The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network’s annual Food and Farm Forum is coming up on December 5 – 7. While I have no role in the forum, I am a member of ASAN and intend to go for two reasons: first, it’s a good opportunity for anyone to learn more about our food, where it comes from, and where it can come from; and second, because this event is indicative of the kind of good work being done in Alabama. Though the bad news (about the state’s dysfunctional politics, failing schools, etc.) may spread farther and wider and yield more Facebook posts, the good news is that organizations like ASAN and people like its members are working to make Alabama a better place.
The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network has as its mission: “to deepen relationships between the people of Alabama, the food we eat, and the place we live.” This should matter to all Alabamians for a variety of reasons, the chief among them being our health. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), our state’s obesity rate in 2018 was 36.3% – the fifth highest in the nation – which is alarming enough to state officials that we even have an Obesity Task Force, which “works through collaboration, programs, policy and environmental changes to support and promote healthy lifestyles.” Likewise, rates of both diabetes and high blood pressure in Alabama have steadily risen over the last two decades. It seems to me that eating more fresh, locally grown produce and meat would fit into that goal.
There is also the matter of our children. In another document published by the ADPH, titled The Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline, we learn that 85% of human brain development occurs during the early years of life, from birth to age 5, so – notwithstanding a general concern for every child’s well-being in our vehemently pro-life state – nutrition has to become a paramount concern when attempting to remedy problems in education, economic development, and prison reform. Farm-to-school programs could be an essential aspect of making positive change.
This will be my first year going to the Food and Farm Forum, and I’m aware that I have a lot to learn. I’ve had this school garden program for about five years now, and doing that has focused my attention more often to issues of food and farming, which in turn has yielded a greater understanding of how important food issues are. Trying to teach students about growing their own food in small plots, attending events at Montgomery’s EAT South when I can, and volunteering a bit in our neighborhood’s community garden have led me to make changes in my own life— changes that I’d like to see more people make. I’m ready now to step up my involvement, but first I’ve got to listen to the people who are closer to this work than I am. We’ve always got to start by listening.
If you’re of a mind to attend the Forum in December, it’s very affordable and the price includes meals. There will be about thirty sessions on a range of subjects: fruit trees, chickens, race, history, flowers, worms. Some pertain mainly to food producers, but others pertain to all of us. Among the sessions, the section on community food systems is most interesting to me, the one on low-wealth community gardening in particular. And considering that everyone in Alabama eats, there ought to be something of interest to anybody.