Last weekend, I went to the Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference (UFC). This annual event is in its fifth year and continues to engage people in the multi-sector urban farming community.
I enjoy these conferences and learn about the real world challenges and solutions in urban farming. A sampling of the 2017 sessions included programs for young farmers, connecting rural and urban farmers, soil safety, culture crops and entrepreneurship for youth.
Many people at the conference are highly involved advocates and practitioners in some area of urban farming. That’s a given. As I attended a variety of sessions, many of them had the feel of preaching to the choir.
I watch the faces in the audience as the presenters talked. Lots of nodding heads, serious faces, and concerned looks. But I cringe when the Q&A session start – people tend to pontificate about their cause. They repeat what the presenters said, and don’t add anything new.
A challenge… sort of
But sometimes people challenge ideas. For example, one person politely challenged the racial makeup of the staff and board members (mostly white) of an urban farming nonprofit.
In her community in another part of the state, she tried to involve more people of color, more young people in the pipeline. This was her solution for groups of color to understand the inner workings of redevelopment, funding, and making real change in their communities. Still, she didn’t need to apologize – say it and move on.
An international perspective
Another person said that food systems vary from country to country. Growing up in an Eastern European country, food was locally grown until the population tripled by the time he was an adult. Land was consumed for food.
When he moved to Central Europe, land was sacred. Forests were preserved in their natural state. As an educator, he believed that children should learn and understand their connection to nature. It’s a lifelong process. Land is not ours to consume.
Knit, listen and learn
Finally, I learned a new way of listening at the conference. There was a person sitting in a session quietly knitting away – he was making a neck warmer. Clearly he was a student with his backpack and related accoutrements.
I asked him about knitting. He said he used knitting to listen. Rather than taking notes in class (a tricky back and forth process where you jump between listening and writing), he would just knit. He noticed that his grades improved since he starting knitting.
His subconscious was doing the listening while he hands were busy knitting. Of course, I didn’t notice him until after the session because I was busy taking notes.
I thanked him for sharing and showing me a different way to learn.
My dissertation topic was on urban agriculture and urban farming. I am keenly aware of the challenges of growing food in the city. As a food policy researcher, I have to keep an open mind and listen to different ideas.
I don’t have to agree with them all, but solutions come from collective thought. For me, the UFC was a good place to listen and learn.
You've got to go out on a limb sometimes because that's where the fruit is. ~~~Will Rogers~~~