North Cascades Foodshed Summit 2015
By Annah Young, Tyler Davis, and Ginna Malley-Campos who are all graduate students in the institutes 15th cohort.
On December 4, 2015, over 20 local farmers, educators, chefs, advocates and organizers from our region gathered at the Environmental Learning Center to connect on challenges and opportunities to strengthen the health of our regional food system. The weekend was filled with lively conversation and inspiring stories. The North Cascades Institute was inspired to host this particular group of community change makers because of our belief that in order to protect the North Cascades ecosystem we need to also protect the health of our local foodshed, the region where our food comes from.
Friday night started with a locally sourced meal followed by a discussion led by Mary Embleton of Cascade Harvest Coalition. Mary has over 30 years of experience working as a food systems advocate in Washington State. The group identified that in order to move forward with discussion we needed to understand what each person does, and is motivated by, on an individual level within this complex food system. Friday night offered an open space for story sharing and connecting with individuals such as Don Power and Joel Brady-Power, father and son and co-owners of Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon. Don and Joel gave us a multigenerational look at how they have provided sustainably caught fish for the institute for over 10 years. These personal stories about where our food comes from were intertwined throughout the weekend and we recognized a need to tell these stories; where and who our meals come from and, most importantly, why this matters.
Deep into discussion.
On Saturday morning, frittata, bacon and blueberry muffins were followed by focused conversation building on the themes of the previous night. Small group discussion topics went in a few directions with hot topics that continued surfacing such as education, advocacy, access and transportation. Local farmers voiced concerns about the need for a more robust customer base. Consumer education encourages the public make healthier decisions regarding the food they buy. We discussed the necessary involvement of multiple community members, including food advocates, farmers, cooks, educators and eaters in order to promote consistency and continuity that reinforces healthy lifestyles. As a community, we seek to bridge gaps between classroom learning, cafeteria foods and farms.
Kent Yoder, director of food services at the institute, presenting.
A few members of regional Farm to School programs were present at the Summit and offered a critical view on how schools are tackling the challenge of providing students access to local food and foodshed education. Rachel Sacco, the Concrete Farm to School Coordinator emphasized the importance of getting younger students accustomed to eating healthy food from an early age, promoting a cultural shift in the way families eat. Rachel expressed that “To help children become truly healthy, we must give them the tools and knowledge they need to make healthy decisions themselves for the rest of their lives.” Despite the many barriers in public school systems, the hard work of Farm to School educators and advocates in Whatcom and Skagit counties is creating a significant shift toward local healthy food in our schools.
An important aspect of the weekend was creating the space to acknowledge the successes of those people in the food network. Throughout the whole weekend we heard individual stories about what people are doing to strengthen the connection to local food in our communities. We quickly came to realize that the work of each summit participant was invaluable to the community and should be celebrated!
A summit about food would not be complete without great food!
Before wrapping up on Saturday morning, the North Cascades Institute was asked to host this group again in 2016 as well as to continue facilitating conversations about the food system in Skagit and Whatcom Counties. It was an honor to host such a dynamic group of foodshed champions and the institute is committed to support this group in moving forward and addressing the challenges. From these discussions, we gained deeper perspective on ways the North Cascades Institute can mold our education programs to support increased understanding of our local food systems. The Foodshed Summit opened many possible avenues for change and we are looking forward to working together with local partners to capitalize on those opportunities where we have capacity to take action. North Cascades Institute is committed to telling the story about where and who our food comes from in order to strengthen the connection between people, land, and food. We would like to shout out a huge thank you to all our Foodshed Summit partners that attended!
- Mardi Solomon of Whatcom Farm to School
- Rachel Sacco and Mitch Metcalf of Concrete Farm to School
- Sara Southerland of Sustainable Connection
- Charles Claassen of Book Fare Cafe
- Anna and Geoff Martin of Osprey Hill Farm
- Terry Meyer of Forest Farmstead
- Samantha Chang of the USDA Forest Service
- Mike Peroni of Cascadian Farm
- Cole Blitzenberg of Community Action Skagit
- Cheryl Thorton of Cloud Mountain
- Joel Brady-Power and Don Power of Nerka Salmon
- Anne Schwartz of Blue Heron Farm
- Tim Tepestra of Ralph’s Greenhouse
- Mary Embleton of Cascade Harvest Coalition
- Kate Selting of WSU Small Farms Program