The gathering of advocates for a localized food system came together at the Farm and Food Leadership Conference in McKinney, Texas on the historic downtown square earlier in the week. The perfect setting as all sides of the downtown square hint of a local food movement with restaurants and shops like Patina Green, Harvest, Local Yocal, and Rye Craft Food and Drink.
I am still reeling from what seemed to me a tipping point for North Texas when aligned farmers, chefs, educators and markets strengthen the three R’s; Regenerative, Resilience and Relationships.
Keynote speaker, Fred Kirschenmann, set the tone of the conference when speaking of the alliteration of the R’s and he didn’t mean it in the school sense. He did school us though as a longtime international leader in sustainable agriculture. And with his lifetime experience in the field, he expressed, when leaving, that he had no idea so much is happening in North Texas! Let’s take a look!
Realization that we are not in a use-it-up-and-move-on society anymore, there was plenty of talk about renewal and restorative practices at the conference. Dr. Barbara Bellows at the Center of Environmental Studies at Tarleton State and Dr. Lisa Bellows at Dixon Water Foundation both spoke to the importance of the biological health of the soil for the future. Young farmers stepped to the forefront and presented their natural practices in soil management that is renewing the farmland. Regenerative is also about no wasteful practices, like the chefs that are breaking down the whole hog and using all parts of the plants in their menus. Honoring the labors of the farmers and regrowth of seasonal kitchens is part of protecting the environment, providing for the health of consumers and making it work economically for farmers.
In summing up the speaking points at the conference, it stood out that a localized food system can be more agile with increased diversity. Resilience may be anticipating and adapting to changes in consumer health and food access, to rebuilding from extreme weather or focusing on the economics of local producing and marketing. An example that emerged during the “How do We Sustain Farm-to-Table?” session, was from Felix Florez, Black Hills Ranch where he recently lost a third of his hogs (over 100) in hurricane Harvey. His informal network of trust and support from Dallas area chefs proved beneficial when they committed to increased hog purchases to help with losses. This conference was about developing a strong network and communication among all participants.
‘Know your Farmer’ has more connotation that just knowing where your food comes from. It is a deep connection with all aspects of a localized food system. Collaboration and cooperation is modeled as the strengthening of farmers, markets and increasing education for consumers. In the hallways, at the lunch tables and the evening events this week, many relationships were forged that will strengthen the farms and our food if we continue to take actions on commitments made during the conference.
This was the first time in eleven years the Food and Farm Leadership Conference was moved to north Texas from central Texas. Last February, The Seed Project Foundation invited the organizers from Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and the Council for Healthy Food Systems up to a dinner at Harvest along with others from the local food movement to discuss having the conference in McKinney. I was at there that night at the table with farmers, chefs, ranchers, non-profits, farmers markets and local food advocates hatching the plans for the 2017 Farm and Food Leadership Conference. I think it was a given when we were discussing a McKinney microbrew from locally grown grains.
Feature Photo by Julie Fineman of Peak Plate