Saturday, April 25, 2009

Food and Society Conference, Year 2 Day 2 (and 3)

This day ended up being far less than I'd thought. Mainly because, after day one, I just didn't seem to have the energy to sit and listen, much less talk and talk.

And that's what Day 2 was about: open space discussions on the topics of your interest. You can either post and host a topic, or just float around other peoples' discussions, putting your thoughts in when it calls you. During the three distinct session times, I ended up attending one film screening and one discussion, hosting my own topic (Land Reform), writing this blog, and taking a short nap. The nap was literally only 7 or 8 minutes, so that might not really count as an activity. But it helped.

Talking so much the first day (food people get me blabbin!) really took its toll. I'm normally a big mouthed, opinionated guy (when it comes to food/politics especially), but during the first session I decided that, instead of talking, I would watch to myself talk. That is, I went to a screening of two films in which I appear, The Greenhorns (by my fairy princess genius friend Severine) and Nourish (by some guy named Kirk). Both interviewed me long ago, and now I finally got to see the results.

Severine's short version of her soon-to-be-finished feature was a mix of characters, shooting styles, and themes. Somehow the pimple I was so concerned about didn't come across on screen. And Marquis, one of the Alemany youth who comes to the farm, had his chance to shine as well. The movie looks promising, so someone give her some money so she can finish already!

Kirk's film, however, doesn't seem to need money. It looked amazing, like a high-budget discovery channel production. Every shot was clear, every edit perfect, every sound aligned with the movement of the screen. This makes sense as they are producing this as a series for PBS. The "high profile" interviewees are Michael Pollan, Anna Lappe, and Bryant Terry. My interview was one of many with "youth" (the audience for the film), who were speaking to their experience with sustainable food. I think the idea is that youth who watch the film will identify more with the take-home message if it comes from youth rather than the other talking heads alone. Which makes sense, but now I come off as just another anonymous youth, instead of the sustainable agriculture expert that you know I'd like to be!

The session I attended was on working with youth (I didn't get the actual given topic name, I just picked it up from listening in). I didn't speak, just sat there, but I did glean one piece of wisdom that always bears repeating: Start where people are at. One organizer told his story of putting together events for teens that used food as a way of drawing participants. If they had started off serving vegan food, it would've likely scared these teens away. Instead, they did buffalo wings, and other foods that seemed "normal" to the kids. Over time, they started substituting veggie options for meats, and eventually, 90% of the meals they were serving were vegan, and the teens didn't even care.

The discussion I hosted went well, considering we were tackling a topic that, by all accounts, is unsolvable. True Land Reform (ala Mexican Revolution, Brazilian Landless Peasant's Movement, etc) is unthinkable in our country, as there is such an emphasis on the primacy of private property, and complete control of the political process by the landed elite. Not to mention that there isn't really a large land-based peasant population like in many other countries. So what options are there? We discussed various forms of cooperative ownership of land, long-term lease agreements with land trusts, the possibilities of converting unused "protected" land to "wise use" (land owned by an organization like the Nature Conservancy is typically managed with a "leave it alone" approach), and other tactics, including planning, legislation, and litigation. It was a good session, but all we could really do was brainstorm ways to protect farmland and increase access to land, and increase the stability of tenure on land for farmers. I guess it's a start.

I was worried for a second when I checked the program schedule, and didn't see dinner listed. Instead, we were invited to "California Hors D'Oveurs", which sounded minimal. As it turned out, those Hors D'Oveurs (cheese, crackers, meats, cioppino, sushi, homemade ice cream, veggies, salads, etc) turned out to be the best meal of the conference!

I didn't really do any of the allotted activities on the third day (a drum circle and closing gathering); I just hung out in the lobby with all my new and old friends, chatting and saying our "later"s. I ended up being offered a ride back to the farm at the last minute, from my new friend Leo Buc, one of the organizers of the Common Vision bus tour. It was a nice ride back, and we talked about permaculture, alien invasions bringing the human race together at last, and and how if I try to come take Leo's land with all this "land reform" nonsense, he's got a shotgun ready for me.

Big shout out to Leo, Severine, Amie, Maya, Nicole, Gordon, Bonnie, Bart, Maggie, Todd, Lief, Barbara, as well as all the many other new folks who I kicked it with this year! You are my heroes!

Last note: I just returned to my bed at the farm, after staying in that fancy hotel for 3 days, and I think I have fleas...I shouldn't have let that damn cat stay in my bed overnight! She was meowing so much at the door, and such a sucker for petting, I thought no harm would come of it...

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