I'm deep in the bowels of the conference at this point - and it's pretty damn cool. Since I started working on sustainable food professionally, I've been a part of three special conferences in the Cleveland area: 2008's Northeast Ohio Food Congress, 2008's Open Roads Leadership Summit, and 2009's Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit. Those each brought people from around the country to the table, but this is my first proper national conference. It's international, in fact - with more than a dozen of the 600+ hailing from Canada, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, and Nicaragua - and numerous sessions on global food issues.
It's really invigorating to interact with people from all over the country who I already have two things in common with - our interest in sustainable food and our visitor status in Iowa. It really lowers the barriers to good conversation, and it makes it easy to get to the details of what people do that otherwise I really wouldn't have known about it (with the internet being, in general, an "information junkyard" - to quote another nice piece of rhetoric from this morning's plenary, in addition to the one in the title, which pretty well describes how its tough to convey the essence of this conference). So far I've enjoyed talking with people from Chicago, central Texas, Boston, Northern California, etc. - as well getting to better know the Cleveland-area folks here. Actually one of my favorite interactions was with a Des Moines-based artist who had an exhibit at last night's Garden of Eatin' reception.
Aside from the networking and fringe benefits, I've been charting a course with the break-out sessions that is pretty interesting to me. One looked at how to map the connections between organizations operating in a region that are in many cases working with each other but in some cases not despite that fact that they might really benefit from doing so - computer software as well as cardboard/markets/post-its approaches were discussed in terms of tangible examples happening here in Iowa.
I also went to a fascinating discussion of returning to an approach to life that involves more of a sense of common ownership - of our natural resources as well as many aspects of human-developed capital. Check out onthecommons.org for more on that.
And the food has been great!
Alright, gotta run - time to introduce and screen PolyCultures...