I just returned from giving the keynote at the Greenbelt Farmers Market Network Market Manager Day in Toronto Canada. I know, how lucky does one person get…
Spending four days with my peers to the north taught me a great many things and confirmed some others. I will post a few different stories and highlights about the trip this week, but let me start today with some generalities:
1. The deep awareness of the importance of civil society in Canada serves the market and food system well. Those working on these issues know that in order for change to be calibrated correctly, it is important for citizens to constantly act as “civic agents.” They are not afraid to be oppositional when needed (when dealing with government especially) but also understand that they need to “assist each department in achieving their particular mandate” as eloquently stated by Barbara Emanuel, Manager of the Food Strategy at Toronto Public Health. (That civic agent term was defined again for me in an article I read on the way home in the latest Democracy: A Journal of Ideas in a series called Reclaiming Citizenship which I heartily recommend as well.)
2. Every food organizer I met on that trip understood that the farmer/producer needs to remain as the central partner in all projects. In other words, I didn’t come across lip service to the needs of the farmer. That lip service is usually found in code words or phrases such as “scaling up” or “elitist farmers markets” in food system conversations that I find myself in across North America and in other Western countries. Those code words tell you that the sayers are content to ignore the facts of the relative age and sophistication of our work and the intractable nature of the industrial food system so far.
I instead heard complex, thoughtful responses to the needs of farmers while balancing health equity needs for shoppers. I wish I found that more often in my travels.
3. A set of organizers who recognize that they all must remain at the same table. More specifically, that they all sit at the table but may not have the same menu of choices in front of them. Debbie Fields, the extraordinary Executive Director of FoodShare Toronto said as much to me about her colleague Anne Freeman (my host, the organizer of the Greenbelt Farmers Market Network and founder of the Dufferin Grove Farmers Market) “Anne and I understand that we have the same goal but have to use different avenues to get there.”
4. Internal evaluation is becoming known and necessary. I can’t wait to tell you more about the dynamic presentation (and later meeting of the mind) I experienced through Helene St. Jacques, a Food Share board member and marketing research professional showing results of the research done on behalf of the markets. . And, I look forward to doing some of that US/Canada evaluation sharing with Helene as well.
So much to tell you….