It Takes a Region Conference - 2015

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Pre-Conference Sessions | Plenaries
Workshops | Discussion & Work Groups
Mixers & Meal Discussions
Keynote Speaker Shirley Sherrod
Presenter Bios | Bookshelf | Sponsorships
Session Resources | Conference Recap

Discussion & Work Groups

NESAWG's Discussion and Work Groups meet twice during the conference, providing an opportunity to go more in-depth on specific topics. They are open sessions, connecting people throughout the region and across sectors to network, share resources and best practices, identify gaps, and brainstorm solutions. Participants continue the discussion on our online forums.

Want to be part of the conversation? Join a group at the conference and bring questions, share ideas and take action to strengthen our regional food system.

Diet, Geography, Access & Public Health | Food Censorship & Misinformation
Food Safety | Distribution & Food Hubs | Food Systems Planning

Food Systems Financing | Labor & Trade | Research & Assessments

Diet, Geography, Access and Public Health
Promoting Greater Food Equity and Security through Enhanced Assessment Standards

The Diet, Geography, Access and Public Health (DGAP) Group is exploring persistent patterns of food system inequities, particularly in communities of color and those that are economically or socially disadvantaged.

We are in the midst of negotiations for appropriations for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and it currently supplements the diets of nearly 46 million Americans.  While critical to addressing the immediate needs of food on the table, what is the long term viability of SNAP and other food assistance programs? What are the root causes contributing to the increased demand for food assistance? Does the poverty level criteria used to determine eligibility for many federal food assistance programs need to be re-evaluated? What are better tools?

There are 2 parts to the interactive Diet, Geography, Access and Public Health (DGAP) exploration. Part 1 will examine the current negotiations and status of SNAP as well as trends in demand by numbers, race and ethnicity; review eligibility criteria, federal poverty levels and perceived programmatic weaknesses.   We will then introduce the Self Sufficiency Standard (SSS), developed by the Center for Women's Welfare, as an alternative tool to understand economic inequality by looking at the true cost of living region by region, and discuss its potential to be a more accurate measure of household vulnerability than the Federal Poverty Level.

During Part 2, we will look more closely at the Self Sufficiency Standard (SSS) as a tool to address racial equity and food justice in our food system. We will discuss examples of its use and identify ways we could use it to set more equitable economic goals critical to promoting enhanced food access and building solutions designed to promote long term food security

Co-Leaders: Amanda Buczynski, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future; Joanne Burke, University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute & Food Solutions New England; Karen Spiller, NESAWG Steering Committee, KAS Consulting, & Food Solutions New England


Food Censorship and Misinformation (new group!)

Building on last year's NESAWG plenary on food censorship in the media and academia, this new group will consider ways to help expose examples of censorship and misinformation that affect perceptions of sustainable farm and food systems.  Session One will look at examples of types of food censorship in theory and in practice.  Session Two will look at myths that are repeated in the media and focus on one way to address one myth.  Recommended reading prior to attending: Spinning Food: How Food Industry Front Groups and Convert Communications are Shaping the Story of Food, a report by Friends of the Earth, authors: Kari Hamerschlag, Anna Lappe and Stacy Malkan.  Please pre-register by emailing Ruth Katz with "Food Censorship Discussion-Work Group" in the subject line.

Co-Leaders: Ruth Katz, NESAWG; Joan Gussow, Columbia University


Food Safety

From 2009–2012 the Food Safety Group sessions dealt with the legislative phases of the Food Safety Modernization Act as it made its way through Congress. In 2013 the group discussions centered around a national comment campaign in response to FDA’s proposed regulations, forcing them to take their Rules back to the drawing board. The 2014 Group meeting dealt with a second comment campaign on the revamped re-regulations. With the expected release of FDA’s Final Rules later this Fall, the 2015 food safety focus will be on regulation implementation strategies and identifying and supporting viable farmer food safety training initiatives.

Leader: Steve Gilman, Northeast Organic Farming Association Interstate Council


Distribution & Food Hubs

The Distribution and Food Hubs Group is focused on issues, challenges, and best practices related to food hubs, value chains, and other strategies for wholesale distribution that support sustainable food systems goals and benefit all food systems stakeholders.

We will have two presentations focused on the state of food hubs. Day 1 will focus on the state of food hubs, asking the question, “Will food hubs grow and survive?” and examine challenges and opportunities. On Day 2, we’ll discuss how food hubs can compete more effectively in the future, with an eye towards the roles of collaboration and technology.

Co-Leaders: Jeff Farbman, Wallace Center at Winrock International; Jim Barham, USDA Rural Development; Ann Karlen, Fair Food Philly; Michael Rozyne, NESAWG Steering Committee & Red Tomato


Food Systems Planning

The Food Systems Planning Group is a community of practice for those engaged in planning activities that impact the food system. Members include regional and municipal planners, food policy council members, and others engaged in food system plans and policies.

