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Local events engage communities and share project findings—part one

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Posted: November 21, 2016

During the past 18 months, several Consumption Team members hosted events that shared some of the results of the EFSNE project to engage community members on food and agriculture issues in their particular locations. The events, funded by a separate NIFA conference grant, were as diverse as the communities themselves. In some cases they resulted in new on-the-ground efforts to promote food access. These activities sought to stimulate thinking around taking regional level data on food and agricultural sectors and applying it to the local context.
A tree planting in Syracuse, NY. Credit: Cornell Cooperative Extension Onondaga County.

A tree planting in Syracuse, NY. Credit: Cornell Cooperative Extension Onondaga County.

Note: Three of the six community events are described here. The remaining three will be featured in a future news story.

A community food-access conference in Vermont

On February 5, 2015, a group of approximately 75 people from Vermont’s Essex and Orleans Counties gathered to discuss food access in the area. A concurrent dinner/poster session gave representatives from local organizations an opportunity to share their food access programming efforts. More formal presentations followed, including one by EFSNE team member Linda Berlin (University of Vermont), who presented an overview of Consumption Team research with a slideshow titled “A Long Drive to the Kitchen Table.” Site Leader Bill McMaster (University of Vermont) facilitated breakout groups in which participants collaborated to identify steps for addressing food access.

Several ideas and partnerships that originated at the conference have taken root in the community. For example, a group focused on Island Pond, VT continues to meet, and to date has initiated two projects including a community garden and the Vermont Fresh program which encourages consumption of local/regional produce through a variety of methods.

Revamped community cookbook unveiled at reunion celebration in Pittsburgh, PA

Residents of the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Beechview gathered on August 1, 2015, to celebrate the 110th anniversary of their community’s founding. Consumption Team members Heather Manzo and Rachel Samuels (Penn State Extension) co-organized the event with Phyllis DiDiano, the EFSNE project’s community liaison for the Beechview site, along with the Beechview Historical Society.

Two student interns, Alyssa Gurklis and Hayly Hoch (Penn State), also assisted with the event, primarily by networking with community residents, retailers, and farmers market vendors to update a community cookbook, to reflect the changing demographics of the neighborhood. The team distributed the revamped cookbook to community residents who attended the event, and archived it at the Beechview Historical Society.

The celebration served to unite the community and to provide a venue for sharing information on regional food systems. The organizers surveyed attendees on their food-shopping and eating habits, and collected oral histories about residents’ historical family connections to food—from the social aspects of consumption and individual food practices, to their personal definitions of healthy, regional, and local foods. Focus group discussions revealed that the role of food and culture figured prominently in how residents identified with the region.

A food-justice symposium in Syracuse, NY

Kathy Dischner, Jessi Lyons, other team members from Cornell Cooperative Extension partnered with several Syracuse organizations and raised additional funds to hold a free Food Justice Symposium on October 2-3, 2015. The event convened 240 participants from community organizations, markets, schools, businesses, and government agencies around the theme Taking Back our Health through Community Gardens and Urban Agriculture. Participants learned about opportunities for increasing access to locally and regionally sourced foods and for better integrating different aspects of the food system to support health and well-being of community residents through panel discussions and a hands-on workshops. Eighty percent of the food served at the event was sourced regionally.

The event included academic and research-based presentations, such “Production and Nutrition Potential of Community Gardens, Urban Agriculture and Peri-Urban Farms,” presented by Columbia University’s Mengjiao Jiang, and “A Regional Food System Diet,” presented by Syracuse University’s Jennifer Wilkins. A panel discussion of community gardeners focused on the role of gardens in supporting their overall well-being, and several workshops taught technical gardening skills. Malik Yakini, founder and executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, delivered the keynote address, and also visited with a small group of residents from one of the Syracuse sites that the Consumption Team is studying.

Local media coverage of the event includes this news report from WAER Syracuse Public Media. Interest in the issues hasn’t waned—a second symposium took place in November 2016. The theme for the 2nd Annual Food Justice Symposium was Engaging Youth in Urban Agriculture.