Humanizing the Food System - It Takes a Region 2017


Quick program links:

Pre-conferences (held on Thursday)  

Sessions (additional information updated regularly)  

Keynote, and Plenary Speakers (see below) 

Youth Track (details coming soon) 

Grad Student Poster Session 

Mixers and Mealtime Discussions (details coming soon)

this year's theme: Humanizing the Food System

What does it take to find common ground with unlikely allies? If we only collaborate with those who we already agree with, then the food system we build will remain peripheral, homogenous, and exclusive. To move our shared work beyond the choir, we must have difficult conversations, engage in deep listening and understand the humanity behind all of our beliefs and actions. While we may agree with this premise in the abstract, how many of us are willing to reach across difference to foster crucial new relationships? How often do we seek to understand where our values and interests intersect?

Across the northeast food advocates are answering these questions with action. Join us at this year's It Takes A Region conference to hear their stories and share your experiences working to humanize the food system. Speakers such as Dr. Samina Raja, a global leader in food systems planning and research, and Pastor Heber Brown, a faith-based food justice leader, will explore these questions and the opportunities that listening and uncomfortable conversations can provide. Together we’ll explore the politics of strange bedfellows and uneasy alliances, examining partnerships between industry and advocates that widen the scope of possibilities.

Whether the differences center on urban vs. rural, scale and philosophy, race and class, or any other perceived or experienced divide, we face the common challenge of checking our assumptions and engaging in uncomfortable conversations. It takes patience and practice to open ourselves to the kinds of collaboration that shift our food system. At last year’s NESAWG conference we discussed “wicked problems,” gathering over 400 practitioners from across the Northeast to examine the intractable obstacles we face in our food systems. Part provocation, part call to action, this year’s “Humanizing the Food System” conference is an opportunity for everyone interested in going beyond platitudes and purity to explore together how we might construct new relationships that mitigate the “wicked problems” we all know so well. Join us!

Afternoon Plenary Keynote Speaker, Rev. Dr. Heber M. Brown, III

Rev. Dr. Heber M. Brown, III is a community organizer in the progressive faith community. He is Senior Pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland and for nearly two decades has demonstrated his commitment to advocacy for social justice at every level of government, business, and community. He is the Founding Director for Orita’s Cross Freedom School, based on the Freedom  Schools of the 1960s, which reconnects Black youth to their African heritage while teaching them skills designed to help them be self-reliant. He is also founder of the Black Church Food Security Network, which links Black Churches and Black Farmers in partnership to create a community-controlled, alternative food system based on self-sufficiency and food and land sovereignty. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the Ella Baker Freedom Fighter Award.

In the aftermath of the Baltimore Uprising of 2015,  following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody,  Black communities in the city faced increased food insecurity as stores and schools closed in the wake of police violence and repression. Dr. Brown organized the Black Church Food Security Network to temporarily provide much-needed healthy local food to area residents during the emergency, but the project grew deeper roots as leaders realized the potential to address the longstanding food insecurity in the community. Come hear Dr. Brown’s story of humanizing his community’s food system and the many challenges and insights he has gleaned along the way.


Evening Keynote Speaker, Dr. Samina Raja
​​Dr. Samina Raja is a global leader in food systems planning. Her research and leadership has empowered not only communities of color in her hometown of Buffalo, NY, but throughout the U.S. and global south. She is the founder of the Food Lab at University of Buffalo, supporting food systems researchers in service of vulnerable communities and Growing Food Connections, a national network of food system planners. She is a native of Kashmir, India and is a Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Buffalo.

Food systems planning may be a nascent field, but it’s of crucial importance for scaling sustainable agriculture and improving food access and economic opportunity in communities of color. While there are many academic, nonprofit, and government organizations devoted to studying the food system, very few partner with low-income and communities of color to create lasting change. Dr. Raja’s innovative work provides a welcome blueprint for researchers who seek such partnerships, however unlikely they may appear at first glance.

Join us to hear Samina’s story and delve into the pragmatic approaches that define her success. Register today


More speakers and workshop sessions to be announced!