A Bumper Crop of Events

March 7, 2012

By Alison Hastings
Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission

Winter is usually down time for farmers. It’s the season where farmers rest their fields as well as rest themselves. Finding time to catch up with their friends, attend a conference or a workshop, be with their families, and plan for the busy planting season. For me, a non-farmer, winter is a time for self-reflection and improvement; winter provides ample opportunities to celebrate with family and friends; and it means it’s time to complete projects and plan to attend many different types of events, both professional (such as conferences) and personal (such as weddings!).

Winter – Reflection

This winter has provided many opportunities for friends and colleagues alike to get together, catch up, share experiences, and learn from one another, while possibly eating too much. One such event was TEDxManhattan, and one of the most-talked-about talks was given by the Executive Director of the James Beard Foundation on “taste” – something that very few food system professionals talk about on a regular basis, but something that the future of the food system will need.

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) and the Northeast Organic Farming Association New Jersey (NOFA-NJ) use their annual conferences, held in January or February, to inspire sustainable farmers from all walks of life. This year, both conferences featured keynotes by Shannon Hayes, author of The Grassfed Gourmet, Farmer and the Grill, and Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture. Ms. Hayes raises grassfed lamb, beef, pork and poultry with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm outside of Albany, NY. If that wasn’t enough cred for farmer audiences, she is a third-generation farmer with a PhD in Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development.

The Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development is a consortium of 33 higher education institutions in Greater Philadelphia that supports and encourages institutions to develop community-based service-learning partnerships with surrounding neighborhoods, various types of communities, and nonprofit organizations. Every year, the network holds a conference to bring together college administrators, professors, students, community members and practitioners. This year’s theme was Food Justice and drew a record-setting crowd. Malik Kenyatti Yakini, an activist, educator, and founder and executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, gave the keynote – a compelling and provocative talk on race, the meaning of food justice, and the importance of diversity and representation in a social justice movement.

Spring – Planting

With Daylight Savings Time starting this upcoming weekend, we gain an hour of sunlight but many of us lose an hour of sleep. Perhaps this is why the spring season feels overly busy and sometimes rushed. However, it also means there is a lot to do to in order to enjoy the harvest season.

One such event that is fast-paced, exciting, and leads you to wonder how they all get it done so quickly is Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia International Flower Show, which opened on Sunday, March 4th. This year, proceeds from the Flower Show will benefit City Harvest, a partnership between different organizations in Philadelphia that grows and donates thousands of pounds of fresh produce to emergency food providers.

Later in March, the Home Grown Institute hosts its first Spring Conference. The Homegrown Institute is a new Philadelphia-based collaboration of organizations, businesses, and individuals, led by an inventive educator named Sarah Gabriel, who is hoping the spring conference “will be more like a retreat than a pick-up-pamphlets-and-hear-a-few-more-speakers type of event.” The weekend will have a mix of field trips, sessions, and in-depth three-hour workshops on topics ranging from beekeeping to vermicomposting (worms!). Perhaps most impressive is the Home Grown Institute’s knack at organizing all of this interesting stuff into one weekend, under one roof and its interest in keeping the excitement of a conference going year-round through events and classes.

After hearing for years that Greater Philadelphia should hold a conference celebrating its local food assets – farmers, food artisans, restaurants, and eaters – PASA and Fair Food are working together to pull off the first Philly Farm & Food Fest on April 1 at the Philadelphia Convention Center. It looks like it will be part food tasting; part conference, part farm show… and a fun way to explain to your loved ones why you’re so passionate about the regional food system. (Or is that just what I’m hoping to get out of the Farm Fest?)

In May, Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities is hosting a national conference entitled “Beyond Hunger: Real People, Real Solutions.” The goal of the conference is to reignite a dialogue on hunger and poverty by bringing together academics, advocates, policymakers, and the true experts – those who have experienced hunger and poverty first-hand.

Fall – Harvesting

The weather in the Garden State this winter has been unseasonably warm, making it feel not quite like winter, which makes me wonder what summer and fall has in store for us. Regardless of weather patterns, Fall means back-to-school. Hopefully, this Fall will mean farmers markets are in full swing, orchards are bursting with fruit, and pumpkins are ready to be picked. And undoubtedly, this fall will mean its election time.

2012 will mark the second national Food Day, on October 24, 2012. Last year, New Jersey, Greater New York, and Greater Philadelphia hosted hundreds of events, big and small. As we prepare for the second national Food Day, we’ll ask ourselves if it will mark an opportunity to celebrate what we have accomplished over the busy growing season or if it will be time to call more people to action. Most likely, it will be both.

Alison Hastings of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and DVRPC partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog on issues of food policy and regional food systems.