Connecticut College News
Conn Students Attend Northeast Real Food Summit - By Samantha Herndon ´1003/4/2009
"Not everyone is a farmer, but we all have one thing in common: food. In essence, we are all food advocates," said Karen Washington, community gardens activist in the Bronx, NYC. This idea permeated the Northeast Real Food Summit: that because everyone must eat, each of us makes a choice with every bite of what sort of food system to support, industrial or local, institutional or DIY. Held at University of Massachusetts at Amherst February 20-22, the conference was attended by eight camels from Sprout!, Conn´s very own organic gardening club. There, they had the opportunity to learn about how to be better gardeners, consumers, real food supporting students and political activists. "Topics covered were steps to bringing more local food to our dining halls, finding sustainability within bureaucracy, farm worker rights and settingup and expanding campus gardens. Overall, the connections made and ideas exchanged with like-minded students from the Northeast made the trip well worth it," wrote Sprout! Co-President Eric Dooley-Feldman ´09. A wide variety of the workshops and speaker panels were offered in the Summit´s three sessions. The events included an inspiring tour of the Hampshire College farm, which includes its own chicken, dairy cows and even guard llamas. The conference´s organizers describe it as a convergence of new ideas, a hotbed for eco-activism, and an effort to bring new members into the Real Foods movement. Mostly Hampshire and UMass students, Real Foods organizers hosted "over 300 college and high school students from more than 60 northeastern schools to learn, network and strategize around food justice. Students came from diverse backgrounds, including rural state universities and community colleges, urban high schools and liberal arts colleges. But whether it´s in the form of fresh food in dining halls, more campus gardens, or more critical food-related curricula, they are all demanding that their schools invest in healthy, community-based, fair, and environmentally sound food for all." Extensive planning was required for the 3-day conference, but the planning committee was greater than or equal to the task. Some, like Hampshire senior Graham J, had little organizing experience - they simply learned as they went. Speakers challenged attendees to make the movement more inclusive, both in diversity of those involved and in the focus of gardeners and food buyers. "Does it matter if an heirloom tomato is local and organic if it was harvested with slave labor?" Marc Rodrigues, Coordinator of the Student/Farmworker Alliance, asked students, quoting Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser. The importance of this political moment in America was keenly felt at the conference. "President Obama has called upon young people take a stake in their communities," said Boston College junior, Julia Gabbert. "We as young people are thrilled to heed the call of our new President, and get involved on our campuses and in our communities." Students at the Northeast Summit joined nearly a thousand other students participating in a total of five regional summits concurrently organized by a national campaign called the "Real Food Challenge," which is a project of The Food Project, the California Student Sustainability Coalition and their partners. A special step beat kicked off the conference to increase the attendees´ enthusiasm at the early morning start to Saturday´s programming. As the room full of food activists young and old stood up, stomped their feet and clapped their hands, the summit organizers beamed. "Every movement needs a rhythm," one said, and the Real Food movement certainly found theirs in Amherst and across the country. The organic gardening club meets at 9:30 PM Monday nights upstairs in Cro.