The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Annual Conference

Philadelphia, PA – October 2018

The Central New York Libraries Resources Council (CLRC)’s Professional Development Grant enabled me to attend the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) Annual Conference, It Takes a Region: Cultivating a Transformative Food System held in Philadelphia, PA. As the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics Librarian at Syracuse University (SU), I support several academic departments, one of which is the newly developing discipline of Food Studies. There are only a few Food Studies programs worldwide with a dedicated faculty. These SU faculty bring together the scholarly conversation across the social sciences, humanities, and the natural sciences to examine food justice and policy, the political economy of food, and the human right to food. Students explore topics like land rights, farm labor, food insecurity (locally, nationally, and globally), food systems and distribution, sustainable food enterprise, and food safety, for example and then apply their research in the local Syracuse community. This new and burgeoning field of research draws from and contributes to bodies of literature across multiple disciplines, but has yet to define a core body of literature of its own. My attendance at the conference has been instrumental in helping me to develop my content expertise and connections with experts in the field; this, in turn, informs my practice in research support, information literacy instruction, and collection development.

The NESAWG conference was a wonderfully rich experience attended by representatives of organizations from across twelve states in the Northeast region of the United States who work together to affect meaningful change toward more sustainable and just food systems. CLRC’s Professional Grant also supported my attendance at a pre-conference session titled: Building Food and Farm Policy from the Ground Up.  The all-day pre-conference introduced the [then pending] Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 otherwise known as the Farm Bill, how the policy has developed over time, what changes were on the table for 2018, the important synergy between growing food and eating it (by keeping food production and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program a.k.a. SNAP in close association with one another), the conservation and sustainability of the food we grow, the power shift that continues to happen through our food systems and distribution (food apartheid), the disparities between resource distribution and regulation of small farming communities versus large farming corporations, and how to amplify our voices to advocate for the change we would like to see in the Farm Bill now and in the future.

Throughout the conferences’ five session blocks and through a mix of lecture and collaborative activity, I was privy to conversations and concerns from those working to affect policy and regulatory change at ground-level.  Framed by three plenary presentations titled Laying out the Work Ahead of Us, Cultivating the Strategies to Transform the Food System, and Staying Inspired and Moving Forward, I learned how language can unintentionally marginalize efforts toward effective change, how global economies of scale, if not developed inclusively with those working the land, are detrimental to the small local farmer trying to make a living, and how food has been used as a weapon to destabilize and abuse.  Attendees were encouraged to value culture, continuously build a base of supporters, examine wealth distribution and equity, acknowledge and utilize expertise, and foster unity and connectivity to maximize resources and amplify a cohesive voice in order to move forward together.

I am so grateful to CLRC for their support in this wonderful experience.  I made some great connections with people from across the food spectrum, and above all, I have a stronger foundation of knowledge that I can draw from and build upon as I support the research of my constituents and develop a food studies collection that will serve the SU community and library networks nationwide.

Anita Kuiken

Librarian to Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, Syracuse University Libraries


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