This year’s conference theme is Tackling Wicked Problems in Food Systems. Wicked problems are not any old problems that just won’t go away. They are longstanding, complex, and difficult to define. “Wicked” does not imply “evil,” rather it means “hard to fix.” Wicked problems are caused by multiple factors and lack agreed-upon solutions. The complex and uncertain nature of these issues requires broad engagement and dialogue from all who are impacted. While we cannot expect immediate solutions, we can collaborate across sectors to mitigate short-term impacts and develop workable, longer-term approaches to these intractable issues.
Our theme-related sessions will explore a number of different wicked problems we encounter in food systems work. We will examine what makes these issues so vexing and complex, and through small and large group facilitated discussions, draw upon the collective wisdom and expertise in the room to find a path towards addressing it.
OPENING PLENARY: Bending your Brain with an Introduction to Wicked Problems
Friday, 8:30 - 9:30 AM, Grand Ballroom
What are wicked problems? And how do they differ from complex problems? Or complicated problems? Or simple ones? And why does it matter? It turns out that the most effective response to a wicked problem is quite different from that to simpler problems. And that can be a mind-bending realization! In this plenary you will be introduced to each of the seven wicked problem sessions being featured at NESAWG 2016 (to help you choose), as well as to the methodology behind wicked problem solving in general.
WICKED PROBLEMS DEEP DIVE SESSIONS
Friday, 2:00 - 4:00 PM
Farmworker Well-being and Farm Viability: Mutually Exclusive or Potential for Collaboration? - Hartford Commons
One paradigm says that the dominant trends in American agriculture — ever-increasing scale, more technology, more pesticides — disadvantage everyone in the food system: workers, farmers and consumers. The approach then is to build viability for farms-in-the-middle and smaller scale organic and sustainable farms that respect workers’ rights; farms where farmers and workers cooperate in resisting the pressures of the highly concentrated corporate-dominated food system.
Another paradigm says that even within the dominant culture, farm owners and farmworkers share one compelling interest in common—the economic success of the farm. That common ground presents an opportunity for cooperation to empower labor to contribute toward improved sanitation, safety, and overall better product quality, things that some customers are willing to pay extra for, generating a return that can be shared by owners and labor. Are these paradigms mutually exclusive? Can enough progress be made within the dominant system or are we forced to build something new?
Session leader: Kathia Ramirez, Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas/The Farmworkers' Support Committee
Co-presenter: Erik Nicholson, United Farm Workers,Equitable Food Initiative; Elizabeth Henderson, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York
Farmland Protection, Farm Viability, Farmland Access, and “Next Practices”: A Wicked Mix - Salon B
Effective farmland protection requires successful farmers and good farming practices. It is inherently political, economic and agricultural, all at once. However, the complexities of the system were not well understood by all practitioners in the past. Farmland protection was often seen more simply as placing an agricultural conservation easement on a piece of property. Today, as more of the complexities are recognized, it’s become harder to know what to do or how to do it.
Now, layer on top of that the Northeast dairy crisis. Milk prices are set by a failed federal policy system. Many dairy farmers don’t earn enough to cover their true cost of production, putting in jeopardy thousands of farms and hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland--dwarfing the amount of Northeast farmland that has been protected. In this session, we’ll explore farmland protection as the wicked problem that it is, inseparable from farm viability (especially dairy), from farmland access (particularly for beginning farmers), and from efforts to advance environmentally-sound farming practices.
The Food Safety Conundrum: Does Food Safety Lead us to Safe Food? - Salon A
Most of us can agree on the fundamental goals, a safe food supply and viable farms. A greater awareness of food borne illness has fed our fear and our resolve to wage all-out war on the teeming microbes and sanitize our way to a safer world. But “real world” priorities complicate the issue: retailers and distributors want vendor certifications that guarantee legal protection; fearful consumers demand risk free food; farmers and processors want minimal regulation, sensible standards and affordable certification; while a burgeoning food safety “industry” is invested in keeping things complicated. In this dense fog of politics and regulation, are we missing things that are critical to our health? Growing evidence suggests that widespread use of antibacterials is compromising our immune systems and producing antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” How do we rebuild human immunity when our production methods and food safety strategies undermine it? Is there a way out of the fog, beyond the fear, to a national food safety program that dramatically lowers the risk of harm from food?
