On April 2-4, University of Massachusetts Amherst was the host of the Farm to Institution New England (FINE) Summit. The themes for the summit were “Celebrate, Mobilize, Transform” and the program included field trips to local farms, food processing facilities and, of course, the UMass Agricultural Learning Center. Presenters and attendees gathered from a breadth of sectors: education, culinary, farmers, policy/advocacy, county jails, and government.
Each day, in the presentations and audience, there was a strong presence of UMass alumni, current students, and faculty. The Stockbridge School of Agriculture was well represented in all of these areas. One thing this summit did really well was showcase the diversity of opportunities that exist and are required for effective food systems change.
“How We Built This: A Garden Internship Program Created Through Public Primary & Higher Education Collaboration”
“Campus Farms: Food for Thought”
“Designing Local Food Programs at Jails and Prisons”
These topics represent the rich areas of study AND practice available for students studying Sustainable Food & Farming in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass. It was clear in the programing FINE was emphasizing the inextricable role social equity plays in mobilizing and transforming the food system. Voices from UMass Dining and Dean’s office helped welcome featured speakers Jose Oliva, co-founder and director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance to tell his story and the issues confronting food chain workers throughout the food system and Karen Spiller of Food Solutions New England calling conference participants to action to participate in the currently ongoing 21-day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge The summit also included a career networking event in collaboration with the UMass School of Earth and Sustainability that provided students a chance to connect directly with food systems leaders and professionals across sectors.
UMass Sustainable Food & Farming Senior Jordan Lake reflects on her experience: “Being at the FINE Summit the past two days has been so fun and thought provoking. It was especially exciting to present and be given a voice among all of the great presentations. I am in continued awe as I learn more about how many avenues exist to become involved in work in the food system. I met a lot of great folks engaged in addressing topics such as racial equity, needs assessments in school food security, and supporting refugee farmers in Massachusetts. I am leaving with a greater picture of the work being done to create alternatives in the food system, and along with that I have ideas about where to plug in or where to address gaps in the future. “
While participants agreed there is a lot of work to do, there was a sense of community that felt like a gust of wind in our sails to remind us of how much more effectively we can Celebrate, Mobilize and Transform when we work together.
-Sarah Berquist, Program Coordinator of Sustainable Food & Farming, UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture