BG2013: Meeting Food Justice in Baltimore

February 21, 2013
Teaser Image: BG2013: Meeting Food Justice in Baltimore

This post is from Hannah Wolfe, Communications Intern for Real Food Challenge. 

Over President’s Day weekend, 230+ students from 73 colleges and universities gathered in Baltimore, MD for Breaking Ground 2013, our second national summit! 

Converging on the campus of Johns Hopkins University, students and organizers from across the country shared stories and campaign strategy, attended and facilitated workshops, and realized the collective power of our network and movement - all over some delicious plates of food. 

Here's a quick rundown of the weekend! 

Friday, February 15

Breaking Ground kicked off Friday morning with Real Food Chesapeake, a one-day Mid-Atlantic convergence around issues in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and foodshed. Students from 8 schools throughout the Mid-Atlantic gathered to learn how to collaborate as a region and as participants in the Chesapeake food system. 

Students were also  joined by food systems advocates from the region for a panel discussion, featuring guests from the Center for a Livable Future, Future Harvest - Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, CATA: the Farmworker Support Committee, Food & Water Watch, and Sea 2 Table.

Meanwhile, real foodies from the Midwest were making their way to Baltimore by bus. Students from Carleton College, University of Minnesota, Loyola University Chicago, and many more took a whopping 22 hour roadtrip to make it to the summit! And, as expected, there can't be waves of people without a sea of luggage. 

After settling in, Breaking Ground officially began with an opening ceremony hosted by Southwest organizer Heather Frambach and Haverford College student Sam Shain. 

Sam and Heather reminded us why we were there, reiterating the power students hold and the ability we have to change the food system. In Heather's words, "we cannot let our universities continue to contribute to these problems...we are the ones who can change this."

The evening continued with a delicious, vegan-friendly make-your-own nacho bar for dinner, followed by an introduction to the real food wheel. Finally, everyone gathered for a panel of storytelling from students and organizers alike. 

Carleton College senior Lindsay Guthrie shared the story of her first moment of food enlightenment, the realization that her food choices inherently connect her to the vast web that is our food system. In Lindsay's words: "What I eat becomes who I am, what I eat is connected to the earth and connects me to thousands and thousands of people. I am haunted, but hopeful." 

Saturday, February 16

Day 2 of Breaking Ground kicked off the educational component of the summit, with workshops facilitated by students and RFC's organizers, with the added expertise of local food systems advocates who came to share their voices. 

Saturday began with a food justice panel facilitated by Mid-Atlantic coordinator Jon Berger, featuring five regional leaders in different realms of the food movement.

Panelists included Ted Rouse of Baltimore's Big City Farms, a growing network of organic urban farms; Ms. Christine Hamlet-Williams, a dining worker at American University and a leader in their recently victorious Real Food. Real Jobs. campaign; Amanda Behrens of the Maryland Food System Mapping Project at Johns Hopkins' Center for a Livable Future; Sergio Espana, a long-time Baltimore activist and former member of the Student/Farmworker Alliance's Steering Committee; and Molly Johnston-Heck of Common Market Philadelphia, a foodhub working with farmers and buyers in the region.

Each panelist shared how they came to food justice work, giving insights applicable to various spokes of the real food wheel and showing the variety of ways students can plug-in to the movement. Perhaps most compelling (and highly tweeted!) was Ms. Christine's commentary on the recent victory of Bon Appetit workers at American University.

Ms. Christine spoke of the critical role students play in dining workers' organizing efforts, and the need for us all to "meet on a common ground to move forward together" - a powerful metaphor for the systemic change our movement is working for.

Later in the day, the workshops began. Ranging from "How to Kick  Butt in Meetings with Big Shots...and Other Messaging Challenges" to "The Art of Storytelling for Organizing" to "The Final Push: Winning Your Campaign This Spring," the workshops provided critical learning experiences for students at all stages of organizing. Many workshops were co-facilitated by students also attending the summit, opening doors further to learn not only from the panelists and regional organizers, but from fellow students as well. 

Saturday evening, following a dinner now widely known as a kalegate party, we were treated to a truly inspiring performance by the DC Youth Slam Team, and activism-inspired folk music by Ryan Harvey. 

Sunday, February 17

On Sunday, the workshops continued - but the main theme of the final day of Breaking Ground was action.

Before dispersing between three planned actions on Sunday, everyone split up into breakout sessions by food service provider. Students at self-operated schools and schools contracted with Bon Appetit, Sodexo, or Aramark gathered separately to discuss their progress and share insights. 

Following the breakout conversations, one group of students split off from the group to travel down to Washington, D.C. for the Forward on Climate rally, joining the nearly 50,000 other climate justice activists in a march on the White House. 

Another group joined students from Johns Hopkins for an on-campus action. Johns Hopkins currently contracts with Aramark but is closing in on the opportunity to choose a new service provider. Students from Real Food Hopkins led the group in petitioning and informing students of their work for real food, and the need for student support moving forward. They set out with the goal of collecting 150 signed petitions - and came back with 185!

The rest of the students took action in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Student/Farmworker Alliance, marching with DC Fair Food to a local Wendy's to ask the fast food chain to join Fair Food Nation. 

Breaking Ground came to a close Sunday night with a powerful closing ceremony full of storytelling, appreciations, and reflection.