Building A Local Food Movement: Key Lessons from AgLanta Conference 2019
Spring is an interesting time for outdoor farmers. Whether it’s the melting of snow in the North, or the onset of warm season crops in the South, it’s a time of great transition. Whether this shift makes you dream or dread is as dependent on your location as your mindset.
What doesn’t seem to change by location is the openness and vulnerability that farmers share, even with new friends. We’ve heard it a million times now, “farming is difficult, but rewarding” and for the most part I think we all believe it. Maybe it’s this risk and reward that breaks down walls and opens minds.
This week I had the honor of joining 300 vulnerable and open-minded farmers and farm services folks at AgLanta 2019 for two days of exploration and storytelling. It was clear from the beginning that it was a fun group as our tour of Atlanta happened on a stormy and rainy Sunday and everyone was happy to be cold and wet while we kicked through puddles on some of Atlanta’s signature urban farms.
I’ve attended quite a few farming conferences and they tend to skew in two directions: the first is the academic conference where valuable technical information and best practices are the focus and the second is the feel-good conference where farmers are encouraged to interact with each other and share experiences.
What is so unique about the AgLanta conference, is that AgTech X, Agritecture, and the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Resilience have crafted an event that accomplishes both community building and valuable education. This balance fostered more synergy and creativity than I’ve experienced at other conferences.
What Atlanta has accomplished in developing their local food system is impressive. This city, not particularly known for its food culture, has cultivated a significant amount of urban agriculture through public and private partnerships that support a wide ranging and quality food scene. I was fortunate enough to have a healthy dosage of excellent farm-to-table experiences on the trip this year.
As with many conferences, some of the most valuable time was spent after hours in dimly lit restaurants sharing war stories and pipe dreams. In this age of agricultural start-ups and technology, it’s so easy to miss out on human connection. While the time I spent presenting, networking and listening during conference hours was valuable, it feels like more was accomplished for this movement in the breaking of bread.
Jeffrey Landau of Agritecture may have said it best when, at dinner after the conference had ended, he recalled that AgLanta was born over cocktails and a farm to table meal and was best celebrated that way each year. I couldn’t agree more.