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Celebrate the culture of agriculture & share skills (Growing! Cooking! Eating!)

Brooklyn Food Conference and Green Zones Spring Party - a busy week

This past weekend, the hubby and I drove down to NYC for the Brooklyn Food Conference - a volunteer-organized gathering of food activists and curious eaters. Like Meredith said in her post, there were waaaaay too many workshops to attend (70! In one day!), 3000 people came eager and left energized.
The highlights for me:
Workshop I: Workshop one: Food Sovereignty: North and South: People’s control over their own food production.
On the panel: Christina Schiavoni from WHY moderated, Rev. Devanie Jackson, co-founder, Brooklyn Rescue Mission; Deborah Silva, La Via Campesina (International landless peasant movement); Thomas Forster, organizer, food policy teacher, The New School; John Kinsman, Iowa Dairy Farmer (36 head organic) and Family Farm Defenders (who looks JUST like my Iowa farmer grandfather!). Food sovereignty is a topic that I feel is incredibly important as we try to separate ourselves from the corrupt and broken food system of America.
Good information about food sovereignty can be found at Family Farm Defenders and Grassroots International

Workshop II: Food Rebellions (catchy title, right?) Raj Patel was the most vocal of the panelists (no complaints from me – he’s the bomb), Jennifer Steverson, public programs curator, Weeksville Heritage Center, Brooklyn; Bazelais Jean-Baptiste, Bassin Zim Education and Development Fund, Haiti also contributed useful comments. While the room was packed beyond capacity, we did not talk about taking to the streets to burn tires as I suspect some of the younger folks in the room would have liked. Raj and Bazelais cited specific examples of recent food rebellions in Haiti and Cuba – where government responded to people organizing and posing specific demands. What came out of this discussion was the point that, in the US, every one of the little groups, NPOs, and individual actions that promote food sovereignty and are working to upset the current food systems = food rebellions. It’s not as sexy as marching through the streets and disassembling governments, but we’ll take it and tell our friends about the good work that is quietly being done. Here's an article Raj wrote about the Haitian food rebellion: 30 Years Ago Haiti Grew All the Rice It Needed. What Happened? Update: The BFC web site has a summary of the panel here

Meredith really summed up the experience well, so I’ll stick with my highlights. We got home late Sunday night (thanks to Mike and Kelly for taking care of the critter) and promptly started work again Monday morning.


Tuesday night we got in the car again and headed to Providence for Sarah Zurier’s presentation: "Green Zones: From the War Garden to Your Garden: Victory Gardens, The Women’s Land Army of America, and how gardeners are growing their own food today.”
The presentation was Sarah’s opportunity to share her exhaustive research and findings of this inspiring project. From her blog:
Green Zone started as a garden, and became a blog, a research project, and a public presentation.

The Green Zone garden was an organic vegetable, herb, and flower garden installation located at Firehouse 13 in Providence, RI for summer 2008. Inspired, or perhaps provoked, by the fifth anniversary of the War in Iraq, it was planted in the detritus of wartime consumption: used tires, plastic shopping bags, and discarded shoes.

The Green Zone blog provides updates on the garden and related topics like wartime gardens, urban agriculture, Rhode Island gardens, and garden pop culture.

The Green Zone research project is exploring the history of Rhode Island’s wartime and hard-times gardens.


Sarah mapped out the areas of RI where she had found evidence of not only community gardens, but vacant lot farms and factory gardens – where factory workers tilled the land surrounding their workplace (Brownfields? Probably, but people were also told that smoking helped a sore throat at this time). The combination of government programs and economic times allowed the green zones to flourish.


Judy Barrett Litoff, a professor of history at Bryant College presented on the Women’s Land Army of World War II – again, the use of military and war terminology in the propaganda promoting growing was widespread:


Someone in the audience asked: Well, what happened after 1946? Why did people stop? Why did the gardens disappear?
The answer is, again, evident in the cultural propaganda and advertising of the time:


Rich Pederson, The City Farm Manager at the Southside Community Land Trust drew parallels between Victory Gardens, or War Gardens, and the DIY and GIY movements of today, but was firm in his position that today’s city farms, rooftop gardens and support of local farmers is an ANTI-war movement that allows for individual empowerment.
Rich brought many many packets of heirlooms seeds to swap – I swapped my Johnny’s mizuna for sweet basil and blue coneflower seeds. Other generous souls brought hearty and thriving sweet pea seedlings and potluck meals. All round, a wonderful evening of inspiring history, engaging conversation, and tools to grow forth! Thank you to Future Reference for connecting me with this incredible group of people - We love Providence!

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