Rediscovering the Wealth of Arkansas

I’ve been involved in 19 of the 21 Southern SAWG annual conferences – from organizing a track on cooperative marketing in 1993 to developing the full program of educational sessions for the upcoming conference in 2012. 

In our first 20 years, twelve different cities have hosted the event, including larger cities such as Louisville, Memphis, New Orleans and Austin; smaller cities such as Gainesville, Chattanooga and Mobile; and the resort towns of Gulf Shores and Jekyll Island.  (For a few years we had dreams of becoming the “conference on the beach,” but a lack of large venues at reasonable prices snuffed out that plan.)

In 20 years of conferences though, Southern SAWG has never been to my home state of Arkansas – until now.  I had no idea how exciting this would be.  When I began putting the program together for Little Rock, I learned of new farms and new food projects that were right in my backyard.  And I rediscovered other farms and efforts that have been going on since I moved here in 1989.

It’s easy to fall into a habit of belittling your home state.  If like me, you have high aspirations and know your state’s failures well, then it seems as if Arkansas (or wherever you live) must be the most backward place on earth.  It’s nice to be reminded that this isn’t so. 

I have many neighbors who are practicing good stewardship of local resources, who are producing safe and healthful food, who are making sure more people have access to that food, and who are providing much needed services for a sustainable food and farming system.  Over 20 of these Arkansans have agreed to share their expertise in educational sessions at our 2012 conference.  And many more have volunteered their time to help make the conference a success.  This makes me feel that my state is rich – in expertise, in spirit, and in generosity.

If you are feeling discouraged about sustainable food efforts in your state or the South in general, I urge you to read the short biographies of our conference presenters.  While one quarter of them live in Arkansas, more than 60 others come from 18 other states, including every state in the southern region.  These 85 people are impressive on their own, yet they only represent a tiny fraction of our movement – a movement that is especially wealthy.  

So there will be no state-depreciating comments from me this week.