By Georgia Meyer, Phase II Fellow
When there is a ton happening - like here at the AMI Farm at Augusta Health - it’s always nice to take a mini-vacation. This is why Kaila, Matt, Lola and I all trekked to the big city to attend Rooting DC, a free (!) urban gardening conference that offers dozens of educational workshops on urban agriculture and local food systems. Now in its 13th year, Rooting DC celebrates the growing food and farming movement in the DC region, bringing together farmers, residents, students, activists, businesses, nonprofits, and local government representatives.
We arrived bright and early Saturday morning, slightly surprised that the line wrapped around the block! Vendors stood in the cold promoting their kraut, pickled beets and hot breakfast sandwiches while we slowly made our way into Ron Brown Preparatory High School.
The day consisted of five hour-long sessions, each with 16 classes to choose from. The first session I attended, An Intro to Historic (and Present Day) Racism and White Supremacy in US Agriculture & Food Systems, explored the historic and present-day systematic racism in our country’s food system. Not an easy topic to cover in an hour! Beyond four centuries of enslavement, injustice and oppression, there have been a number of racist policies in the United States that benefit white farmers and exploit black and brown farmers and workers just within the last 100 years. (The number of black farmers in the United States dropped 97% between 1920 and 1997.) Even today, the lack of local, healthy and affordable food still disproportionately affects people of color. These points were just a few among many made in this jam-packed session that started off the day.
Next was a panel discussion on the DC Department of Energy and Environment’s new Office of Urban Agriculture. This new sector will focus on increasing urban garden space (including a program that helps publicly-owned lands become available to be farmed for free), expanding school and community garden programs, providing tax relief for private properties that are certified as urban farms, and much more.
After lunch, I participated in a spirituality-based session by Root to Rise, a camp started by Potomac Vegetable Farms that promotes leadership skills in teen girls through farm and nature-based education. Following was Food Cooperatives: Yesterday and Today, which explored how African American women in DC took charge of where their food came from and helped build a co-op network at the turn of the 20th century.
At the end of the day, we were very hungry and slightly overstimulated but gained a wealth of knowledge to bring back with us. While the conference was very DC-centric, it is important for us to be aware of how policies and practices are shifting beyond our own communities. We still face many of the same issues here in Highland and Augusta Counties, and can learn a lot from conversations on food policy and racial justice. In order to work towards a more sustainable and just food system, we must talk to our neighbors, near and far. Back at home the following day, I'm continuing to think about all I learned - and am thankful for less traffic and fewer crowds.