Download the PDF of the 2014 Food Summit Summary here.
By Lexa Dundore
Community Food Systems Americorps VISTA
Dane County UW Extension
The 2014 Dane County Food Summit held on Friday, October 24 was themed “Digging into the Local Food System: Be a Part of the Solution.” Over 100 community members, farmers, entrepreneurs, organizers, city officials, academics, and non-profit leaders attended the Summit. The Food Summit was held on National Food Day, a nationwide celebration and movement for access to healthy, affordable, and sustainable food (FoodDay.org). Hosts for the Food Summit were the Dane County Food Council, Dane County UW Extension, and the Madison Food Policy Council. This year’s planning team included Ace Lynn-Miller, Beth Gehred, Bill Warner, Carrie Edgar, Ian Aley, Julie Garrett, Kate Heiber-Cobb, Lexa Dundore, Mariela Quesada Centeno, Mark Woulf, Rachel Angel, and Wade Thompson. Dane County holds the Food Summit annually, alternating each year between full-day, conference-style events and shorter evening programs.
County Executive Joe Parisi and Mayor Paul Soglin each welcomed attendees, as did Carrie Edgar, Department Head and Community Food Systems Educator with Dane County UW Extension, and Mark Woulf, Food and Alcohol Policy Coordinator with the City of Madison.
The Food Summit featured a morning panel of notable speakers including Michelle Miller of UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, George Reistad of Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, Dr. Monica White of UW-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, Chris Brockel of the FairShare CSA Coalition, and Andy Czerkas of the River Food Pantry. These speakers brought insights and inspiration that helped to fuel discussions throughout the day, putting issues into local, regional, and national perspective.
Morning and afternoon breakout sessions focused on Food Access, Food Justice, Food Production, and Food System Infrastructure. A “Food System Equity and Empowerment Lens” (see Appendix A) was introduced to allow small groups to critically evaluate and problem-solve around specific topics or challenges related to their session theme. Sessions were very hands-on and put the power to direct conversation with the participants, supported by discussion leaders and the Equity Lens. Major themes, “a-ha’s,” and suggestions for next steps were shared at the end of the day during a “Harvest” session, giving all participants a sense of the day’s discussions.
The Food System Equity and Empowerment Lens discussions focused on a wide variety of issues and revealed some interesting findings. One example is the issue of the Walgreens closure on Allied Drive, which will result in the loss of the last remaining, if inadequate, retail food outlet in the neighborhood. This topic came up in several discussions and was worked through using the Lens in two different sessions. In one session, the conversation about what could come next was lead by a member of the Allied community who was sharing information about the grassroots initiative growing within the neighborhood about developing a grocery co-op to move into the former Walgreens space. This conversation was rooted in ideas of community ownership and went into a deep analysis of who has power and who that power benefits. In the other session, a City official lead the conversation of “food security” in the neighborhood, where the conversation was more about engagement and outreach to the community, though did acknowledge that in the past solutions presented from the outside have not worked. In this group’s visioning, a traditional grocery store seemed more likely.
This example of two similar conversations taking different directions crystalizes how important it is first to have these critical discussions, but also empower those most affected in taking leadership in those conversations. In all discussion sessions, it seemed that the more specific the topic, the more nuanced the conversation could get as opposed to broad topics becoming somewhat unwieldy and difficult to draw from with clear lessons. Further training opportunities for facilitators would also have helped support clear direction for conversations, an important note for this pilot of the Lens.
Through the discussion sessions, we hoped to equip each Food Summit attendee with additional personal connections and a critical framework for evaluating issues and ideas by using the Food System Equity and Empowerment Lens. We also wanted to capture proposals from the discussion sessions to pass on to both the Madison and Dane County Food Councils to potentially move some of these ideas forward. Some suggestions were focused on policy, others were more directed towards community or organization-based solutions. Many across categories would require both public and private commitment. Some themes, suggestions, or proposed next steps that emerged from the concurrent sessions are noted in the list below.
