Jim Hanna of the Cumberland County Food Security Coalition in Maine reminded a large crowd Wednesday that people from all backgrounds, ethnicities and faiths participate in the New England food system.
As evidence, he stood up at the sixth annual New England Food Summit and pointed out that several attendees were observing Ramadan, a 30-day period in which Muslims fast during daylight hours.
“While we sit and eat our lunches, some of us are fasting,” Hanna said. “And that’s okay.”
He was emphasizing one of the goals at this year’s annual conference: striving for racial equity, inclusion and representation in the regional food system. While the latest USDA Agricultural Census shows a national rise in minority-owned farms, sales from a majority of those farms make less than $10,000 per year. In addition, a Food Chain Workers Alliance report from that same year – 2012 – shows that almost 40 percent of food-chain workers are non-white, and 86 percent of food-chain workers overall reported earning low- or poverty-level wages.
To properly represent this, Food Solutions New England has started inviting food chain workers to be part of the conversation at its annual food summits. And at the 2016 event, Spanish interpreters were available for those who needed them.
Earlier in the year, the organization also hosted a 21-day challenge to think, speak, read or learn about racial equity and justice.
This is, indeed, new. Connecticut state Sen. Marilyn Moore of Bridgeport said she attended her first New England Food Summit several years ago in Burlington, Vt. “I walked out of the room just overwhelmed with whiteness,” she said. “I took my concerns to the core group – it’s about being inclusive of all the people who live here.”
Among the participants at the conference were delegations from each state in New England.
Garrett Bauer of the Kearsarge Food Hub was one of the “emerging leaders” from New Hampshire who attended this year’s summit. Bauer began the Bradford-based local food collective last July, and almost 12 months later, he said he’s interested in understanding the larger New England food system in order to better know his nonprofit’s role in it.
“We want to see what’s happening regionally,” Bauer said. “My focus of being here is trying to narrow our focus as a group.”
The two-day annual event, which was started in 2011 by the University of New Hampshire initiative Food Solutions New England, was held at the Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, Conn. This year, the summit is centered on a “50 by 60” vision, or having the New England region producing 50 percent of its food by 2060.
This would be no small accomplishment – New Hampshire, for instance, only produces 10 percent of its food supply.
UNH Sustainability Institute founder Tom Kelly – whose organization helped launch Food Solutions New England – laid out the New England Food Vision to the 2016 participants. He relied on a graphic that shows a winding, perhaps upwards path past fishing boats and farms, food trucks and research universities, and which ends at a bright sun shining around the 2060 goal.
In keeping with this year’s theme ofinclusion, the path is lined with people of all races, ages, genders and abilities. They enter past a sign reading “A New England Food System with Dignity” and following road markers for “democratic empowerment,” “a new food story” and “a sustainable economy.”
“A food system without dignity,” Joan Briggs, of the Jessie Fink Foundation told the crowd Wednesday, “is not a system.”