2018 Theme and Plenary Speakers



It takes a region to cultivate a transformative food system that  is in right relationship to people, place, and planet.

Everything that we do requires balance. Just as plants seek the right relationship between rain, sun, nutrients, soil, and each other to flourish, we must also seek balance within ourselves, our organizations, our ecosystems, and our communities.

We are struggling with imbalance: some have hoarded resources at the expense of others, who are left with too few; some wield power, where others have little influence over their own destinies. Some go without adequate food, others suffer to produce it or are deprived of land and foodways, and all beings are harmed by continually contaminated watersheds, polluted air, and depleted soils. We grow anyway, as all life will because that is the essence of life. We survive, but we cannot thrive without the precious balance between, within, and among human and non-human alike.

What does it take to come into right relationship with each other? First, we must name the imbalances and their impacts. Then we must recalibrate, always being aware of our own power and access to resources, and acknowledging that some of us having more than we need often requires that others go without. These are wounds we can heal together, with full knowledge that this balancing restores land, community, and self. This is the beauty and essence of solidarity: our liberation is bound together.

In the midst of this grand transition, we invite you to come hear from others who are transforming our food system, to share what you know, gather resources for the world we seek together, and experience what thriving can and might feel like over a few days in the City of Brotherly Love.


Opening Plenary - Laying out the Work Ahead of Us

Friday, Oct 26, 8:30 - 9:45am | Liberty Ballroom

What stands in the way of achieving a transformative food system that equitably nourishes people and the planet? If we are to achieve a truly transformative food system, we must hold ourselves accountable for the ways we have helped to construct these barriers, and learn what we need to do to take them down. In this plenary we will name some of the less visible problems in the food system. Join us as we hear from activists and leaders working on the local to the global: with urban farmers, dairy producers, farm workers, immigrants, and the next generation of food systems leaders.


Charlyn Griffith, Wholistic.Art and Soil Generation; Niaz Dorry, National Family Farm Coalition and Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance; Rafaela Rodriguez, Milk with Dignity; Vanessa Garcia Polanco, Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University

Moderated by Kathy Lawrence, NESAWG Board Member, consultant at Antibiotic Resistance Action Center, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University

Charlyn Griffith: An interdisciplinary artist and social scientist, deeply committed to naming frontline communities as impact makers in all areas of industry (particularly as it relates to development, food, education and art), she supports sustainable and culturally responsible design and placemaking. Charlyn Griffith is a part of Wholistic.art, a queer, woman and POC led design lab. She is an active member of Soil Generation, a Black & Brown-led coalition of gardeners, farmers, individuals, and community-based organizations working to ensure people of color regain community control of land and food, to secure access to the resources necessary to determine how the land is used, address community health concerns, grow food and improve the environment.




Niaz Dorry: Longtime Coordinating Director of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and National Family Farm Coalition board member and treasurer, Niaz Dorry was named Executive Director of NFFC in May 2018. NFFC and NAMA have entered into an innovative shared leadership model, with Niaz at the helm of both organizations. Prior to joining NAMA, Niaz was Interim COO for the Healthy Building Network, helping to apply environmental justice principles to building materials, at a time when HBN was working on homes in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. She worked with Greenpeace for 11 years as a toxics and environmental justice campaigner. She spent two years in Ohio in that time, fighting with communities along the Ohio River Valley against a Waste Technologies Industries hazardous waste incinerator. It was during her time at Greenpeace that she began working with community-based fishermen. The span of her work has made her well aware of the problems facing rural communities through concentration, lost markets, crumbling infrastructure, and diminished health care.


Rafaela Rodriguez: Rafaela is originally from Mexico City and migrated to California when she was a teenager. Rafaela has worked and lived with marginalized communities for the past eight years in California, Nicaragua, Mexico and Uganda where she developed her passion for social justice. A trained social worker, Rafaela joins the Milk with Dignity Standards Council (MDSC) from the Coalition to Abolish Human Trafficking in Los Angeles, where she worked alongside human trafficking survivors. As one of the MDSC's Human Rights Investigators, Rafaela works through a collaborative process to ensure compliance with the rights of farmworkers on dairy farms in Vermont and New York.


Vanessa Garcia Polanco: Vanessa is a visionary and servant leader Dominican immigrant formerly based in Rhode Island and now pursuing a Master in Community Sustainability at Michigan State University. She is passionate and writes about immigrants, the environment, food systems and Dominican food culture. Vanessa is a 2017 Food Solutions New England Network Leadership Institute Participant and a Chair at the RI Food Policy Council. Follow more from her @vgpvisions.




Lunch -  Welcome from PA Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding


Afternoon Plenary - Cultivating the Strategies to Transform the Food System

Friday, Oct 26, 1:30 - 2:45pm | Liberty Ballroom

Around the Northeast, dedicated people are working in small ways and big to build the food system we all want to see. This work takes vision, analysis, and commitment, and persistence to keep doing it in the face of setbacks and heartbreak. We will hear from leaders about what they do to educate, empower, and mobilize their community and colleagues to work towards a transformative food system.

