CONFERENCE PREVIEW: Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Hank Herrera and others to speak on community food systems at the 14th annual Southern SAWG conference

January 21-23, 2005 – Hilton New Orleans Airport Hotel in Louisiana

By Mark Schonbeck

Posted January 6, 2005: Making agriculture sustainable requires development of new marketing strategies, processing and distribution infrastructure, and community economic relationships that sustain the farmer, as well as earth-friendly production and pest management practices that sustain the landscape. In recent years, locally based food systems and community food security programs have begun to open new market opportunities for family farms. This year, the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (Southern SAWG) offers an extensive Community Food Systems track in its 14th Annual Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference, which takes place on January 21-23 at the Hilton New Orleans Airport Hotel. Speakers will share their practical knowledge and personal experience to enable and inspire conference participants to design and initiate community food projects that can bring about win-win solutions for their own farms and communities.

Hank Herrera, the founding president and CEO of the Center for Popular Research, Education and Policy (C-PREP) in Rochester, NY, will be one of the featured speakers. C-PREP builds local self-reliance through participatory action research, capacity building and policy work, and provides management services for the New York SAWG and for Rooted in Community, a nationwide network of more than 50 youth community gardening programs.

Herrera’s workshop, entitled From Global to Local: Developing Strategies for System-Wide Change, will examine barriers to changing the current industrial-global food system and emerging opportunities to build locally-based, sustainable food systems in our cities, towns and rural communities. In most parts of the nation, Hank observes, “there is a large gap between farm revenues and what consumers spend on food,” indicating that only a tiny percentage of what most Americans eat is produced locally. “That figure could be as high as 60 percent, he says. “We simply have to find out what it would take for local producers to sell to local consumers.”

In the workshop, Herrera will discuss how to develop trade relationships needed to connect farmers with local markets and some existing models such as the Oklahoma Food Coop in Tulsa and ‘value chains’ that create regional market opportunities for mid-size farms. “We will also look at issues of community food security and food sovereignty, which means local ownership of the whole chain of production, marketing, packaging and distribution,” he says.

“The majority of consumers want local, fresh food, but they also want the convenience of one-stop shopping. One hurdle in developing an effective food economy is that we must have a way for these people to participate.”

Other CFS sessions include Bringing Kentucky’s Food and Farm Economy Home, by Martin Richards and Shana Herron of the Community Farm Alliance (CFA) in Kentucky. Richards notes that, through lobbying by the CFA and local farmers’ groups, half of Kentucky’s share of the Tobacco Settlement has been earmarked for diversification of agriculture throughout the state. The funds are spent through a “grassroots planning process in which each county assesses what it is good at growing and what it needs in order to realize the potential,” he says.

In the workshop, Richards and Herron will discuss ongoing efforts to create a locally integrated food economy in Kentucky and create needed infrastructure to connect farm to customers. “The farmers’ market is a simple and direct way to do it, but only a small percentage of the population shops there,” Richards observes. “The majority of consumers want local, fresh food, but they also want the convenience of one-stop shopping. One hurdle in developing an effective food economy is that we must have a way for these people to participate.” He notes that lower-income neighborhoods like the west end of Louisville are underserved with fewer food stores than suburban neighborhoods, and that people there are desperate for quality, fresh food.

“Food security is now front and center,” says Richards. He noted that outgoing Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson recently raised concerns about possible terrorist attacks on the U.S. food system and added that “we need local food systems” to minimize this danger as well.

Other workshops at the conference cover topics a range of topics related to sustainable agriculture, including crop and livestock production, marketing, value-added products and farm business management. Tours of nearby sustainable farms and urban food projects, a trade show, a job fair where farmers can meet aspiring farm interns, and a “Taste of New Orleans” feast with jazz music will add to what promises to be a memorable event.

Conference lodging will be available at the Hilton New Orleans Airport Hotel at a special rate of $72 per night (single or double). For a complete program, registration form, lodging information and directions, visit www.ssawg.org or contact Jean Mills, Southern SAWG Conference Coordinator, jeanmills@aol.com, or 205-333-8504.