Border Food Summit Convened

In the waning  days of summer, southern Arizona will become the hot spot for food. Convened by the Southwest Marketing Network, the upcoming Border Food Summit is meant to attract people from across the region for three days of farm tours, presentations, workshops, discussions and, of course, traditional foods sampling.

Scheduled for September 16-18 in Rio Rico, Arizona, a community located south of Tucson, the summit will address soil and land conservation, sustainable farming in an arid environment, community food systems, alternative food financing models, food justice and more.

Gary Paul Nabhan, endowed chair for sustainable agriculture at the University of Arizona in Tucscon,  set the tone for the meet in an article for the Southwest Marketing Network newsletter:

“This is a region where tremendous innovations are occurring at the grassroots level-from La Semilla Food Center’s work between Las Cruces and El Paso, and the Why Hunger/Somos La Semilla initiative in border counties of Arizona, to innovations found in Mexico’s border towns, farms and ranch communities.

In an era when ‘border and immigration issues’ are contentious and disheartening, it is a critical time for us to recognize and give thanks to the many Spanish, Mexican, and indigenous farmers, ranchers, farmworkers, transporters and food service workers on both sides of the border who bring Americans most of their daily bread and fresh produce..”

Aaron Sharratt, co-director of the Anthony, New Mexico-based La Semilla Food Center,  told Frontera NorteSur he planned on attending the Arizona summit along with a least thirty of forty other people from the Paso del Norte borderland.

For the first time, Sharratt said, a grassroots gathering will be held  with the objective of  connecting community groups, farmers and food activists from an expansive, east-west swath of the border region.

The meeting presents an important opportunity to discuss, analyze and take action on food-related issues common to the Sonoran and Chihuahuan desert environments, as well as to learn about projects to revitalize dryland farming and the production of native plants like the mesquite bean, Sharratt added.

He termed the summit agenda a “nice balance of classroom conference, more traditional style classroom style sessions, with site visits and on-hands activities.”

A focus on youth and food is a notable aspect of the Border Food Summit. Defined by organizers as “various youth groups involved in educational efforts in agriculture or farming/gardening food issues,” Youth Ambassadors are scheduled to deliver presentations detailing their involvement in an issue that concerns everybody.

Sharratt said his organization is “really excited” about the possibilities of connecting young people interested in and active around food issues,  while fostering new friendships and collaborations.

Encouraging and training a new generation of farmers is one of La Semilla’s chief goals,  and to turn dreams into realities the non-profit group is fundraising and laying the  groundwork for its youth farm in Anthony, a low-income community in southern New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley.

Last year, La Semilla organized a food summit focused on the Paso del Norte region of  Las Cruces, El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. Sharratt said he hoped the Arizona event would “continue the momentum” of engaging a cross-section of people in the borderlands in one of the vital issues of our times and perhaps lead to another summit in 2013.

Based in the small farm sector, the decades-old Southwest Marketing Network brings together producers, distributors and consumers of agriculture in the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. An eight-member steering committee guides the work of the network, with the assistance of advisors from different states.

Co-sponsors of the 2012 Border Food Summit include the University of Arizona Program on  Food and Water Security, Community Food Bank of  Southern Arizona, Sabores Sin Fronteras, Foodways Alliance, Mariposa Community Health Center, Farm to Table, and the USDA Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers.

Readers interested in the Border Food Summit and the work of the Southwest Marketing Network can check out the following website and contact:

www.swmarketingnetwork.org

kwatters@communityfoodbank.org

For more information on New Mexico’s La Semilla Food Center:

lasemillafoodcenter.org

-Kent Paterson


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