July 20th, 2012, by Mim Seidel, FFF Academic Coordinator
While some might say that “all good things must come to an end,” the end of the first Food, Farm and Field is just the beginning. After spending two weeks together at the Eden Hall Campus of Chatham University, exploring a myriad of topics that reflected and described our food system, seven students and three staff sadly parted ways. Everyone felt changed.
Our speakers, our field trips and our experiences made it clear that “mother nature” really knows what she is doing. From micro-organisms, to plants, to insects, to animals, nature long ago determined how to integrate these systems in ways that most people don’t appreciate. We all received a better understanding of how things can and should be within this naturally occurring sustainable system – and what havoc our current agri-business practices is playing on the environment and the humans (and animals, plants and bugs!) of the world.
A recurring theme identified by the FFF students was that of “community,” or the progressively disappearing community – a situation that they argue challenges the re-creation and maintenance of a sustainable food system.
As FFF student, Pete Thomson noted in a quote from Transition Centre 2012, “It can be said the loss of community is the biggest crisis that we face not the economy or the environment but the loss of community.” Pete juxtaposed older Pittsburgh ethnic communities whose residents supported each other with new “communities” where a person wouldn’t be comfortable borrowing a cup a sugar from his or her next door neighbor. While students focused their thoughts on different aspects of the food system, the need for people to connect in a real or virtual community was apparent.
Vincentia Agbah described Grow NYC’s Green Market program and the nutrition education done there to help communities of low income residents improve their diets and subsequently their health.
Sheila Applegate described the Edible Schoolyard concept and its ability to re-connect students to whole and healthy food while concurrently providing teachers of all disciplines common ground to effectively teach students.
Caitlyn Lundquist noted that Walmart, the largest supermarket in this country, is dipping its corporate toe into regional and “sustainable” food. Caitlyn notes that by its sheer size, Walmart has the ability to greatly influence the actions of its suppliers, producers and the communities it serves… hopefully in a truly sustainable way.
Julia Pope addressed the community of viewers of the Food Network. As the leader in food television, Julia decried “the lack of sustainability messages and food system education on the Food Network’s many programs [as] an egregious waste of a powerful social media source. “ While noting chef Alton Brown’s efforts to discuss the fish market’s sustainability flaws as a beginning, she notes that with “some education and tips [from other celebrity chefs] a sustainable attitude toward regional, national and global food systems could be achieved” in this large community of Food Network fans.
Dora Walmsley addresses the community of the Food Bank – both the clients it serves and the people (employees and volunteers) who provide the service. Food Bank supporters are a tight community. Dora urges, however, that “as we work to build community, we must also work to include individuals that may or may not be supportive of the work of the Food Bank.” In reflecting on concepts learned during FFF, Dora discusses how visual and other tangible representation of the work of the Food Bank – through story-telling, pictures, meeting the people behind a food product or “observing a small army of volunteers rescuing swiss chard that was about to be plowed under” may influence non-supporters of the Food Bank and build a broader community base.
Karina Carangi was impressed with the “intricate workings of nature to create plant and animal systems that can sustain each other and humankind.” Reflecting on the many people we met during our two weeks of FFF who were working to bring sustainable practices to their lives and the people they touch through work or volunteerism, Karina suggested that “we could create permaculture influenced societies by mimicking natural relationships. Taking this philosophy and applying it to our relationships helps us to recognize that every person provides an important perspective and role within the fabric of their community.”
As I stand in my backyard watching with new awareness as bees hover around a many-flowered Rose of Sharon bush, I look forward to the future contributions of our first Food, Farm and Field group, and to interacting with many more sustainability-minded students in the years to come.
From left to right: Julia Pope (student), Sheila Applegate (student), Teresa Yoder (FFF Assistant Coordinator), Karina Carangi (student), Amanda West (FFF Resident Assistant), Dora Walmsley (student), Peter Thomson (student), Vincentia Agbah (student), Caitlin Lundquist (student), and Mim Seidel (FFF Academic Coordinator).