By Maureen Kelly Several weeks ago, I joined over 1,500 people at the first International Urban and Small Farm Conference convened by Growing Power, one of the leaders in the national urban agricultu
By Maureen Kelly
Several weeks ago, I joined over 1,500 people at the first International Urban and Small Farm Conference convened by Growing Power, one of the leaders in the national urban agriculture movement today. Growing Power believes that creating new food systems will not only promote healthier practices, but also foster more closely-connected communities.
The conference took place at the Wisconsin State Fair Grounds, an agricultural institution, traditional to American farm life for well over a century. This particular ground is hallowed, once home to Native Americans who stewarded the land for sustenance, and home to one of three remaining Indian burial mounds; the other two were bulldozed over to make way for a racetrack. With this history in mind, hosting the conference at this location made a setting that was a positive and radical addition to the already existing and deep-stretching agricultural roots.
Keynote speakers included Will Allen, founder of Growing Power, Winona La Duke, an Objibwe activist and executive director of Honor the Earth, director of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Judith Palfrey, and Activist Grace Lee Grace Boggs gave the Saturday keynote by SKYPE from Detroit.
Through his speech, Will Allen discussed the necessity of working together as a team in order to fundamentally change the food system. He told us that building a Good Food System is the most important thing that will lead us in building sustainable communities, another step toward the ‘good food revolution.’ Allen says that this revolution will create communities that have access to healthy and affordable food.
Winona LaDuke followed, her voice billowing with pride and urgency, as she spoke about the decolonization of food, the rice harvest the day before, and the need to protect the genetic integrity and ancestral heritages of seeds and land. At lunch we were served the very rice Winona and fellow Anishinaabe harvested earlier in the week.
Both speakers and participants shared information about how to create a food system that builds better health and more closely-knit communities. Workshops were given in Urban and Small farming, Urban Aquaculture, Brownfield Development, Renewable Energy, Experiential Education (involving schoolchildren in the movement for more nutritious food), Growing Food & Justice and more. Some of the conference’s 200 speakers came from as far away as South Africa and the Netherlands. Speakers shared their expertise on everything from “Edible Landscapes” (turning your front yard into a vegetable garden), to how to transform your school lunch program through collaborative efforts of school food service administrators, distributors, farmers and parents.
The Milwaukee conference made clear that the Good Food Revolution is gathering momentum. It is a movement whose time has come. The connections between growing affordable, healthy food to public health, renewable energy and urban resilience were seen throughout the three days. It was not just about food. Words like “justice,” “dignity” and “community” were uttered as often as “compost,” “nutrients” and “livestock.” This is really what social justice is about. The ultimate goal is to make sure everyone, in all our communities, has access to healthy, safe, affordable and culturally appropriate food.
The strength of engaging as a team and sharing lessons learned, best practices, accomplishments and pursuits will guide us in developing communities that grow healthy accessible food and value inclusive relationships not based on privilege and power; but of a truth that cannot be defined until it is put into action. At the closing plenary Will Allen said it best, “Engage the whole community authentically in your work, and ensure diversity & representation or it WON’T WORK.”