New Connections in the Northeast Food System
In March, 1997, 175 people from 13 states gathered in Hartford, Connecticut for a 3 day conference entitled "New Connections in the Northeast Food System."
The conference highlighted ways that regional food production can benefit lower income urban residents, build communities, create economic opportunity, develop markets for farmers, and preserve farming.
Proceedings from the conference have been published, including extensive summaries of presentations by over 20 speakers.
1.Bring together people from throughout the Northeast who want to find new ways to make connections between food producers and communities where obtaining a healthy, affordable diet is a problem
2.Share ideas about how those connections can be made.
Summary of Conference Speakers
Molly Anderson's opening talk provided an overview of the Northeast food system that focused on significant trends in food production, food processing and distribution, and food consumption. She examined these trends in terms of their relationship to such problems as globalization of capital and the food supply, environmental degradation, and food access for low-income people.
Panel I: Identifying Food System Themes, Issues, Gaps, Problems and Strategies
Farmland in the Northeast: John Keene focused on trends in farmland loss and various initiatives to preserve farmland.
Hispanic Food and Nutrition Issues: Grace Damio examined the cultural and historic context of the Hispanic community, and related it to issues of food, nutrition, and poverty.
Dan Ross shared information about his work with the Hispanic community and his organization, Nuestra Raices in Holyoke, Massachusetts. He identified the agricultural context for Holyoke's Puerto Rican community and how it provided economic opportunity.
Welfare Reform and Food Assistance: Kimberly Schevtchuck identified the philosophical underpinnings for much of the conservative political and public opinion which has shaped welfare reform and how changes in the food assistance programs will affect low-income households.
Food Security, Nutrition and Local Foods: Jennifer Wilkins examined the relationship between nutrition education, consumer demand, and the regional food supply. She specifically identified some of the critical barriers to conducting effective nutrition education.
Panel II: Food Project Case Studies
Direct Marketing: Bob Lewis described the relationship of the Farmers' Market Nutrition Program to helping both farmers and low-income families and elaborated on some additional efforts to support "new entry" farmers in New York.
Urban Agriculture: Rosalind Johnson discussed the work of her organization, Sea Change, in addressing food, sustainability, and employment issues in north Philadelphia. The Sea Change urban agriculture program includes a youth project, community gardening, and a CSA.
Marketing to Schools and Developing Food Education Programs: Elizabeth Wheeler described her work in developing a pilot program in Hartford public schools to increase the amount of locally grown food purchased by the system and efforts to increase student demand for locally produced food.
Jeff Sidewater, assistant director of the Hartford public schools food service operation, described the key issues that need to be addressed in order to buy locally produced food.
Food Banks, Farming, and Marketing: Mike Gable reviewed his work with the Pittsburgh Food Bank's Green Harvest Program.
Youth, Farming, and Marketing: Jessica Laborio, Jahira Ottino, and Glynn Lloyd, participants in the Food Project of Lincoln, Massachusetts, described their activities which include a CSA, a farmers' market, food and farm education activities, and work with Dudley Street Initiative in Roxbury.
Panel III: Assessing Community food Needs
Evaluation and Planning: Determining Your Community's Food Needs: Debra Palmer-Keenan provided information on why and how to conduct needs assessments.
Needs Assessments: Andy Fisher of the national Community Food Security Coalition used the "Seeds of Change" report conducted in Los Angeles following the 1992 civil disturbances as a case study for doing a community food needs assessment. His discussion included such approaches as mapping of food programs and services, hunger studies, and resident surveys.
Evaluations: Hugh Joseph provided further information on the use and misuse of different types of program evaluations.
Income Generating Opportunities: Mike Rozyne used market research concepts to approach needs assessment. He explained how to think about community needs from a market research and business-oriented point of view.
Panel IV: Community and Coalition Building
Macro and Micro Overviews: David Hahn-Baker identified some significant global and macro trends, especially with regard to environmental impacts, that will influence food system efforts.
Marty Johnson provided an analysis of community and community building strategies.
Building a City Coalition: Kathy Lawrence described the development of Just Food, an organization working on sustainable food issues in New York City. The talk covered their successes, mistakes, and current efforts in trying to make quality, locally grown food available to everyone.
Building a Regional Coalition: Kathy Roth discussed her work in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, to develop a sustainable food system by organizing the interests of a number of food system stakeholders. She reviewed techniques such as `moveable food feasts' that support public education and local action.
Building a State Food Organization: Jim Hanna assessed efforts to develop the Maine Coalition for Food Security. He identified projects that address the needs of low-income households as well as ones that connect to food production in Maine.
Developing a State Food Policy: Jefferson Davis, a state representative in Connecticut, reviewed efforts to address food security through state government. He discussed the role that strategic partnerships can play in advancing the agenda of those who are working for a just and sustainable food system.
Reported December 1997.