I had the opportunity to travel to Albany, NY for the third Farm Viability Conference that was held May 22–24, 2017. This conference was a bit different from typical farming-focused conferences because it was geared toward agricultural support professionals. And, folks traveled from across the country to share and learn from one another.
The conference was organized by six key partners:
- Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation
- Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program
- Grow NYC
- American Farmland Trust
- Cornell Small Farms Program
- Kitchen Table Advisors
I was thoroughly impressed and inspired by the workshops I was able to attend. It is so unbelievably helpful to our work and stamina to hear how other people in decidedly different parts of the country are struggling with the same issues facing farmers. And, then to hear the many creative and thoughtful ways they are working to overcome those obstacles. One session that stood out for me was “Beyond Start-up: Supporting “Advanced Beginner” Farmers through the Tricky Intermediate Years.” We heard from a panel of speakers from Intervale, The Carrot Project, Cornell Small Farms, and Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture (CISA). The theme of the panel focused on providing technical assistance and coaching to farmers that have gotten based the challenges of the start-up years, and are in a place where they either need to scale-up or refined their systems for efficiency. Hearing about the services that each organization provides to farmers, as well as the challenges and successes they’ve had helped me articulate ways we can grow our programs in future years to better meat needs of farmers in our neck of the woods.
I was also excited to learn more about the Agricultural Justice Project and the new Social Justice Label from Elizabeth Henderson of Peacework Organic Farm. The label was created by a group of farmers and farmworkers and sets “a high-bar for social justice standards for farms, processors, and retailers, including every link in the food chain from farm to table.” That includes just working & living conditions for farm workers, a living wage for farmers and workers, and pairs with the national Organic Certifications for environmental requirements.
Half a day of the conference was dedicated to farm tours. I opted to participate in “Good food for all: Advancing social justice and equity in the food system.” Our first stop was Capital Roots, a 42-year-old nonprofit based in Troy, NY. They envision a future where every person has access to fresh, affordable, healthy food in the Capital Region. We watched them load up their famous Veggie Mobile with fresh local, produce on its way to neighbors with limited access to fresh foods. We also heard about their thriving community garden network, where about 900 plots are available for community members to grow their own food and flowers.
Our second stop was Soul Fire Farm, a CSA farm, and training program focused on ending racism and injustice in the food system by strengthening the movements of food sovereignty. Leah Penniman gave us a tour of the farm, shared their inspiration and social mission. Her enthusiasm, heart, and passion for her work are catching. I was especially excited to hear about the Black & Latinx Farmers Immersion Program, where young People of Color come to learn the farming basics, build community, and “heal from inherited trauma rooted in oppression on land, and take steps toward your personal food sovereignty.” At the end of the tour, Lea left us with some wise words. Reiterating for me that in our day to day work we can fight injustice in the food system, and continually ask ourselves: Does this action perpetuate systems of oppression or disrupt them?
There are so many incredible initiatives happening across the country! As you can see I was inspired in myriad ways and eager to stay connected with the people I met from across the country. They are hoping to hold these conferences more frequently and OGS will definitely be in attendance at future events.
Cameron Farlow is the Farmer Programs Director. Hailing from Greensboro, NC with dairy farming in her blood, she has now made her home in Western NC. After earning her undergraduate degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, Cameron dove headfirst into the realm of sustainable agriculture and local food systems, and later completed her Master’s Degree in Appalachian Studies and Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University. She also brings experience in the realms of farmland preservation, food security, farm to university, and land access for farmers. She came on board with OGS in April 2012. In addition to her work with OGS, Cameron is a beekeeper, dancer, baker and avid adventurer.