Roots of Change Breaks Ground with Sustainable Food Summit | Civil Eats

Roots of Change Breaks Ground with Sustainable Food Summit

The West Coast Direct Marketing Summit was held this week in Oakland, CA. Organized by Roots of Change with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, the purpose of the summit was to share information and best practices among organizations working to develop sustainable foodsheds that serve the needs of all.

Roots of Change deserves serious kudos for planning and executing a truly ground breaking event. The USDA, until now, has not focused efforts on supporting those small-scale, organic, sustainable operations of which we’d like to see more. In the area of hunger and food access, USDA has previously been content to provide food banks, food stamp and WIC program recipients, and childhood nutrition and school lunch programs with surplus industrial food. The idea that USDA, food justice and sustainability activists, and farmers, along with regional government officials would sit in the same room working together toward solutions to fix our broken food system would have been unthinkable just a year ago.

The main focus of the two-day summit was on enhancing opportunities for farmers and increasing community access to nutritious foods, with special emphasis on ways to replicate and scale up the efforts happening now. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made an important announcement at the conference about his plan for a regional sustainable food initiative in San Francisco. And Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums discussed the upcoming work of Oakland’s Food Policy Council.

The first day of the conference was organized around a series of presentations, or case studies, that attendees could participate in to learn about the work going on in communities along the west coast. Public and private funders were also invited to help gain an understanding of needs in various organizations and communities. The second day focused more on the nuts and bolts of getting things done with food policy council updates, funder reflections, working groups to plan prototypes and general overall sharing of what was learned.

The case studies spotlighted a number of diverse topics including, developing technologies for government food assistance recipients to help them access fresh food from farmers’ markets; sustainable food logistic web platforms; and both web-based and farmers’ market-based food distribution hubs. There were also urban and suburban farm education projects; business incubators; regional government food initiatives; mobile farmers’ market and slaughtering facility models, and more.

The case studies and activities I attended were fascinating. I attended the Soil Born Farms case study on Urban Agriculture, the study on Seattle’s Food Action Initiative, and an open space working session on providing support for value added food businesses and young farmers. A few reoccurring themes came up as areas to focus on in future work:

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  • The need for a central clearinghouse for government grants and stimulus monies. In every session, people were hungry for information on how to find and apply for the money that is available.
  • The need for government to learn from the groups doing the work and then provide a framework and support for those grassroots efforts. This was illustrated extremely well in the session on The Seattle Local Food Action Initiative.
  • The need to tie the sustainable, fair food movement to the green job movement. (At one point, somebody said, “Where’s Van Jones?”)

It was truly thrilling to witness so many smart, committed individuals sharing information and resources. I look forward to seeing the good work that is sure to come out of this summit.

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Vanessa is a food writer and chef based in Oakland, California. She is the author of the forthcoming book, DIY Delicious: Recipes and Ideas for Simple Food From Scratch (Chronicle, Fall 2010) and coauthor of Heirloom Beans (Chronicle 2008). She works as a consultant with HavenBMedia on food, agriculture, and environmental issues. She blogs about food policy and healthy cooking for EcoSalon and her own blog, Vanessa Barrington, and she thinks the world would be a better place if more people cooked real food more often. Read more >

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