We began our Friday morning at the Slow Living Summit with a few moments of reflection on our dreams and aspirations for the day. Before we reflected inwardly we heard from conference participants who voiced their delight in the fabric that we are weaving in New England, constantly mending and strengthening our ties to one another and forming a sort of “Peace Posse” that can build the “Harmony Bank and Trust” to move away from vulture economics and towards a more sustainable, mindful society.
The panelists this morning include: Katherine Gustafson- Author: Change Comes to Dinner, Roger Allbee, Enid Wonnacott- NOFA-VT, Gus Schumacher- Wholesome Wave, and Ken Meter- Crossroads Resource Center. They span the spectrum of the food system, from policy makers to food growers and each brought their unique views to the table through the unifying thread of bringing local and regional agriculture back into the central tenants of our society. With (arguably) the most CSAs and Farmers Markets per capita in the United States, Vermont is leading this movement in regional agriculture.
Local agricultural is an ever-expanding system as people across the country are thinking more and more about where our food is coming from and how it is being raised. In the eyes of Ken Meter the food system is the best vehicle to turn around the US economy. It is by nature an inclusive system; we cannot deny anybody access to food and therefore no one will be left out. Once regional food systems are established we can take the lessons learned and apply them to other aspects of society such as energy, transportation and the works.
Gus Schumacher came to the subject with a focus on food access in underprivileged communities. The health disparities in low-income communities are outrageous and many of the ailments can be cured or better yet prevented with proper diet and exercise. “Farmacies” are the best way to go. We do not need to treat symptoms of obesity, heart disease and diabetes; we need to prescribe healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables. There are some doctors who have begun to do this. They give a prescription not for pharmaceutical drugs, but for money to be spent at the farmers’ market in order to give them the means to add fruits and vegetables to their diet.
In this vein policy is a prominent factor in these sorts of decisions. Currently, big money is going toward big Ag- business and pharmaceutical companies. 46 million Americans benefit from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP- formerly known as Food Stamps), which cost $80 billion. This money is no different from cash and it goes directly back into the wealth of local communities. However, the new Farm Bill proposes to cut funding to this program. Next week the Senate will mark up the bill and it is already clear that the bulk of the funding will go toward the commodity system. Many cities, through grants and donations, double the amount of SNAP money spent at the Farmers’ Market and therefore give people incentives to shop there, stretching their food dollar further.
American society has lost the connections that humans need to live healthy, happy, stable lives. Wonnacott believes that as people realize this more and more, local agriculture will be the vehicle to bring community back together.
According to Allbee, agriculture defines who we were, are and want to be. We must redefine our educational system to reflect this and showcase the importance of our food system through not only theoretical conversation but praxis, combining those theories to action from Kindergarten through Higher Ed. Agriculture can bring people together. Enid weighed in regarding the loss of connectivity in American culture. We have become individualized yet our primal instinct is social. As the local food movement grows more people will be reliant on one another and be able to form those close knit bonds that were once so prevalent.
“Get the hell out of agriculture Monsanto and Dow! Stop spreading untruths! Dept of Ag needs to break up the big Ag and help us move into the future of sustainable regional agriculture,” commented someone in the audience to sum up what the room was thinking.