The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) brings together a network of over 500 organizations and thousands of individuals in 12 states and Washington D.C., to catalyze meaningful change toward a sustainable and just food system.
One of the ways that NESAWG helps to bolster the food system is through their annual conference. The 2017 “It Takes a Region Conference” was held in Baltimore, MD, and included over 400 attendees. Pre-conference events included an urban farm tour of Baltimore, focusing on the city’s black-run farms and racial justice issues. Additionally, they had a boat tour of the Chesapeake Bay, a youth lobbying day, a communications training, and a food safety intensive workshop.
NESAWG prides itself on bringing people together who might not have crossed paths otherwise. This conference has a huge impact on many attendees, including one youth attendee from West Virginia, who told her NESAWG story:
I met a young man from the Bronx of a different race the first day of the conference. When we started chatting he laughed and said something like, “I’m from the Bronx and you’re a country girl. Doubt we have too much in common.” After chatting for a while, the conversation took a personal turn. He told me about how he hadn’t told many people this (and he wasn’t sure why he was telling me), but his father took his own life within the last year. I stopped in my tracks and said, “Me, too.” We hugged and talked about that for a moment. He talked about the drug overdoses on his block and I told him about classmates who had gotten addicted to heroin and overdosed a block from my apartment. We talked about how our neighbors are obese yet malnourished, and then he said, “I guess we have more in common than I thought.”
It was both enlightening and healing for the both of us. Thank you.
My small town is run by bullies. They will outright say, “Your ideas are stupid,” and ignore your ideas/efforts. This conference reminded me that I don’t have to take that as an answer, and rather than my current approach of dragging them to my side, I learned ways to meet these people where they’re at to make a bigger impact.
One way NESAWG ensures that their conferences create these meaningful relationships, as well as providing important educational experiences, is by including diverse voices and skills on their planning committees. The 2018 conference, which is being held in Philadelphia, PA, in October, will highlight the dairy crisis, given that Pennsylvania is such a major dairy producing state.