“Food: It’s what we have in common,” urban farmer Will Allen in GV

Will Allen

Will Allen

“Though we might look different, go to different churches or have different politics, food is something we all have in common,” said urban farmer Will Allen — one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people — speaking at the Nevada County Sustainable Food and Farm Conference this weekend.

The more than 300 people attending the third annual conference in Grass Valley were from varied political, economic and cultural backgrounds. (This is not what you typically see in our county, where like-minded people gravitate toward one another — sometimes creating close-knit, exclusionary groups).

While walking around, I ran into CABPRO Executive Director Chuck Shea. Chuck had a big booth, expressing concerns about too much regulation of small farms. (We’ve bought chickens from Chuck, as I’ve written before).

Then there were the progressives — longtime supporters of the “sustainable” food campaign.

And there were farmers who just wanted to learn the latest sustainable farming techniques for their business (the conference also includes workshops, featuring local and regional experts).

I also was glad to see Malaika Bishop, the farm to table manager at the Woolman Semester School (which we support). Malaika also is spearheading farm-to-school efforts in our community. Farmers I know from PlacerGrown also were there.

In his address, Allen offered an in-depth look at the success of urban farming in the midwest, focusing on Milwaukee, Wisc., and other areas.

It was inspiring: growing tons of food — lots of green veggies — in an efficient, innovative matter in core urban settings (often “food deserts,” as he called them). Much of the food went to public schools, creating healthier meals. It was all high quality. Some of it was sold to foodie restaurants in Chicago (such as mushrooms).

Allen joked about thousands of worms also being part of the “workforce,” noting that they didn’t talk back. He grew up on a farm; his father was a sharecropper.

Allen, a pro basketball in his youth, is now founder and CEO of Growing Power, a nonprofit dedicated to healthy food and healthy communities. He wrote a book, The Good Food Revolution, and has worked with the White House on sustainable agriculture.

Other speakers included Joel Salatin, one of America’s most influential farmers. He addressed a wide range of issues, from “creating the farm your children will want” to “making a white-collar salary from a pleasant life in the country.” It was a pragmatic and humorous discussion.

The conference is gaining momentum each year. Our magazine was proud to be a sponsor.

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About jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.
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