Sure, We all Want to Eat More Sustainably; But How do we Figure That Out? - Ethan Allen
Dietary guidelines typically take a “one size fits all” approach. But can that work for a sustainable diet which connects food consumption with a complex of sustainability issues -- environmental, social, cultural, economic, and health-related -- all intersecting, and sometimes conflicting (as when imported foods may improve nutrition in the North at the expense of food security in the South). How do we navigate these complexities and formulate appropriate dietary guidance that makes practical sense for diverse populations, cultures, and varied diets?
This session explores how complex systems influence our food consumption. We will gather into small groups comprising distinct demographic categories, and formulate diet-related principles that integrate and support our underlying sustainability perspectives. We will then compare these lists, assess how they reflect our diversity, and consider whether a common sustainability agenda applied to our food choices is even possible or practical.
Session leader: Hugh Joseph, Friedman School of Nutrition, Tufts University
Co-presenter: Kate Clancy, Food Systems Consultant, Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, & Friedman School, Tufts University
Vermont’s Sustainable Meat Processing Bottleneck: The Dynamics of Supply and Demand - Salon C
The sustainable meat landscape in Vermont includes: Growing consumer demand for humanely raised meat animals; Long wait times for slaughter slots for small producers; A call for more on-farm slaughter and additional slaughter facilities; Financially struggling farms, slaughter facilities, and meat-processing plants; An aging workforce; Chefs looking for consistent, high quality cuts; Difficulties in getting Vermont-raised meats into wholesale markets at sufficient scale.
These are some of the defining challenges that farmers, slaughterhouse owners, distributors, and chefs faced 7 years ago in Vermont. This Wicked Problem session will tell the story of how, over a three-year period, the supply and demand for meat-processing capacity and meat animals flipped. We’ll describe the intervention strategies, essential elements, and lessons learned from this multi-stakeholder initiative that represented one of the first big successes for the VT Farm to Plate Network. And we’ll explore how a new bottleneck has emerged, in the ever evolving and dynamic marketplace of supply and demand.
Session leader: Ellen Kahler, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, Vermont Farm to Plate
Co-presenter: Jenn Colby, UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Farm to Plate Production & Processing Working Group, VT Grass Farmers Association
The Food Movement: If We Agree on Vision and Values, What Keeps Us From Collaborating? - Nathan Hale North
We’re smarter and stronger together. Right? But who’s included in this “we”? And who is not? It turns out that the way we see a problem, and the way has everything to do with the impact we have, and who we choose to work with. Wicked problems are the hardest ones to see clearly and understand. In the case of wicked problems our choice of collaborators is that much more important. They can be our best vehicle for expanding our vision, improving our problem definition and strategy, and adding experience, insight, and capacity that is missing.
What White People can do About Racism in the Food Movement - Nathan Hale North
This session will focus on building the skills, resources and knowledge needed to undo racism in the food movement. White people have a specific role to play in leveraging white privilege to advance a racially-just food movement, but many do not know where to begin. Through small and large group discussion, this session is intended to give white people some basic knowledge about U.S. racial structure, building cross-racial alliances, finding direction on your journey as an effective change agent, and building a personal support network for the work you do. Together we will develop a more nuanced understanding of how oppression operates in our food movement work, and feel empowered to work together to undo it.
This session is appropriate for white people who are open to learning what they can do about racism, perhaps feeling they should be doing something but not sure what. This session is also appropriate for people of color who want to support white people who want to take action against racism. Anyone and everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend.
Session leader: Ava Bynum, Hudson Valley Seed
Co-presenter: Karen Spiller, NESAWG
CLOSING PLENARY: Closing Without Closure – Reflections on Wicked Problems
Saturday, 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM, Grand Ballroom
Would we be more effective as a Good Food Movement if we accepted and practiced what a Wicked Problem view of the world is asking of us? What exactly is that worldview? What are those practices? In the closing, Wicked Problem session leaders and several participants will get the conversation started. The last half hour will be an open discussion for everyone.
Moderator: Michael Rozyne, NESAWG Board Chair, Red Tomato