SLS Plenary 2: Agriculture, food and food systems

Tad Montgomery is an ecological engineer who ponders the meaning of slowness from the confluence of the Connecticut River and Whetstone Brook:

“It is not possible to know what is possible, so we are free to go for the world that we want.”

What are the global implications of slow food, and how do we make it happen?  That was the topic of the Thursday morning plenary session. Frances Moore Lappé was the first speaker, introduced as one of the 25 most influential people to affect the way Americans eat, right up there beside Thomas Jefferson and Julia Child.  “Slow living is about whether we are aligned with our inner natures, and the natural world.”  She quoted Erich Fromm – we see the world not as it is, but as we are, and therein lies the problem.  Our society’s dominant mental ‘filter’ is fundamentally destructive of nature and relationships. “We exist in the three ‘S’s – Separateness, Stasis and Scarcity, and this results in a profound distrust of self.”

Frances Moore Lappé discusses the transition from a “scarcity mind” to an “ecomind”

Lappé went on to describe the possibility of existing in an ‘EcoMind,’ the title of her new book.  Instead of hitting up against the limits of the natural world, it is a state of consciousness that aligns with the laws of nature.  “We are soft-wired towards empathy, cooperation, fairness, and the need for power, efficacy and meaning.”  She went on to describe a number of initiatives around the world that embody just this state, often achieved through tremendous struggle and sacrifice.

Judy Wicks then spoke of her White Dog Café in Philadelphia.  “The café got to the point where it was profitable and successful, but I had no interest whatsoever in starting a franchise.  So instead we found other ways to grow, by expanding our localvore networks and resources and having more fun.”  She talked about making a conscious decision one day to invite her competition to join her in the supply chain that she had developed.  This act may go completely against many competitive business principles, “but it was the right thing to do to achieve our broader mission.”

Wicks talked of a culture that she is familiar with that embodies an “eco-mind,”

The White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia

the Eskimos of the Arctic, in which so much is shared and the whole tribe celebrates when the first hunt of the season is successful.  “I complimented a young woman on her blue coat, and she took it off and gave it to me!”

The plenary session was started by singer/songwriter Erica Wheeler, who invoked a sense of place starting with the first Native Americans 10,000 years ago.  ‘Nothing here was discovered.  Everything was already loved,’ (from the poem Homeland by Karen Wood).  “This town is where the steep hills meet the wide river,” she said, and talked of the cultures that have arrived in the last 350+ years, from the battling French and English to the watermills up and down the watershed that spawned the industrial revolution.  Erica ended with a song from her most recent CD, Good Summer Rain, a beautiful ode to the valley she calls home and farmland lost.  You can listen to it on her website:

Lappé is founder of the Small Planet Institute and returned to her hometown of Brattleboro for the first time in years, where she was dazzled by the grandeur of the new food coop which has sprung up.  Her newest book is EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want.  This is her 18th book.

Judy Wicks has recently written Good Morning, Beautiful Business: The Unexpected Journey of an Activist Entrepreneur and Local-Economy Pioneer.  She is co-founder of Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), as well as founder of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia.  The book’s name comes from a sign that she posted on her bathroom mirror during her formative years with the White Dog Cafe to inspire her with regards to all of the good work that was rippling out as a result of the café’s staunch localvore mission.