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Just Food Conference 2012 Recap: Eat, Work, Grow

February 28, 2012

Image: Just Food

The second annual Just Food Conference kicked off this past weekend at the Food & Finance
High School in Hell’s Kitchen, a school so pioneering that students help to “breed” tilapia in
an aquaponic lab that sells directly to the New York City fish market! The sold-out event had
an overwhelming number of workshops and panels, headlined by food policy heavy hitters like
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Borough President Scott Stringer and USDA Deputy
Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. Regional farmers took the stage to advocate for a locally focused,
just food economy. Attendees confronted hard choices with an impressive offerings list that
included workshop tracks like school food, Community Supported Agriculture, regional food
infrastructure, nutrition and policy. Oh yes, not to forget the tasty and local lunches! Because I
couldn’t be everywhere at once despite my best efforts, here’s some big ideas and thoughts that
came out of the weekend.

“Hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin. How can we use our food system as an
economic engine to put our city to work?”

-Christine Quinn, on discrepancies in the NYC food production system. She went on to
mention the need for more production facilities in the region to fix the “romaine problem”: the
NYC Department of Education spends $300,000 on romaine from Florida and California
because we do not have a facility to wash, cut and dry romaine from Rockland County.

Jacquie Berger, Executive Director of Just Food says we need to “complicate the food system,”
adding levels of complexity and value that make local jobs. An interesting example of food
complexity is East New York Farms, a community farm project in Brooklyn that came to life
as the result of a 3 year community vision.

Joan Gussow, legendary food policy advocate and author spoke about “unacceptable activities”
in the food system, calling out hydo-fracking as one of them. She applauded a NOFA Resolution
for condemning the practice in New York State.

“When you don’t know the smell of warm soil you have to question whether you are human

–Garret Oliver, brewmaster at Brookyln Brewery, the first 100% wind powered building in New York City

Michael Conard uncovered some amazing possibilities for innovative regional food production and also showed us beautiful maps while presenting the Columbia Urban Design Lab’s work on regional food production possibilities . The research indicates a major oncoming tipping point for food production within the five borough and its peri-urban areas: turns out, the communities with the most space (ahem,South Bronx) have the most vacant lots that can transform into urban farms, gardens and grocery stores.

When you don’t believe in what you are doing then your work is truly a curse.”

George Weld, owner of Egg, on the self-fulfilling prophecy of a culture that labels food jobs “dead-end jobs”and the need to uplift the food service industry

Organizations working hard for better school food came out in full force to talk about how they are bringing more local produce into schools, showing kids how to prepare it and on the way develop a love cooking. They are integrating regional farms into the movement. Some organizations to check out: Wellness in the Schools, The Sylvia Center, The Children’s Aid Society, Harlem Seeds, Harlem Children’s Zone and Food Fight.

Ther Good Food Jobs Fair & expo rounded out each day with an array of vendors and local organizations to tap into for foodie job searches.

Looking forward to next year!

-Alisa Ahmadian



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