Local Food Conference

Local Food Conference

Nov 19

Laura and I attended the first Winter Park Local Food Conference today. Actually, we volunteered for the entire thing, 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Overall, the event was a huge success, though the day was overly packed with intense learning and brainstorming. If you were interested in going, but couldn’t make it, you’re in luck: We’ve been authorized to recap the highlights of the day!

The goal of the conference (in my own words) was to bring people together, stimulate ideas about developing our local agricultural economy and start working out a plan to move our food system to the next level. To that end, we started the day with John Rife’s favorite video — a Dan Rather report on the town of Hardwick, Vermont.

After that, we launched right into the first activity of the day. Each participant identified three assets and three holes in our current local food system by writing them on sticky notes and sharing them with the group. They all placed the sticky notes on the appropriate section of a large diagram of the food cycle. The result is beautiful and informative: An army of ideas on blue and green sticky notes. One idea I saw echoed multiple times was the need for more appropriate regulations (read: less) of urban farming, including raising chickens and other small animals for meat, milk or eggs. This, of course, is something we would love to see happen, because it would pave the way for more local (and happy) protein sources.

Blue = Asset of our current system / Green = Gap in the cycle

The three assets I identified were:

  1. All-local farmers’ markets in Orlando (Audubon Park and College Park)
  2. Restaurants that serve locally-sourced food
  3. The Winter Park Urban Farm

The three biggest gaps I see in our system are:

  1. No commercial composting available (although this may be changing!)
  2. Mobile chicken processing
  3. Ready access to local food resources via internet and mobile devices

After this enlightening exercise, we broke into eleven topical groups. Each of us chose a table according to our particular area of interest and discussed a single topic. As groups, we were tasked with formulating plans of actions to really start effecting some change in our local economies. I chose the table that was working out how to create a Center for an Agricultural Economy, which would basically just be an information facilitator, a hub of knowledge and activity for the many moving parts of a food system.

To cover more ground, Laura hopped over to the table discussing Consumer Education, where she helped develop a plan of attack for raising awareness about nutrition, food in general, and local food in specific. Other topics included Government Regulation, Permaculture, and Agricultural Land-Use.

After a quick motivational lecture by a local life coach, we took a break for lunch, during which all of the attendees intently discussed all manner of ideas. The second half of the day focused on helping producers get their products to market and included presentations on food regulation, marketing, and consumer (a.k.a. “co-producer”) education. Julie Norris’ energetic discussion of authentic marketing techniques for small farmers was hands-down the best presentation of the day, and not just because the topic is in line with my interests and skills. She really emphasized honesty, integrity and personal stories.

Later, we heard from Woody Tasch, founder of Slow Money, who wasn’t able to be there in person, but phoned in via Skype. His presentation was informal and fairly brief, but gave us all some interesting concepts to ponder.

Finally, we heard from some local producers and entrepreneurs who are looking for investors to fund their plans for growth or innovation. Michael Tyner and Emily Ruff of Homegrown Co-op presented a really compelling and aggressive growth plan that made me want to pull out my checkbook on the spot. If you aren’t a member of the co-op, please look into it! Other presentations in this section included Richard Kann of Heart of Christmas Farms, who wants to build some very large floating-tray aquaponic greenhouses, and the owner of My Yard Farm, which has recently been installing incredible gardens for some of Orlando’s top hotels.

Woven throughout all of this intense learning and brainstorming was a constant conversation between business owners and producers, investors and entrepreneurs, urban planners and economists. This entire conversation revolved around stimulating our local food economy, and for that, I’d say the conference was a real win for everyone involved.

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