April 14, 2012 the Small Farm Summit! “A day of education, discussion and networking to build community awareness and to facilitate positive action in support of local food production, farmland preservation, food waste reduction and recycling, water conservation and agricultural education” put together by The North Shore Land Alliance and held at Hofstra University. And what a day it was!
It began with an opening address by Will Allen, a professional basketball player, who has become a leading authority in the field of urban agriculture. He began in Milwaukee and now, in community projects here and around the world, teaches people to garden and farm in any space available; a parking lot, a small farm plot, the bit of land along an office building and large parcels in cities to provide food for neighborhoods that are “food deserts,” or lack access to fresh food. Allen trains people to grow food and fish, to build greenhouses and run them with various energy sources, to work with each other to distribute food, and he creates jobs for kids and adults. In 2010, he was recognized as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. It is so inspiring to see the amazing work this man does and all of the benefits he gives to the people he works with.
Next it was off to a choice of panel discussions each more interesting than the next, making it hard to choose which to attend. There were discussions about getting started in the shellfish business, edible gardens in schools, neighbor-supported agriculture, and food justice, agricultural pests specific to Long Island, resources for beginning farmers, planting food everywhere, and many more. I attended the one about agricultural pests and learned more about some of my favorite weeds, how the golden nematode was spread from one potato field in Hicksville to eastern Long Island and upper New York State by Mr. Levitt, the builder, and more about the dreaded Tomato Late Blight.
In the afternoon I attended a very detailed guide to creating compost. With a small set up and minimal time, composting keeps various plant materials out of the waste stream and provides wonderful food for your soil. Afterward, I heard a talk by the “Natural Nurse” about plants that, until recently in history, have been used medicinally. Some are being researched and used again. Many of these plants are considered weeds but were discovered by our ancestors to be beneficial and were the only medicines used for millenia.
At the end of the day, Chef Ann Cooper from Boulder, Colorado, formerly the chef at the Ross School in East Hampton spoke. She has seen that the food served to kids in school is not good and not healthy and she is on a major rampage to change the way food is provided in schools. She understands the connection between agribusiness and the government and the effects of this relationship on food not just for kids in school but for us all. Within the limits of the school regulations from the USDA, people are changing the ways food is offered to kids in school. Cooper says we need kitchens in schools and people to cook and real food to cook.
For many years I have watched as the food situation in this country has changed; its production moving into fewer and fewer hands and more and more of us losing touch with its source and how it is produced, allowing that production to be less and less healthy for humans, animals and the earth. It has reached the extent that now, food production, whether on the farm or at the factory, causes disease and pollution. It has not eliminated hunger and indeed has become a threat to us. The way to change the corporate food production system is to take back the growing of our food from the system. That is what the people who gathered at Small Farm Summit are seeking to do in many different ways. Don’t miss this event next year. In the mean time, plant, water and grow healthy!
For gardening discussion call Jeanelle Myers 631-434-5067.