Just as it takes a whole village to raise a child; it takes a whole society to create a sustainable food and farming system. Policies need to encourage it, public education needs to teach it, and research needs to support it. Agricultural products and services need to serve the farmers who are practicing sustainability. And food processing and distribution need to serve community members at all levels of income. Farmers cannot become sustainable alone.
Until recently, most of these sectors have been pulling in different directions. Government agencies had one agenda, non-governmental agencies (NGOs) had another, while agriculture and food-related businesses had yet another. There have always been individuals within each of these sectors who have carried the torch of sustainability, but on the whole it was a fractured landscape.
Today there is a trend toward more and more members of government, NGOs, and the private sector working together in the name of sustainability. I’m not saying that we’re one big happy family, but there is a growing willingness to cooperate.
At Southern SAWG, we build bridges between the sectors. This is especially evident at our Annual Conference. Over half of the scheduled presenters for our 2012 event in Little Rock are farmers, while government agencies, NGOs and other private businesses are also strongly represented.
For instance, Susan Webb, a researcher at the University of Florida, has been expanding her research on organic and sustainable pest management. She will lead a session on identifying insects. In another session, David Lamm, an organic specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), will explain new programs designed for organic producers. These are just two of the dozen presenters from government.
Mike Morris with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (an NGO) will show participants some of the ways to assess and use renewable energy technologies on your farm. Omar Garza with the Texas-Mexico Border Coalition will explain how his NGO is helping farmers become more sustainable. There will also be over 20 other presenters from NGOs.
Of course most farms are private businesses, but the conference will also feature presentations from entrepreneurs like Simon Huntley who runs a company that helps farmers market through the Internet, and Jack Sundell, whose Little Rock café builds community through local food.
If you attend the conference, I encourage you to interact with participants who are engaged in food system work that is different from you. Whether you attend our conference or not, I also encourage you to build bridges in your community. If our goal is sustainability, we need each other.