Food sovereignty is an issue we will likely hear a lot about in coming years. Basically, it is the right a community has to determine where its food comes from. Outbreaks of food-borne illness receive great attention, but concerns about our food system are growing even when it is ‘working.’ We need to take a hard look at the system that stocks our grocery store shelves with products full of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and preservatives – and see if we can come up with a better way to feed a nation.
It is no secret that pesticides and chemical fertilizers have far-reaching consequences. Trace amounts of toxins remain in fruits and vegetables that can build to dangerous levels after years of exposure. Runoff from fields gets into streams, soaking fish in chemicals, and contaminating drinking water for other animals that work their way up the food chain.
In many places, people have no real option to get chemical-free food. To be fair, chemical fertilizers and pesticides have helped farmers to increase yields and have ensured convenience and variety of food that is unequaled in human history. But it seems they may also be contributing to a host of health conditions and disorders as well. At the very least, shouldn’t people be able to have a choice.
The Connecting for Change Conference to be held in New Bedford October 22-24, 2010, will be on the front lines of this discussion. Many of the presenters are passionate about food. In one workshop, the participants literally start with an empty bowl and build a diet based on nutrients the body needs to survive. In another the presenter is Nikki Henderson, whose work with People’s Grocery is one of the best examples of a community taking control of its food supply in the country.
And if that is not enough to chew on, attendees will dine on the bounty of the New England harvest. The best in local and sustainable fare is on the menu. Weston Lant of Lucky Field Organics in Rochester, MA is supplying the lettuce. Jim Ward of Wards Berry Farm, in Sharon MA, is bringing a sauce made from his Trophy Tomatoes. Jim Knieriem of Cape Abilities Farm grew Long Pie Pumpkins while Jimmy Nardello took care of the peppers and speckled lettuce. Peter Readings of Billingsgate Farm in Plympton, run by Peter Readings, is providing 1st place award-winning sweet corn and green bell peppers. Golden Rule Farm, Middleboro, run by Frank Albani, grew organic onions. Web of Life Organic Farm in Carver, run by Donna Blischke grew organic peppers. And Oakdale Farm in Rehoboth, run by Richard Pray, grew bell peppers in assorted colors.
As you can see, all of these farms cater to people who care about local, and sustainable food. In this way, food plays an important role in local economies as well. Not just farms but, particularly in New England, seafood businesses stand to benefit from a return to local control of production as local fishermen tend to have a better understanding of the best practices for sustainability, than do the executives of giant fishing companies.
Finally, looking at whether a sustainable food business can grow large and remain true to sustainable values is a subject of some debate. And who better to lead that debate than Seth Goldman, Founder and “TeaEO” of Honest Tea. Honest became the first organic and Fair Trade brand to move into the world’s largest beverage distribution system. Recently, Honest Tea was included on The Better World Shopping Guide’s list of “ten best companies on the planet based on their overall social and environmental record.”
So what is the recipe for the new American food system? It will be as local and unique as the farms, restaurants, grocery stores, and ultimately – you – want it to be. You have the power to create the system that should exist. So let me invite you to come to Connecting for Change, and join the conversation.