This past weekend (December 4-5) I attended the Cultivating Regional Food Security Conference at the UW Botanical Gardens. The conference spanned two days with over 30 speakers presenting various topics concerning food access within the Seattle and Northwest region.
On Saturday, the conference began by addressing the problems with the current food system, and how and why the current system is failing us (city, region, nationally, globally) in social, economical and environmental ways. There were also some presentations about people in the Seattle region finding affordable solutions for new growers and creating better access to local healthy food for all income levels in the city.
On Sunday, the conference segued into solutions-focused discussion and next steps to take to move on from our present situation. The last half of Sunday afternoon brought together attendees into working sessions to connect and examine ideas for future actions.
Of the presentations I attended, those speakers who stood out were “Is it easy to go organic?” by Jessica Gigot, “Climate Friendly Food: Is local better?” by Chad Kruger, “Cultivating New Farmers” by Sarita Role Schaffer, “Assessing and Enhancing the Economic Impacts of Farmers Markets in Washington” by Colleen Donovan and “Transforming Agriculture in Kenya with Community‐Driven Solutions” by Travis English.
What really drew me into these presentations were the speakers’ ability to break down ideas and expand on information that I took for granted, or dismissed as common knowledge. Gigot’s presentation really opened my eyes to how difficult organic standards can be to obtain, especially with large-scale agriculture. Not only is it an expensive transition, but also a complex problem, finding a balance in the system in order to harbor a healthy growing climate without using chemicals to combat persistent pests.
Kruger asked us all to examine and break down the idea of “local” and how of late it has become just another marketing tool.
Apart from what sounds like an amazing experience, Schaffer presented the beginnings of an exciting co-op model for local start-up small-scale farmers in Skagit County.
Donovan’s presentation for me was most useful because she was honest about how little the city or state know about the share of the grocery market farmers markets take from our central food system as well as the difficulty in just defining a farmers market.
Finally, Travis English told us about the influence our food system is having in Kenya and efforts preventing the influx of conventional, input heavy farming on locally-appropriate methods of farming.
Elizabeth Loudon, ECOSS’ associate director, made an appearance on the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) Panel. The discussion highlighted a few projects funded by the CPPW grant. After all the talk of problems and worries, it was nice to hear proactive in-motion efforts happening here in Seattle. Overall, it was a productive and informative conference, one in which I was fortunate to attend.
Additional Resources (taken from the UW’s Urban Farming resource list):
City of Seattle: 2010 – Year of Urban Agriculture
Home Orchard Society
King County Extension, WSU – Food Policy Council
King County Extension, WSU – Gardening links
Organic Seed Alliance
Seattle Farm Co-op
Seattle P-Patch Community Gardens
Seattle Public Utilities gardening pages
Seattle Tree Fruit Society
Solid Ground – Lettuce Link
Sustainable Agriculture Education
UC Santa Cruz Agroecology: For the Gardener
University of Washington Student Farm
Urban Farm Hub
Washington State University Extension
Access to Healthy Food in Washington Report