Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Food Policy Conference: computers and workshops

I was having significant computer problems while in Portland (the laptop kept conking out) and the hotel computer wouldn't let me have more than one window open at a time. Very frustrating. However, now I am back and with excellent connectivity, so I can tell you all about the conference and easily link to the pertinent websites!

On the way down and back, I was reading Gary Paul Nabhan's book, Where Our Food Comes From.

So, here's the workshops and sessions I went to:
  • Food Policy Advocacy 101: short course. I took a ton of notes on this half-day course. There was much discussion on strategy: constituents, allies, opponents, and targets. They mentioned an organization called the Midwest Academy, which trains people on how to organize for social change. They discussed what each of these elements were in a strategic advocacy campaign (constituents: those people you directly represent; allies: those who are on the ground for you; opponents: those who don't like what you represent and will work against you; targets: the specific people who can give you what you want). They described coalitions and recruitment, and how good communications, personal relationships, clear roles and responsibilities, transparency and accountability, a broad reach, and consensus-building are all important to making a coalition that works. In coalitions, formalized agreements can really help keep things clear and accountable. They recommended coalition letters, a memorandum of understanding between organizations, and formal agreements and titles for individual volunteers who build that coalition and make it work.
Throughout the conference my role in the library seemed most relevant, even though I was down there on behalf of food and agriculture organizations. This was because much of what I heard about was community organizing—work engaging the public and getting them involved in policy issues that directly affect them. I was pretty astounded that hardly anyone there had heard of the idea of a seed library (more on this later).
  • Regional networking with the Canadians: lots of joking around (very politely!) by an impressively savvy bunch of food activists who were NOT happy about Stephen Harper and his government's potential impact on food policy.
  • Food systems planning: this wasn't what it was advertised to be, and I and several other participants left it feeling quite shortchanged. Still, it was interesting, and the People's Budget came up in discussion.
  • Building diverse local food policy leadership: this was basically about being inclusive, avoiding discrimination and privileging, and using a nifty tool called an interrelationship diagram. This workshop was conducted by Kolu Zigbi, of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, and Rodrigo Rodriguez of the Southwest Organizing Project. These two were dynamic, interesting speakers, and excellent workshop teachers.
  • Planning for the future of food: this was a presentation of four strategic action plans at four different levels, from neighborhood to city to county to state. The plans were Food for Growth, from Buffalo's West Side in New York state; Transforming the Oakland Food System (California); Multnomah Food Action Plan: Grow and Thrive 2025 (Multnomah County, Oregon); and the Michigan Good Food Charter.
  • Accessing and using food data to support collaborative policy decisions: this was all about a great GIS mapping and database synthesis project by CARES. Really powerful tool, but only as good as the resource databases (which seem to be considerably out of date in Alaska, but this may change now that the 2010 Census is done).
  • Local food systems: this was pretty frustrating until I finally deviated from the prescribed discussion points and asked people in our group what was working for them. Then the discussion took off like a rocket and I found out about all kinds of cool things: neighborhood cooperative chicken flocks, the growth in communal community gardens in Port Townsend (up from three to 25 in one year in a community of about 8,000), an eat local week program focused on a 100-mile diet in public schools, the part of the USDA’s SNAP that allows for purchasing of food plants (something new to many at the workshop including me, although it has been part of the program since 1973), a local theme garden with plants labeled in Latin (a Roman theme), a marketing co-op for urban farmers (Urban Abundance), rotating free tastings by vendors at a local farmers’ market, a food & market calendar created through a collaborative effort from many local health and food organizations and businesses, using faith-based and other community organizations to publicize information on local food, and so on.
Overall, the conference was great. I'm really glad I went.

No comments: