Food without Borders: Reporting from Future Harvest-CASA’s 15th Annual Conference

At Future Harvest-Chesapeake Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s 15th Annual Farming for Profit and Stewardship Conference on January 17-18, 2014 in College Park, MD, there was no shortage of enthusiasm or delicious, healthy, locally sourced food. How many conferences do you go to where the chefs get a standing ovation from the conference participants? And did they ever deserve it. The offerings were diverse –a curious person could hit a technical session on sustainable potato growing, then geek out in a food policy council discussion.  The crowd was decidedly younger and urban.

Sam A. Calgione, founder and President of Dogfish Head Brewery gave the opening keynote address. His talk, peppered with stories about how he got started (with a loan from his dad and his orthodontist!) seemed to encourage the smallness of sustainable agriculture operations.  Even though Dogfish Head Brewery grew to be much larger than he ever imagined, the small operation philosophy prevails in Calgione’s business.  The way Sam tells it, using the finest quality local ingredients, making plenty of space for creativity, and staying true to the company’s “off-center” culture, are qualities that can be best maintained in small operations.

Perhaps Future Harvest-CASA can carry Sam’s thought forward into its next evolution –keep its local connections vibrant, while expanding its reach and hopefully impact.  At the member’s meeting portion of the conference, the organization’s board announced its plans to merge with Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture. The two organizations have been partnering and exchanging board members for years.  They’ve decided that now is the time to take this difficult, but important step towards becoming truly regional about food.  Scaling up, but not forgetting their roots, I heard.

One of the sessions I attended was packed with about forty folks listening to panelists from several food alliances and policy councils around the region (of course I geeked out!). The session stirred up some great discussion about the importance of bridging the “doing” part of sustainable agriculture to the “action” part of being in a movement. The panelists highlighted some impressive examples of how they are working to improve policies, build connections with people working on critical issues like childhood hunger, and cultivate channels for making progress on local and statewide policy.

Big change is afoot in 2014 for our friends at Future Harvest-CASA, a small organization that has provided a great source of technical help and comradery for people trying to grow and eat sustainably grown, local food. These changes seem to reflect of a growing understanding of the need to connect into something bigger, with perhaps a more rigorous idea about what our food system could be moving towards.