● “Raising the floor” for everyone to make producing and consuming local foods more accessible. Dane Co. food movement could lead $15 minimum wage campaign, but must include all workers. Outline “domestic fair trade” policies.
● Review all food policy-related decisions and procedures through an Equity and Empowerment lens or Impact framework to ensure that decision-making is accessible, accountable, and empowers communities and individuals most impacted to take leadership in finding community food solutions.
● Program or fund for educational debt/ student loan forgiveness for graduates who go into agriculture.
● Land Access- Identify case studies and models for fair alternatives to traditional arrangements where the farmer owns the land. Identify and preserve County/municipal lands near Madison to lease for small scale agriculture. Facilitate building relationships between owners and farmers, support infrastructure for food production.
● Support mid-level production and distribution (transportation, storage, etc.), key piece to promote a sustainable local food system.
● Neighborhood composting- perhaps based at community gardens. Would divert waste and support gardens in lieu of County compost. Need for compost management educator to support.
● Funding to develop/sustain professional position: “farm to institution” (schools, hospitals, etc.) coordinator, both looking at sales and coordination of donated farm “seconds” for emergency food providers.
● Wholesale buying club for small producers- not just ingredients but also packaging. Can organize around FEED producers. Could connect with existing buyers like restaurants, etc.
● Creating Connections- facilitate networking of farmers and producers in ways that reflect their needs and availability. There is a need for networking around sourcing for and of local goods, online or otherwise.
● Accessible, community-based and driven education around food and related policy/social issues. Be critical of who is behind particular messages: agribusiness? Who has the power to control the conversation and content?
● Need for collective action/resource pooling to form “common voice,” lobbying interest, etc. to compete with other interests on a local, regional and nationwide scale… National Food Association as example.
Some of these ideas already have dedicated teams moving them forward in Dane County, others are underway or have support in other communities across the country. Here are some examples of initiatives we can learn from or potentially partner with after further research as we develop new proposals for Dane County:
• Dane County Equity Impact Model (forthcoming)
• City of Madison Equity Impact Assessment Tool (forthcoming)
• Multnomah County Equity and Empowerment Lens (with a Racial Justice Focus)
Examples of neighborhood composting initiatives:
• NYC Compost Project Community-Based Compost Sites
• Washington, D.C. Community garden-based neighborhood composting programs
• Fee-for-service composting programs Ex. Gardening Matters “Compostadores”
Examples of student debt forgiveness for farmers:
• New York State Young Farmers Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program
• Current platform of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, add agriculture to federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program
Food Summit attendees had overwhelmingly positive responses to offer on their end-of-day evaluations. 90% of respondents agreed that the Food Summit had been a good use of their time; 84% agreed that the Summit helped them to learn about community food system issues; 85% found the panel discussion informative and engaging; 69% found the Food System Equity and Empowerment Lens exercises useful; 97% found the interaction with others at the Food Summit to be of value; and 82% plan to attend a future Food Summit.
Some comments from participants about what they liked best about the Food Summit:
• Equity, justice, and access now part of fabric of ALL discussions. That’s progress.
• Networking, food, spirit, and theme.
• Meeting new people. Sessions that offered us a voice/seat at the table.
• The welcoming and collaborative setting.
• That farmers, producers, politicians, and the like came together to talk food.
Some valuable input about what participants would have liked to see done differently:
• Put organizations people came from on name badges.
• Having several sessions in the same room made it hard to hear.
• Possibly the diversity of attendees to get some more perspectives.
• More directions in using the Food System Equity Tool.
The Dane County Food Council and the Madison Food Policy Council strives for the Food Summit to foster greater communication and coordination of efforts between our Dane County communities and local governments. The Summit is an opportunity to explore different food system topics and ways of working together as we develop and accomplish shared aims. Food Summit planners strive to provide a variety of engagement formats and a platform for focused conversation as specific food and community-related issues or opportunities arise. We hope the feedback provided from the 2014 Food Summit can help support the development of local Food Council agendas simultaneously as community members move forward local food system work with the added strength and skills they have drawn from the Food Summit.
Appendix A: Food System Equity and Empowerment Lens