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Midwest conference tackles ag and food policy issues

Drake University is hosting “Nourishing (Feeding) the World” Feb. 22-23 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Iowa’s largest private university is challenging students and community members everywhere to get involved and embrace agriculture as a vital area of civic engagement. The Drake University 2018 Engaged Citizen Conference, with a theme of “Nourishing (Feeding) the World,” is set for Thursday, Feb. 22 and Friday, Feb. 23 at Drake’s Olmsted Center in Des Moines.

The conference is free and open to the public. It will feature panel discussions by a high-profile set of industry representatives, scholars and policymakers. Included is a keynote presentation by former U.S. Ambassador Darci Vetter, one of the nation’s leading experts on international trade and agriculture. 

Drake faculty members, students and community members will lead breakout sessions on topics such as agriculture and global health; agricultural labor issues; agriculture, food and the media; and environmental sustainability in agriculture. 

Screening of new film Farmers for America

A film screening of Farmers for America will kick off the conference Thursday night, accompanied by a panel discussion with the filmmaker and three farmers. 

“This year’s Engaged Citizen Conference provides Drake students and other attendees the opportunity to examine a wide variety of pressing political and social issues related to agriculture,” says Arthur Sanders, associate provost at Drake University. “The questions we will explore during the conference will benefit from input and engagement from diverse careers and academic disciplines. The interdisciplinary nature of these important issues strike at the core value of public discussion.”

Community members of all ages, professions and backgrounds are encouraged to attend, says Neil Hamilton, director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University. “It takes a conscientious and committed community to feed the world and ensure a sustainable agricultural environment for our children and grandchildren,” he adds. “This conference provides an opportunity for robust, nonpartisan dialogue that helps foster the continued health and vibrancy of Iowa and Midwest agriculture." 

Former chief ag negotiator for U.S. is keynote speaker

Darci Vetter, a 1996 Drake alumna, served from 2014 to January 2017 as chief ag negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, a Senate-confirmed Presidential appointment with the rank of Ambassador. She currently serves as diplomat in residence at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she is working to launch the Yeutter Institute in International Trade and Finance.

For the evening reception on Thursday Feb. 22 in the Sussman Theater on the Drake campus, the schedule is:

6:00 p.m.— Reception with food provided from local farms

6:30 p.m.— Documentary film showing
 Farmers for America. This is a newly-released documentary that traces the extraordinary changes coming to America’s food system, as food consumers flock to farmers’ markets, embrace farm-to-table lifestyles and insist on knowing where their food is coming from. The film is narrated by Dirty Jobs star Mike Rowe, and was written, produced and directed by Graham Meriwether. 

7:45 p.m.— Discussion with filmmaker, Graham Meriwether. Neil Hamilton, director of the Drake Ag Law Center, will moderate a discussion and audience Question & Answer session with filmmaker Graham Meriwether, farmer Kellie Blair, and beginning farmer D’Quinton Robertson.

Hamilton, a professor of law, farms with his wife near Des Moines. He’s one of the nation’s leading authorities on the role of law in shaping agriculture and the food system. Panelist Kellie Blair farms with husband near Dayton, Iowa. On her blog Home Again Finnegan, Blair says she’s a proud conservationist, agronomist and mother of two children. She’s active in the Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Food & Family Project, Common Ground and community activities. She will share her family’s farming story and passion for safe, high-quality food.

Panelist D'Quinton Robertson is a beginning farmer and board member of the Iowa Farmers Union. He is in a training program with an ag equipment dealership, has worked as a hired hand on Iowa farms and is interested in returning to his family’s cattle operation in Alabama. 

For the session on Friday Feb. 23 in Olmsted Center on the Drake campus, the schedule is: 

12:00 p.m. — Event Registration

12:25 p.m. — Welcome and introduction

12:30 p.m. — Address by keynote speaker Ambassador Darci Vetter, the Strategic Consultant on International Trade and Agriculture, and Diplomat in Residence at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is the former Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

2:00 p.m. — Networking tables 

2:15 p.m. — Breakout Sessions

3:25 p.m. Closing session  

Conference registration and additional information is available online at

The 2018 Engaged Citizen Conference is sponsored by the Engaged Citizen Experience at Drake University, David and Carol Golder, The Golder Family Foundation, and the Ronald and Jane Olson Endowment on Global Service-Learning.

Source: Drake University Agricultural Law Center

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