More than 200 advocates and practitioners from all sectors of the food system attended the 2nd annual Massachusetts Food System Forum on December 12 in Leominster. The day was spent highlighting food system stakeholders’ work over the past year, and planning for collaborative action to come.
Collaborative co-chair Liz Sheehan Castro, Director of Advocacy at the Worcester County Food Bank, welcomed attendees, and urged them to think about their work through the lens of the mission statement of The Food Project, “For the love of land, and for the love of people.” She added:
“And it is that love that must drive us to collaborate and problem solve and create a stronger, more resilient, more equitable food system. A food system that honors the land, and water and air. A food system that rectifies deep inequities in health, born of racism and classism. A food system that can support many cultures and traditions. So today, even as we’re talking about state budgets and legislative processes and other things that use our analytic brain, let us work from and return to that place of love that moves us to do this work.”
MA Food System Collaborative Director Winton Pitcoff gave updates on the Campaign for HIP Funding, other legislative successes, publications produced in the last year, and other projects. New staff members Jeff Cole and Rebecca Miller introduced themselves and their projects – building a network of farming organizations and expanding the Campaign for HIP Funding, respectively – and Program Manager Brittany Peats recapped her year of working with local food policy councils and food waste advocates.
Students from Codman Academy in Dorchester spoke about their farm-to-school work, which integrates growing, preparing, and selling food with the school’s curriculum, “connecting minds, bodies, and hearts to mindful eating and food source.” Students study the impact of unhealthy food on their community, and ways to ensure a healthy, sustainable food system. Their projects include gardening, cooking classes, field trips to farms and a food waste reduction initiative.
Jack Wiggin, from the Urban Harbors Institute at University of Massachusetts Boston, presented about “Building the Massachusetts Seafood System,” a comprehensive set of recommendations to strengthen the Commonwealth’s fisheries. Dan Rosenberg, founder of Real Pickles in Greenfield, talked about his worker-owned businesses’ commitment to sourcing ingredients locally and other sustainable business practices. Marty Martinez, Chief of Boston’s Office of Health and Human Services, spoke about the challenges of connecting policy to practice, and the importance of understanding the intricacies of implementation of a program while advocating for its success. And John Wang from the Food Project highlighted the work of Lynn Grows, a community-wide effort to thoughtfully consider the food system and how it can better serve the people of Lynn.
Keynote speaker Kathleen Merrigan, Executive Director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems, Arizona State University, spoke extensively about her work at the USDA as deputy secretary and chief operating officer, where she launched the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass. She praised Massachusetts’ food system Plan and the work of stakeholder organizations to implement it, saying that the state is “leading the country in so many ways.”
She offered strategies for advocacy – telling advocates to focus on the positive work being done, not leading with “the food system is broken.” “You do not win people and get their energy through negative messaging,” she said. “What inspires people are solutions.” She talked about the importance of pursuing a broad array of ideas, understanding that some may not take hold but that success isn’t measured by the number of successes but by the gradual building of awareness and action by policymakers. She also spoke about a range of topics that she sees on the horizon for agriculture and the food system, from food waste to insect proteins! Kathleen’s full speech is available on Facebook.
Representative Steve Kulik spoke at lunchtime, reflecting on his 25 years in the state legislature as a champion of food and farming issues, talking about land protection programs, support for dairy farmers, and the growth of the local food movement. As one of the founders of the MA Food Policy Council, he said that the Council plays an important role as a forum but “hasn’t realized its full potential” as a potential voice to support food system policy, programs and funding for those programs. “I’d like to see it be a little more proactive.” He encouraged advocates to take the long view, and understand the importance of being persistent and patient when working for change. “Working in food and ag issues has been the best part of everything I’ve done for 25 years. Thank you for that opportunity.” Steve’s full speech is also available.
After a delicious lunch, featuring food from more than 15 Massachusetts farms and businesses, attendees heard quick presentations about ongoing campaigns around farmland access, closing the SNAP Gap, the MA Food Trust, Breakfast After the Bell, a new grant program being championed by Massachusetts Farm to School, and increased participation in SNAP and federal child nutrition programs.The day concluded with breakout sessions to help inform the Collaborative’s campaigns around HIP, agriculture, the development of a Farmland Action Plan, and food waste, as well as a session about the MA Food Trust.