Real name Debra Eschmeyer
Real job Media & marketing manager of the National Farm to School Network and the Center for Food & Justice, Occidental College; Kellogg Food & Society Policy Fellow
Dream job Farmer, writer, mother
If I were a low-hanging fruit… I would be an Aunt Ruby German Green heirloom tomato
Favorite fruit Strawberry
Favorite vegetable Sugar Ann Snap Peas
Favorite dinner growing up When I got the biggest piece of anything. I'm the youngest of seven kids, so dinnertime took a bit of strategy and dexterity.
Most embarrassing food dependency The large, divine dark chocolate chunks in Graeter's ice cream.
Most traumatic food experience I have two that are tied for first place for trauma, and several close contenders. When I was five, I witnessed a cow being slaughtered. I can picture the hanging bovine with outstretched tongue and blood flowing into the drain clear as day. My dairy farmer father took me along to cull the old cow and probably should have taken a little time to explain why she was being killed. It took me until I was 24 to appreciate meat again. The other ‘foodmare' was with green beans. My husband and I were preparing to ship out for our Peace Corps assignment as agriculture volunteers in Ecuador. The hubby was losing double-digit poundage comparable to the Biggest Loser, but I attested it to nerves. But when I prepared him a regular serving of green beans, and he started guzzling gallons of water, we went to the doctor. His blood sugar was 236. The unfortunate green beans will forever be associated with closing the Peace Corps door and opening the door to life with Type I Diabetes.
Why I do this I am a sucker for happy endings.
In sum, I am a dairy farmer's daughter with a chip on my shoulder, and I am passionate about revolutionizing the food system. I started writing when my six older siblings refused to play with me. I grew up on a farm in rural Ohio (from which I now live a mile down the road) and was shocked when I learned that not everyone works 18-hour days. Summer wasn't for pools, it was for stacking hay mows. (Duh.)
I went to college with the sure-fire plan to never return to the country. I ended up on a diet of cereal and frozen yogurt as I obsessively kept my 4.0 GPA and earned a double major while working four jobs. I ache to think of all the good food experiences I missed.
Since I didn't even leave the state of Ohio until I was a teenager, when my Dad took a wrong turn and drove into Kentucky on the way to a Red's game, I wanted to see the world — you know, stick my toe in the ocean. So I managed to quench my travel thirst by working for two causes I cared deeply about: humanitarian needs (Rotary International) and the environment (Conservation International). At the same time I was reading books like "The Ecology of Commerce," "Silent Spring," "Food Politics," "Fatal Harvest," "Fat Land," etc. that challenged my own perception of American agriculture — you know, sometimes you have to look at things from the outside in — and something just clicked connecting all of these issues for me: culture, health, environment, agriculture, and policy. As my philosophy professor told me once, "you can take the girl from the country, but you can't take the country from the girl."
As I traveled through China, India, and the Philippines, I visited many subsistence farms, viewing lush fields of vegetables and gorgeous groups of healthy children in villages that reminded me of my childhood. I had a change in goals: I wanted farm families like the one I grew up in to exist in a hundred years. I wanted to work for public policy to support common sense, diversified family farm agriculture instead of the monoculture GMO fields creating cheap food that is fueling the chronic diseases in our unhealthy nation.
So I went to work in DC for family farmers advocating for fair food policy and food sovereignty initiatives. At the National Family Farm Coalition, I received an intense education in a reasonable return on investment (or farmers' cost of production), grain reserves, GMOs, credit, WTO, trade, and how far a farmer will go to help a friend. Thank you, NFFC! However, due to my continuing struggle with cement and my desire for sun and soil, I also managed a farmers' market and worked for a short time for Tree & Leaf (one of THE best farmers in Virginia).
All was going pretty well, and then I read the organic certification requirements for pigs on pasture, and I realized I didn't even qualify as organic. It was time for the next phase. So among other reasons, my husband and I moved back to Ohio, settling in our hometown, where we have purchased my husband's family's fifth-generation family farm.
I am in the crazy and lovely position of transitioning acres to organic fruit and vegetable production while managing the media & marketing for the National Farm to School Network and the Center for Food & Justice. I live the urban and rural divide as I work from the farm in rural Ohio with my employer based in Los Angeles and my work reaching out to the inner city, suburb, and rural countryside. I feel very lucky and tired a lot.
At the Ethicurean, I hope to cover a wide range of topics, but my main interests are food policy, farm to school, diabetes, food marketing, rural sociology, food justice, and — who are we kidding? — all things food.