Speakers: Leah Penniman, Soulfire Farm; Lan Dinh, VietLead; Cristina Martinez, El Compadre Restaurant and South Philly Barbacoa, Popular Alliance for Undocumented Workers' Rights

Moderated by Onika Abraham, NESAWG Board Member, Farm School NYC


Leah Penniman: Leah is a Black Kreyol educator, farmer/peyizan, author, and food justice activist from Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY. She co-founded Soul Fire Farm in 2011 with the mission to end racism in the food system and reclaim our ancestral connection to land. As co-Executive Director, Leah is part of a team that facilitates powerful food sovereignty programs - including farmer trainings for Black & Brown people, a subsidized farm food distribution program for people living under food apartheid, and domestic and international organizing toward equity in the food system. Leah holds an MA in Science Education and BA in Environmental Science and International Development from Clark University, and is a Manye (Queen Mother) in Vodun. Leah has been farming since 1996 and teaching since 2002. The work of Leah and Soul Fire Farm has been recognized by the Soros Racial Justice Fellowship, Fulbright Program, Omega Sustainability Leadership Award, Presidential Award for Science Teaching, NYS Health Emerging Innovator Awards, and Andrew Goodman Foundation, among others. Her book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm's Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land will hit shelves in November, 2018.

Lan Dinh: Lan comes from a family of Vietnamese refugees, farmers, and fisherfolk. Lan and her family first resettled in West Philadelphia and learned how to grow from her mother. She attended the University of Pennsylvania studying Health and Society and has eight years of experience working with food justice and youth. She is the Farm and Food Sovereignty Director at VietLead where she manages the Resilient Roots Community Farm, an intergenerational farm run by high school youth and elders. She is also apart of SumOurRoots project, a collaboration between Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, Bhutanese Organization of Philadelphia, and VietLead that is building a community garden at Furness High School and the food sovereignty power of South and Southeast Asians.

Chef Cristina Martinez:  Cristina was born and raised in Capulhuac, Mexico. She is a third generation Barbacoa chef at South Philly Barbacoa and El Compadre, both located in the heart of South Philadelphia. After battling for years to obtain her legal status and being told to “wait for the laws to change,” Cristina and her husband, Ben Miller of Easton, PA, decided to use their restaurant’s popularity to call attention to Cristina's story, and to work to dismantle the taboo of undocumented labor in restaurants by initiating the Popular Alliance for Undocumented Workers' Rights in 2015.Through PAUWR, they have engaged on a local scale to organize chefs and restaurant professionals into a public conversation about immigration reform for our undocumented workforce and push for legislation that will protect and create stability for them and their families. In April of 2017, Philadelphia City Council passed PAUWR's resolution recognizing every person's fundamental right to earn a living, regardless of immigration status, and affirming their commitment to protect and secure a safe and dignified workplace for all. Cristina was distinguished as the first chef to be honored with receiving Philadelphia's Nationalities Services Center's eponymous annual award in 2017, and has since been recognized multiple times for her work advocating for the undocumented community in the food industry. Cristina has an intuitive sense about the cooking process and a mastery of her cuisine that only comes with a lifetime of experience, and supernatural energy, talent, tenacity, and work ethic that enable her to prosper against all odds as an activist, business-owning, immigrant woman in America today.


Closing Plenary - Staying Inspired and Moving Forward

Saturday, Oct 27, 11:30am - 12:30pm | Liberty Ballroom

Where do we want to be? How do we leverage what is underway to advance the work identified to be done? What keeps us inspired and moving forward, hopefully together? We close the conference hearing from leaders who will answer these questions in their own work and their thoughts for the food system as a whole, so that we are energized to return to our communities and continue this work.

Speakers: Neftali Duran, I-Collective; Brandy Brooks, Environmental Leadership Program Senior Fellow, CRN '15; Ingabire Adam, Massachusetts Avenue Project

Moderated by Heber Brown, NESAWG Board Member and Black Church Food Security Network

Neftali Duran: Neftali is a cook, advocate, educator, and organizer, working towards an equitable food system and building a network of indigenous food leaders. He is a Salzburg Global Fellow, and co-founder of the I- Collective, an indigenous collective that promotes a healthy food system that values people, traditional knowledge, and the planet over profit. His writing and culinary projects have been featured at the Smithsonian Native American museum, the Smithsonian museum of American history, The Native American Culinary Association, LongHouse Food Revival, Food52, and the Cooking Channel, and he has been a featured speaker on The Moth mainstage, Harvard, Smith College and more. Neftali’s work is grounded in the belief that access to food is a human right. Neftali was the lead of the Nuestra Comida Project at Nuestras Raices, a grassroots urban agriculture organization in Holyoke, MA that creates healthy environments and more equitable food system in New England by facilitating community leadership, food access and policy change at the local, state and national level. Neftali’s work is informed by his own experience as a migrant worker and 18 years of experience in the restaurant industry as chef, baker, and small business owner. He also educates community around indigenous culinary traditions, the effects of migration on people and food, and synchronistic food styles that draw on Oaxacan roots. He is interested in documenting the culinary traditions of the different regions of Oaxaca, Mexico as well as reclaiming the roots and culture of the original peoples of the Americas.

Brandy H. M. Brooks: Brandy is an activist, educator, facilitator, and designer who has spent more than 12 years working on social and environmental justice. Her areas of focus include community organizing and power-building; community-based design and land use planning; and food justice and food sovereignty.  She was the founding executive director of the Community Design Resource Center of Boston and has worked in senior management roles with The Food Project, Boston Collaborative for Food and Fitness, and Dreaming Out Loud. Brandy holds a Bachelor of Design Studies from the Boston Architectural College and a Master in Public Administration from Suffolk University. She is also an Environmental Leadership Program Senior Fellow and a 2016 New Economy Maryland Fellow.

Ingabire Adam:  Ingabire was born in Congo, raised in Kenya, and moved to the United States in 2014. She is  currently a senior at Emerson School of Hospitality in Buffalo New York. She became interested in the environment and the importance of the food we eat and how it’s grown through a summer job at Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP). MAP is a non-profit organization working to provide healthy, affordable food in Buffalo to places that don’t have many options. She is excited to find ways to get friends and family to see they are a part of the environment and recognize how nature can help them in so many ways and how they can help nature back.