In the first session, the Food System Planning Group will explore Developing a Common Agenda for food system plans and networks. Goal development is an integral component of traditional planning processes. One of the five conditions of Collective Impact (Kania and Kramer 2011) is that stakeholders will develop and coordinate their activities around a common agenda. What does it take to develop a common agenda with diverse (and sometimes competing) food system issues such as health, social justice, farm viability, economic development and the environment? This session will include a panel of food system planners at the municipal and regional level discussing how they successfully developed common goals using broad stakeholder input. Following the panel the group will discuss the challenges of developing shared goals, and specific techniques to align goals. The second session will address any follow-up discussion from Day One, and will provide an opportunity for the group to talk about specific objectives for the Food System Planning Group for 2016.

Co-Leaders: Erica Campbell, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund; Heidi Stucker, Metropolitan Area Planning Council


Food Systems Financing
Collaborative Approaches to Financing a Better Food System

This is a reconvening of a NESAWG group which evolved into the North East Foodshed Finance Alliance (NEFFA) which launched this dialogue on shared metrics at Food + Enterprise Summit 2015.

Who: Designed for foundations, financial institutions and angel investors (collectively: "food system funders") as well as business intermediaries and researchers.  
What: A review of evolving opportunities and challenges for funding sustainable food and farm enterprises with both philanthropic and impact capital.
Why: To overcome current barriers, innovative programming must be devised that targets both sides of investments—the businesses and investors—to bridge the gap between them.

Session 1—Discussion + Case Studies
Participants are invited to discuss their experience with barriers to investing in local food systems and detail any programs or investments that have successfully addressed these barriers.  

Session 2—Analysis + Action
We will tally and evaluate best practices from the previous session and then discuss a proposed new solution, namely, adopting a Foodshed Investment Assessment Tool consisting of selected and prioritized indicators (metrics) that measure social, environmental and financial performance (returns).

Leader: Derek Denckla, Denckla Projects & Slow Money NYC


Labor & Trade

The Labor and Trade Group discusses strategies for linking the sustainable agriculture movement with food workers in order to change the food system.

Session One—Labor
In this session we will talk about workers in the many links of the food chain and learn about the Food Chain Workers Alliance, and their efforts to substantially increase the minimum wage and improve working conditions for workers throughout the Northeast.  If you’re involved in food hubs, farm -to-institution, or other activities along the supply/value chain, help us brainstorm ways in which we can advance this work that is fundamental to true sustainability. With Lazaro Alvarez Andrade, a dairy farmworker and Carly Fox, from the Worker Justice Center of New York.

Session Two—Trade
We will hear from experts working on international trade agreements, and how those agreements could undermine our Northeast U.S. regional food systems work, with a focus on their threat to dairy producers and labor.  Northeast dairy producers, already suffering from a drop in prices since last year, may experience an inflow of processed dairy products from New Zealand under the currently-negotiated trade agreements that would make things even worse.  And as international trade attempts to drive down prices, that in turn hurts labor as well.  Learn about dairy farmworker campaigns, international dairy trade’s potential impact on Northeast regional dairy, and the secrecy involved in these international agreements and how that secrecy is counter to our democratic institutions.  We’ll brainstorm together on how to break through that secrecy, and get our policy makers aware and educated about our concerns.  We’ll brainstorm additional ideas for action by the NESAWG community and our constituencies back home. With Dennis Olsen (invited) from the United Food and Commercial Workers

Co-Leaders: Elizabeth Henderson, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York; Diana Robinson, Food Chain Workers Alliance


Research & Assessments

This year’s gathering of the Research & Assessment Group will focus on defining and measuring success. We’re particularly interested in discussing ways we might address equity and fairness along the entire agri-food value chain, including farmworkers, farmers, foodservice workers, and others.

Session One
We will have three short presentations, followed by Q&A.

  • Jeff Piestrak from the Mann Library at Cornell University and the Research & Assessments Co-Leader, will provide updates and lessons learned from the Northeast Food Knowledge Ecosystem (NEFKE) pilot project.
  • Nessa Richman and Kaitlin Haskins from Farm to Institution New England (FINE) will describe the New England Farm to Institution Shared Metrics Project.
  • Diana Jerkins, Research Director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), will present results of three national OFRF reviews—USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) organic funding; a National Organic Research Agenda (NORA) survey for farmers; and OFRF’s own portfolio of funded projects.

Session Two
We will have a presentation by Dorothy Suput, Founder and Executive Director of The Carrot Project, sharing highights of data collected from 25 farms about what leads to profitability and success. Following that there will be an opportunity for attendees to share their thoughts on previous workgroup presentations and their own experiences as they relate to defining and measuring success.

Co-Leaders: Jeff Piestrak, Cornell University Mann Library; Molly Anderson, Middlebury College