On February 12-14, over 200 students from 35 campuses gathered in Santa Cruz, California, for the third annual Strengthening the Roots: Food and Justice Convergence. The convergence brought together a diverse group of students – from aspiring farmers to animal rights activists to campus dining employees – who were committed to creating a healthy, just, and sustainable food system. This event empowered high school and college students to actively engage in their campuses and local communities by providing them with leadership skills, successful models and case studies, and a broader network of activists and allies.
The convergence began on Friday with a series of fun activities designed to build relationships and stimulate conversation around issues like sustainable agriculture and social justice. Participants discussed the guiding principles of the Real Food Challenge and drew posters to reflect their own interpretation of these concepts. Later, they created a timeline (shown at right) of the Real Food movement, beginning with the origin of agriculture and ending with their visions of a perfect food system. Students included their own accomplishments on the timeline, and they discussed their roles in changing our food system.
Saturday began bright and early with an innovative program featuring four food activists whose work represented different parts of the Real Food Wheel. During this Pecha Kucha ceremony, the presenters shared their experiences through photos, spoken word, and music. The rest of the day was filled with interactive workshops about agri-food issues, practical skills, and successful models and case studies. In these workshops, participants explored issues such as community empowerment, farmworker rights, and the role of protest in our movement. They also learned strategies for effective student organizing and shared success stories from their own campaigns.
After a long day of learning, students settled down to a delicious meal of pumpkin curry, Indian lentils, and a fresh salad made from local, organic produce. They shared their stories and then danced the night away at a Go Live: Real Food Concert! Artists Jennifer Johns and Erwin Thomas inspired the crowd with their music and engaged students in an interactive discussion about how communities can reclaim control of our food system. Photo from the concert at left.
On Sunday, participants came together for a panel discussion on food justice that featured experts and practitioners in the field. Panelist Lloyd Nadal, the program director of CANFIT, acknowledged the often competitive relationship between non-profits and urged students to build broad coalitions with other organizations seeking to improve people’s quality of life. After reflecting on the panel discussion and their own experiences during the convergence, students participated in a closing drum circle that left everyone energized and excited to bring new ideas back to their campus communities.