Sustainable Agriculture Networking Important

Sept. 14, 2013

Thoughts from returning from a conference in Alabama ….

The Food & Farm Forum in Thomaston, Ala., Friday was interesting experience, unlike other forums where I’ve been asked to give a talk. In this one, the group was divided into “tables,” each with its own discussion topic. Participants chose which topics they wished to engage in, with four rounds of discussions. I led two talks.

Jim Ewing leads a discussion on Gifts and Challenges of Rural Southern Communities at a Food & Farm Forum by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network Aug. 13, 2013. The event was hosted by the Alabama Rural Heritage Center and the Alabama A&M and Auburn University Cooperative Extension.

Jim Ewing leads a discussion on Gifts and Challenges of Rural Southern Communities at a Food & Farm Forum by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network Aug. 13, 2013. The event was hosted by the Alabama Rural Heritage Center and the Alabama A&M and Auburn University Cooperative Extension.

Topics included teaching kids about growing food, food safety, food from perennials, high tunnels, medicinal herbs, seeds, birds for meat and eggs, selecting crops to decrease disease and pests, direct marketing, and others.

Hosted by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network and Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities Cooperative Extension at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center, the forum was an opportunity for local people to express their interests and share their own experiences in sustainable agriculture.

It was an enlightening experience. At our tables, for example, we had truly innovative leaders in sustainable agriculture mixed with newcomers wanting to learn more. Everyone shared, everyone learned something, and the entire experience was uplifting and thought provoking. It shows the power of crowd sourcing and sharing, where information flows up as well as down and adds engagement and conversation. Not the least of this experience was the importance of networking in sustainable agriculture.

One person I spoke with, for example, said she was the only organic farmer in her county. She was able to access top-flight information from experts in the field. Another woman was a community organizer, who admitted that she knew nothing about agriculture, but walked away with an appreciation of how empowering it can be for people to grow their own food and share it with others, turning, for example, food deserts into profitable enterprises that can rebuild a community. (See Will Allen and his Growing Power in Milwaukee!)

Participants learned that they are not alone in their belief that something is lacking in our food system that speaks to the heart. My book Conscious Food, for example, was discussed, as was Norman Wirzba’s Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating. And we discussed the works of Thomas Berry (The Dream of the Earth) and how Wendell’s Berry’s 1977 book, The Unsettling of America, had proven so prescient — that the U.S. government urging farmers to plant “fence row to fence row” with industrial agriculture in the 1970s would decimate rural communities.

We each had seen that in our own lives and communities and discussed ways to turn that around (encouraging small local farmers, creating food hubs, community supported agriculture, farmer cooperatives, enlisting churches, civic groups, schools and hospitals to buy local food, starting farmers markets, etc.)

The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network has two more forums planned, in the northern and southern parts of the state. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend those, but if this gathering was any indication, they should be fascinating. For more info, see: http://www.asanonline.org/

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

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