Issues of food access, equity give food for though at conference
The audience reacts to a large snapping turtle being shown by herpetologist Justin Miranda during the Marion Insitute's Connecting for Change conference in New Bedford on Sunday.David W. Oliveira/Standard-Times special
By Auditi Guha | Standard Times | October 28, 2013
NEW BEDFORD — Local produce and sustainable farming paired up with hard-hitting talks about climate change and food inequality on the final day of the ninth annual Connecting for Change: A Bioneers by the Bay Conference presented by the Marion Institute.
Buying a giant bottle of honey from a booth set up by Hana's Honey of Westport on Purchase Street, Jane Bregoli of Dartmouth said she comes to the conference every year. "I meet like-minded people and I learn a lot," she said.
There was no lack of learning with talks and workshops set up around town to discuss issues ranging from environmental activism and women's empowerment to the politics of food. An urban farmer and a single mother of four living in the South Bronx, Tanya Fields discussed food-access issues that women in poor neighborhoods face and how they can be helped. "We don't have the same reaction to the wars taxpayer money supports but when you start talking about food stamps it suddenly becomes emotionally charged," she said at a workshop discussing economic inequities of the food system at the Ocean Explorium that drew more than 30.
Fields founded the BLK ProjeK in her South Bronx neighborhood in 2009 that seeks to address food justice for underserved women of color through culturally relevant education, beautification of public spaces, urban gardening and community programming.
A Triumph Inc. Head Start dietician, Janet Rose said the talk was "eye-opening" even for a person who already works with the underpriviledged in New Bedford. She was proud to report that a Healthy Markets initiative has led to five new markets in the poorest of the city's neighborhoods carrying healthier products. "A lot of city agencies are starting to get it, listening to communities and creating programs that actually help," Fields said. "You need to create opportunities in those neighborhoods, not volunteer in programs to expunge your guilt." Worker-owned cooperatives and community-based farming help people rise out of poverty and beat poor food habits much better than food boxes and food pantries do, Fields said. Andrea Beaudoin, who this year started an organic food truck called Hearty Eats, said she found the workshop "stimulating, exciting and food for thought." A first-time attendee, she said the subject was close to her heart and her work. "My personal opinion is that food is the source of peace, the source of wellness and develops our economy," she said.
A representative to the United Nations for the Temple of Understanding, Grove Harris from Cambridge attended the conference for the third year because she said, "I get to hear cutting-edge ideas, meet positive, creative people, and find it both practical and inspiring." She said she is "very concerned" about food waste and is looking for ways to "stop abusing our resources and feeding more people."