TN Local Food Summit

The history of the Tennessee Local Food Summit can trace its origin to 40 years ago when I helped organize the first Tennessee Alternative Growers Conference in 1982. After much debate, we chose alternative over organic because of the negative press “organic” was getting. We held these annually for 15 years, mostly at State Parks throughout Middle Tennessee. They became the annual Southeast Biodynamic conference fir the last 25 years. These events are known for their wrath and joy, more like a family reunion for lack organic farmers and gardeners.

In October of 2011 I decided to host a similar conference in Nashville, and I’d like to share what I wrote back then.

Local food is in the news, and for good reasons. It is better for our health, economy, and environment. The time is ripe for this movement to explode. Tennessee stands at a crossroad. Big Ag’s agenda in Middle Tennessee is in stark contrast to the demand for local, clean food. It wasn’t long ago that Tennessee fed itself, and the benefit of doing so now are enormous:

  • Better health for consumers
  • Jobs for gardeners, farmers and food related businesses
  • Preservation of our precious landscape
  • Strengthening of rural economies

My ideas was to charge $30 for a fancy organic dinner, farm to table, and lecture on Friday evening, and have a workshop the next day with Hugh Lovel, “The Science of Organics,” followed by a panel discussion. I had just met Dr. Dodd Galbraith, Director of Lipscomb University’s sustainability program, and invited him to a meeting in mid-October at Athens Restaurant, with Anne Nicholson, David Dole, Alan Powell and a few others. We were talking about holding it at a community center when Dodd offered to host it. Lipscomb University was beyond our wildest dreams, a chance to reach a whole new audience.

Here is another quote from my notebook back then:

A record corn yield for 2011, the highest since 1917

Farm Bureau’s newspaper proudly announced. This impresses me. With all their GMO’s, fertilizers, poisons and giant machines, they are still not surpassing what real farmers could do, with a horse drawn agriculture. The UN reported that 70% of world-food production comes from small landowners farming less than five acres. Big Ag was not feeding the world.

At our October 24th meeting we chose the word summit because Lipscomb had recently hosted a sustainability summit. I looked up the word, “Highest position and the turning point.” We planned a schedule, kids activities, tastes of Nashville, a farmer auction and a square dance. Later we learned that they don’t dance at a Church of Christ College. We had five weeks until December 2-4, 2011.

Soon we had 40 exhibitors signed up. Here’s the policy I wrote then:

  • Must be inline with local food ideals
  • Booth fee is covered by conference fee
  • You can give a talk at your booth during the 30 minute breaks 
  • You can offer items for sale or sign up CSA members

The trade show was in the cafeteria, and was very well attended.

Homegrown, biodynamic banquets are at the heart of all of our farm conferences, and chefs agreed to come prepare the four big meals at Lipscomb’s cafeteria. Many other farmers donated food and the meals were phenomenal. I also brought a farmers market to the campus, with “2 bushels each—Chinese cabbage, bok choy, tats, collards, Swiss chard and celery. 10 bushels lettuce. All of the peppers, 20 bushels of butternuts, 24 5# bags of garlic, and a trailer full of kale and turnips.” I’m sure there were potatoes, too.

Here is the tentative schedule: Friday night’s lecture was “Why should we care about our food?” The panel discussion following answered, “Because we care about ourselves, our communities, and our environment.”

Three tracks went on simultaneously on Saturday. The Science of Organics featured Hugh Lovel for three sessions, andI joined him for the fourth. Track 2, Backyard Gardening, featured Shari Bird, Susana Lein, Adam Tuttle, and Eric Smith. Track 3, Food-The Best Medicine, featured Susan Morely, John Patrick and Andrea Cloniger-Wilson from Lipscomb, and ended with Elizabeth Murphey talking about the future of Tennessee Agriculture.

After dinner, Binke Bahre, age 12, addressed the audience, saying his heroes are were no longer football players, but organic farmers. “That’s who is trying to save the planet” earned him a standing ovation. Before Dodd’s keynote, “The role of education in creating a more sustainable food production and distribution system here in Middle Tennessee,” we had an auction. As I was preparing, Lamar, a real auctioneer, asked if he could do it, and we had a hoot auctioning off two hour consultations with farmers, chefs, and other teachers in our community.

On Saturday night there was a dance with he organic band, in White’s Creek. The two lectures on Sunday morning were Shawn Dady on Raw Milk and Dodd’s excellent, “The Psychology of Changing Food Habits.” We then convened for a discussion on how to create more local gardens and farms, finishing off our networking during a field trip to the Glen Leven Farm.

At our follow up meeting a week later, Dodd said 250 people attended and it was the best conference Lipscomb had ever hosted. HE mentioned that the Sheriff of Davidson County had always wanted to learn about local, organic food but did not want to drive our to Jeff’s farm. This was a concrete example of getting our word out to a new audience. Lipscomb offered to opt us again, and we realized the success was in no small part because of their reputation. But our team opted to move elsewhere for the next year, in the hope of continuing to reach out to new audiences. We also hoped for more than five weeks to prepare.

One final quote from my notes:

If we are benefitting nature, it is in her best interest to benefit us