The Just Food Conference, an annual gathering that brings together over 1,000 like minded food growers, educators, and consumers, happened March 12-13th at Columbia Teacher’s College. Allergic To Salad educator coordinator Sarah Carlisle and blog manager Heather Meehan were in attendance.
Sunday mid-morning, the hallways of Columbia Teacher’s College were abuzz with excitement, chatter, and the smell of handmade vegan hors d’ouevres. The conference is organized “in partnership with the Tisch Food Center and Farm School NYC,” and presenters included Sheryll Durrant, Farm Coordinator at New Roots Community Farm, and Dr. Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The theme of this year’s conference was “A Call to Collaboration, “ in an effort to recognize the need “to take action to protect not only our food system, but the rights of our diverse communities.”
In the first session, Heather attended a workshop led by Manna Hara, Associate Director of Environmental Education, and Dylan Hammond, Garden Manager with NYC parks. “From Seed to Harvest: Engaging Youth Year-round with Garlic and Carrots” was an in depth look at the pros and practices of growing garlic and carrots, specifically in New York City Parks. The class culminated in a quick pickle project which attendees got to take home with them–similar to one of the recipes many of our educators do with beginning classes. Taken home and cracked open after 12-24 hours, the pickles had a bright crispness strongly infused with garlic. It was a very nice takeaway treat and demonstrates how healthy food doesn’t have to be a very labor intensive process–all we needed was some vinegar, sugar and salt, veggies, spices of choice, and a few mason jars.
Sarah attended “Food Justice, Inside and Out: Navigating Power Dynamics in Collaborative Partnerships,” applicable to Allergic to Salad in our partnering with academic institutions and community groups. Again, this workshop was hands on. It featured Pamela Koch from Just Food and Tisch in conversation with Diana Rodrigues who teaches the “in defense of food” middle school curriculum at Harlem Children’s Zone. They demoed a sugar activity using small bowls to represent food, the digestive system, and the blood stream, and a small measuring spoon to represent insulin. The people holding each vessel created a line of transfer of sugar that gets bottlenecked at the insulin/measuring spoon phase to demonstrate that if you’re consuming a lot of sugar, and continue to do so over your lifetime, insulin can get overworked.
The panel also emphasized the importance of ground-level community involvement in building food curriculums, making healthy food relatable to the communities you’re teaching in and making sure it’s culturally relevant especially to youth. The panel suggested that curriculum should be defined but also non prescriptive; educators should be able to make it their own. It concluded with the vital recognition that communities are already doing the work and it’s the job of institutions and privileged white folks to show up, sit back and stay quiet, but ultimately keep doing that work alongside the communities.
During a short lunch session, the Youth Justice League gave a presentation advocating for Universal Free School Lunch (UFSL). This program, which is an initiative to provide free school lunch to all students regardless of socio-economic background, has been implemented in NYC Middle Schools but is still lacking in high schools. The presenters, who were all high school students, offered a compelling argument for its implementation, addressing the social consequences of the way the free lunch system works right now: the paperwork is invasive and its language is exclusive and not culturally sensitive. Segregation of students occurs in the cafeterias daily due to the different lunches kids received. The presenters they phrased this segregation as the “subliminal reinforcement of racial and ethnic stereotypes” and explained how this reinforcement then leads to bias and intolerance as adults. To learn more about this initiative, you can visit https://www.lunch4learningnyc.org/. There is also a hearing on the topic at city hall on March 21st.
During the second workshop session after lunch, Sarah attended a Panel on “Farm to Bed-Sty: The Worker Cooperative Approach to Building a Local Supply Chain,” a conversation amongst representatives from Rock Steady Farms, Brooklyn Packers, and Bed Sty Fresh & Local. Conversation centered around how to sustain these worker initiatives and interest surrounding an emerging Bed Sty “Food hub” that is still in formation.
Heather attended a workshop facilitated by Ruby Olisemeka, a farm and garden educator who incorporates “African and indigenous practices into farming and food & farming education.” This workshop was refreshing; it began with a breakout dance session to “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire. Olisemeka went on to talk about the power of memory or lack thereof; as a group we shared culturally held narratives about black Americans, many of them false and most of them damaging. Olisemeka then set out to “Re-member” the dis-membered history through storytelling; she shared an Ancient Egyptian myth to exemplify the power of remembering our cultural heritage and incorporating it into our work with youth, particularly youth of color. This workshop was a profoundly moving one, and an inspiration in terms of ways to be creative and culturally sensitive with the knowledge we both impart and receive as educators.