Conference organizers invited us to participate to give our perspectives on how food sovereignty, or the ability of communities to control land use, production of food, and how it is sold or otherwise distributed--can help address hunger. Our two presentations drew an audience mostly made up of students. They listened intently, asked good questions, and stayed around after the presentations to talk with us.
One of our presenters, Suzanne Dunham, was the lead organizer for passing a Local Food and Community Self Governance ordinance in her town of Greenwood, Maine. Suzanne manages the local farmers market with her husband. She recounted how several people have used their town's ordinance, which allows unlicensed farmers to sell face-to-face with customers, to test a product to judge if it might be worthwhile to get licensed so it can be sold through more conventional retail channels. At least one farmer has moved from farmer's market to store distribution, adding to her family's financial well-being as well as adding economic development to the town. Other farmers and home-based food producers in town are simply happy to be able to use the farmers market for some legal extra income.
Craig Hickman, a Maine state representative who is a small farmer and B&B owner, told about his efforts to add a right-to-food amendment to the state constitution. This would ensure people's rights to feed themselves on a local level, bringing aspects of the Local Food Community Self Governance Ordinance statewide.
Jesse Watson, a permaculturist, talked about how the intense focus of permaculture on improving the soil will enable more people to grow their own food, providing greater resilience to our food system.
Sonia Acevedo has a micro-farm in a poor town, and convinced people that farmers markets are not just for the elite. She said that in her town, poor people buy food from poor farmers, and it works; no one goes hungry.
Matthew Hoffman, head of the Food Studies Program at USM, is looking for more ways to connect us with his students. We were delighted to present to these committed young people, and look forward to future collaboration. Urban meets rural will be a win-win!