspects of the “agricultural problem” has expressed in other parts of the world. Peasant movements, the “landless” and indigenous people drew the attention of Pope Francis, who affirmed their concerns around “land grabbing, deforestation, expropriation of water, inappropriate pesticides” and culminating in the genuine scandal and crime of hunger in the world, “while at the same time tons of food are simply discarded.”

4) Importance of highlighting ethical questions

Economic, ecological and ethical issues like these, whether far away or here at home, are ours to address during this Symposium. For ours is the responsibility as Christians to consider the important underlying ethical questions:

  • How can hunger in the human family be overcome?
  • How can we ensure a safe, affordable, and sustainable food supply?
  • How can we ensure that farmworkers and small farm owners, in the U.S. and around the world, live and work with dignity?
  • How can land, water, and other elements of God’s creation be preserved, protected, and used well in the service of the common good? How do we respond to the effects of Climate Change?
  • How can rural communities in this country and around the world survive and thrive?

5) The challenge is daunting, but the Holy Spirit is with us

The challenges are daunting and perhaps appear overwhelming, Rev. Czerny said. “But confident in the one who is the Truth, and strengthened by the spirit who works in the secret of every human being’s heart, we can together take up the task of entering into a fruitful and faithful dialogue at the service of humanity and a quest for a more just and peaceful order among men and women.”

He continued: “When we place our concerns before the discerning minds of all people of good will and draw upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, the source of all truth, we cannot help but proceed in great confidence and hope for our Church and each other in the modern world.”

Rev. Czerny concluded his opening remarks with a challenge: “Therefore, I dare to challenge everyone attending this Symposium to utilize all of the gifts God has given each of you—your wisdom, your experience, and your creativity—to discuss and wrestle with these questions together, so that we can provide resources for the next generation of food leaders who are committed to the common good and informed by faith to address the food and environmental challenges before us.”