The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN) has started a series of forums across the state seeking input from local people about their interests and concerns.
The NCAT Gulf States Office was honored to be asked to attend the meetings.
The Food & Farm Forum in Thomaston, Ala., Sept. 12 was an interesting experience, unlike other forums where I’ve been asked to give a talk. In this one, the group was divided into “tables,” each with its own discussion topic. Participants chose which topics they wished to engage in, with four rounds of discussions.
Topics included teaching kids about growing food, food safety, food from perennials, high tunnels, medicinal herbs, seeds, birds for meat and eggs, selecting crops to decrease disease and pests, direct marketing, and others.
Hosted by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network and Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities Cooperative Extension at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center, the forum was an opportunity for local people to express their interests and share their own experiences in sustainable agriculture.
It was an enlightening experience. At our tables, for example, we had truly innovative leaders in sustainable agriculture mixed with newcomers wanting to learn more. Everyone shared, everyone learned something, and the entire experience was uplifting and thought provoking. It shows the power of crowd sourcing and sharing, where information flows up as well as down and adds engagement and conversation. Not the least of this experience was the importance of networking in sustainable agriculture.
One person I spoke with, for example, said she was the only organic farmer in her county. She was able to access top-flight information from experts in the field. Another woman was a community organizer, who admitted that she knew nothing about agriculture, but walked away with an appreciation of how empowering it can be for people to grow their own food and share it with others, turning, for example, food deserts into profitable enterprises that can rebuild a community. (See Will Allen and his Growing Power in Milwaukee!)
The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network has two more forums planned, in the northern and southern parts of the state during October. If this gathering was any indication, they should be fascinating. For more info, see: http://www.asanonline.org/