Thinking about attending Cultivating Connections? Not sure what it’s all about and why you should care? The Food Council chatted with Susan Roberts and Mary Beckie, co-chairs of Cultivating Connections, to find out why everyone should attend this conference – whether or not you work in the food industry.
“We’re on a real wave right now, which is why we felt the timing was important to have this,” Susan Roberts says. “There’s so much happening and there’s so much happening independently – great things, yet if we brought more people together, more people could work less hard when they knew what others were doing that was the same, so they could learn to do it together or do it more efficiently.”
Roberts is the chair of Alberta Food Matters, a non-profit group that seeks to connect people across the province, no matter how big or small, in order to develop an ecologically sound and equitable food system for Albertans. The group originated from a loose network, Growing Food Security in Alberta, that was founded about 20 years ago. Since becoming an official non-profit in 2013, Alberta Food Matters has developed and hosted various workshops and food conferences throughout the province. In 2012, they hosted Food Secure Canada’s national conference in Edmonton.
Cultivating Connections is designed thematically, featuring a series of concurrent panel discussions of several key themes about food: production, local/regional food systems, food sovereignty and social justice, food waste and purchasing power. The panels are comprised of people across the food system – many of them “unsung heroes” according to Roberts – working in all different areas.
They didn’t want Cultivating Connections to be a typical academic conference, explains Mary Beckie. Rather, they wanted an event that would engage a broad cross-section of the population. They are hoping that in addition to people from the food system, many members of the general public will also attend.
“We wanted people to really understand that this is a system and that there are many moving parts to it,” Beckie explains. “I think lack of more holistic knowledge is one of the main barriers to advancing [progress].”
Beckie is the academic lead for the western node of FLEdGE – Food Locally Embedded, Globally Engaged. FLEdGE is a five-year research program funded by the Social Sciences Humanities Research Council of Canada, which aims to establish partnerships between community and academic institutions. It was their partnership with Alberta Food Matters that led to Cultivating Connections.
“There’s a lot of really interesting initiatives taking place, but they’re not very well linked,” Beckie explains. “And there’s also some bottlenecks, barriers, I guess, in the system as well. We think by strengthening linkages, increasing people’s knowledge of what each other are doing, and identifying those gaps or barriers, that we’ll be able to identify some solutions, some actions, for going forward.”
We all need food to live. Yet the food system often feels completely alien and incomprehensible. Roberts poses a simple question as the entry point for everyone to start really thinking about their relationship to food: what’s important about food to you? It’s a simple way to start the conversation about food, Roberts explains – and everyone has something to contribute to that conversation.
Beckie echoes this sentiment. “Food is the intimate commodity,” she says. “It’s something that is absolutely essential to all of us. It plays a really key role in our celebrations, our family gatherings. But at the end of the day, how much do we really know about the food we eat and where it comes from?
“Hopefully by attending the forum, people will get a much better idea of that,” she continues. “I’m hoping that we’re not just speaking to the converted.”
For more information and to register for Cultivating Connections, click here.
Tweet your food questions to #AskEFC and #Cultivate2017 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Three regional mayors (including Edmonton’s Don Iveson) will be answering your questions at Let’s Talk Food, the free opening event of Cultivating Connections.