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‘We Are the People’

By Patricia Olson, Director of Program — Extension Center for Family Development

I was honored to be invited to November’s convening of food network leaders. One first presenters shared this African proverb: "If you want to go fast — go alone. If you want to go far — go together."

This proverb set the stage for my experience at the Convening of Food Network Leaders.

As director of programs for Family Development, I knew that University of Minnesota Extension’s Health and Nutrition unit leads the engagement function of the Minnesota Food Charter Network. But I didn’t know exactly what that leadership looked like until the convening.

I'll use the analogy of bubbles to share my observations. Melvin Giles, an elder in this work from the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, utilizes bubbles in his work and we were fortunate to be well supplied with bubbles at this convening.

Do you see the bubbles Melvin just blew?
Photo credit: Noelle Harden.

The bubbles started with Anne Palmer, program director at John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her bubbles rose high to set the stage: Why networks? She shared that networks are necessary when a problem is complex, there are multiple actors in the system, the actors are connected, and integrated solutions are required. Thinking about the problems, actors, and solutions to food systems issues, I could see that this Minnesota Food Charter Network is necessary.

We also discussed Minnesota’s food system in the context of rural and urban settings. People navigating in different food system “spheres” merge and bump into each other. These spheres (or bubbles!) certainly merge as we discuss food in the context of rural and urban settings. Acknowledging that both urban and rural folks produce food and eat food is important. It is not one sphere's responsibility but the entire network’s to discuss and create shared solutions. This is not a time for pointing fingers, but joining hands.

Bubbles are not identical and neither are networks throughout the state. I found out that some networks have broad goals and some narrow goals. Their names reflect their diversity: “The Rutabaga Project,” “Toxic Taters,” “Roots, Boots, and Shoots,” and “Partners to End Hunger” is just a small sampling. The convening allowed these varied groups to find common ground around the statewide goals of the Minnesota Food Charter, while honoring their local purpose.

Leaders from different food networks find common ground.
Photo credit: Noelle Harden

Attendees said that attending the convening it raised them up (like bubbles!) to a higher level where they could see of how they fit into the bigger picture the food charter paints, a picture of Minnesota where "all Minnesotans can have reliable access to healthy, affordable, safe food in the places they work, learn, live and play."

When I left the convening, I and others felt like champions. What does it mean to "champion" a cause and then transfer that resolve to be a champion? It was summed up in this quote from the convening:
We are the people we are waiting for.

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