FaHN VISTA, Tom Lewis attended the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group’s (NESAWG) It Takes a Region conference in Hartford, CT on November 11th. Here are his reflections from that day:

Attending the It Takes a Region conference was certainly a memorable experience for me. It was my first conference as an AmeriCorps member with FaHN, and going in I was excited to network with like-minded individuals from across the Northeast. After arriving, I was introduced to the years theme “Tackling Wicked Problems in Food Systems”. Wicked problems usually imply issues that are difficult to fix, and are caused by several different factors, with little consensus on a remedy for them. As an AmeriCorps member, I’m used to being faced with wicked problems, after all my job is to help fight poverty, and it requires me to be confronted with hard to solve issues on a daily basis. I signed up for four workshops that day, “Health Care Investment in Food Initiatives”, “Are We Really Making Change? Measuring Farm to Institution in Northeast & Across the U.S.”, “The Promise of Urban Agriculture” and a two hour session called “The Food Movement: If We Agree on Vision and Values, What Keeps Us from Collaborating”. I picked each one with the hope that afterwards I would have a clearer understanding of, not just the problems that exist in food systems work, but also the work that is being done throughout the Northeast to find solutions to those problems.

Each workshop offered a unique perspective, and I was able to absorb so much from just sitting there and listening to veterans of the movement talk about the work their organizations are doing to confront wicked problems head on. The main items that I took away from the workshops were, listening to people with experience is essential, especially for a person new to food systems work, and I also learned there are so many great community organizations doing unbelievable work throughout the region. Some of the highlights to my day were hearing about fruit & vegetable prescription programs that are being successfully run in a number of different states, hearing about the numerous farm to school programs that exist throughout the region and learning about what makes urban agriculture a viable model for communities.

My favorite part of the day however, was the two hour long block that focused on how community organizations and businesses in the food movement can better collaborate. I was particularly intrigued by one of the moderators on the panel Jonathan Rosenthal, the executive director of the New Economy Coalition, who spoke about the potential of businesses, cooperatives and non-profits to work together to create a more just and equitable society. And also his organization’s work to better link like-minded groups and individuals working on similar problems. During the discussion section, we examined wicked problems like wealth and opportunity disparities that exist in many communities and the ways collaboration, community engagement, and youth empowerment can help to alleviate some of the most serious problems. I enjoyed my time at the conference and I look forward to attending again in the future. I hope next year to be able to share some of my success stories from my time at FaHN, about how we successfully confronted wicked problems.