“Local food” was a strange concept to Felipe Riano when he moved to Michigan five years ago.
“Local food was just food in Colombia,” Riano told the audience of over 300 at the Rackham Auditorium on University of Michigan’s campus last Sunday. In America, it’s different. Instead of eating a banana on his walk home from school, he drove to McDonalds or Burger King with his friends.
Riano shared his experience during the story slam at the 7th annual Local Food Summit in Ann Arbor. Farmers, business owners, activists, and students gathered to share resources, renew inspiration, and celebrate local food. Seven K students were able to attend the summit through Farms to K and funding from Student Commission.
The MC encouraged us to “Pair your peanut butter with a whole new kind of jelly,” meaning, “Make some new connections that can be sloppy, but always delicious.” She hoped we would expand our palates and share our ‘food love’ – the theme of this year’s summit.
The schedule was packed from a breakfast spread at 8:30 a.m. (oatmeal – oats grown on a nearby farm – and last summer’s frozen peaches and blueberries were highlights) to the closing at 4:30 p.m. Participants could choose from a variety of workshops in the two afternoon sessions.
I attended “Caring About our Food Community” and learned about how U of M students are decreasing food waste on campus. Six team leaders and many student volunteers work with campus dining through the Food Recovery Network (FRN) to distribute extra food from the dining halls to food-insecure community members. Food that hasn’t gone out on the buffet gets frozen in aluminum pans in freezers funded by FRN and then picked up by student volunteers and taken to Food Gatherers, a food rescue and food bank program that serves Washtenaw County. As a chapter of FRN, the students also take trips to local farms to glean produce that would otherwise go to waste. They’ve recovered almost 10,000 pounds of food since the group formed in 2012.
Keynote speaker Judy Wicks – entrepreneur, local food enthusiast and Business Alliance for Local Living Economies founder – shared her experience building localized economies in Philadelphia. She urged us to take responsibility for a place and dedicate our energy to strengthening relationships in that community.
“There’s no one sustainable business; only sustainable networks of businesses,” she said.
She owned the White Dog Café in West Philadelphia for 26 years, and started purchasing food from local farmers in 1985. As a pioneer of the ‘local food movement’ she knew she had a niche, a competitive advantage over other restaurants. It didn’t take her long to share her local sourcing information with her competitors. If she really wanted to have a positive impact on the food system, the more people aware and involved, the better.
As Felipe Riano reminded us, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”