“We are called to meet the needs of our neighbors. All of our neighbors. I hope that my conversation today … inspires you to look in your community, reach out to those in need, use hospitality, to help bring about justice.”
–Dr. Norbert Wilson
Come to the Table’s 2022 conference, “Spirit, Power, and Connection: Owning Our Food Future,” took place on March 15 – 16 on a virtual platform. Faith leaders, farmers, market managers, and food justice advocates gathered to explore the role of connection and agency as crucial steps in building a just and sustainable food system.
Dr. Norbert Wilson kicked off the conference with a plenary address focused on the scope, severity, and systemic nature of food insecurity, the history of Black land loss, the perspectives of people experiencing food insecurity, and how faith communities can better engage in this work. Wilson introduced Letty Russell’s concept of “just hospitality” and challenged listeners to broaden their understanding of hospitality to include the concepts of provision, protection, and connection – each of which can be reached through the deepening of relationships, but also policy advocacy.
“Policies that allow families and communities to connect, to develop relationships, and to provide support for one another are critical to ensuring that hospitality exists and promotes the well-being of all individuals,” Wilson said.
RAFI-USA Executive Director Edna Rodriguez led a panel on “Owning Our Food Future” comprised of Claire Kelloway of Open Market Institute, RAFI-USA Program Manager B. Ray Jeffers, and Wilson. The panelists discussed food access, security, and sovereignty from their own perspectives. >>>WATCH VIDEO
“My main goal is vesting control over the food system back into communities, away from financial interests,” Kelloway said. Wilson added, “When I think about what faith-based organizations or communities can do, it’s using the power of our collective voice to speak for justice, to extend hospitality to those in need, to use this as a representation of the faith that cares for all.”
Award-winning author Natalie Baszile gave the plenary address for day two of the conference, which focused on the interconnected history of land ownership and farmers of color. >>>WATCH VIDEO
“What does land represent in the American imagination?,” Baszile asked. Who is included and who is left out of the stories that we tell ourselves, what historical connections with land have Black and brown people had in this country and how does that explain where we are today?”
“The story of land is the story of this country.”
Baszile moderated a panel discussion with three North Carolinian farmers of color, Kamal Bell of Sankofa Farms, Martha Calderon of Calderon Produce, and Marvin Frink of Briarwood Cattle Farm. Each farmer shared about the joys and trials of farming, what inspired them to farm, and ways that faith communities can support their work. >>>WATCH VIDEO
“I wanted to empower people around me, especially the Black community,” Bell said. “ If someone had asked me 10 years ago about what I wanted to do, it probably wouldn’t have been farming, but as I started to learn more and see the intersection of the issues in our communities, I think farming touched on a lot of what I saw that could be addressed in our community.”
One attendee said that “having the opportunity to hear directly from and speak directly with farmers who have experienced systemic justice and equity issues was exponentially important in really learning about the problems and thus supporting solutions.”
In the afternoon sessions, attendees participated in a variety of workshops, with topics such as “Effective Policy Advocacy 101,” “Why Don’t We Dream of Being Farmworkers When We Grow Up?,” and “Strategic Planning for System Change in Communities.”
As a result of the workshops, 80% of survey respondents said they were energized to take action to address justice and equity issues in their communities.
In the wake of the virtual conference, the Come to the Table program is planning on having three in-person regional gatherings this summer. Subscribe to the Come to the Table newsletter here to stay up to date on these upcoming gatherings and more.