Jennifer Jo Thompson, University of Georgia (SAFN President)
After three years of planning, postponing due to COVID-19, and then planning again, “Cultivating Connections”—the 2022 joint annual meeting of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society, and the Association for the Study of Food and Society—convened at the University of Georgia, in Athens. For those unable to travel to Athens, there was also a parallel virtual track to facilitate broader participation.
As in years past, SAFN sponsored the conference, allowing SAFN members to register at the ‘member’ rate. As SAFN president and the chair of the conference planning committee, it was such a joy to see people reconnect with friends and colleagues in person after so many years on zoom!
Our conference theme was “Exploring Entry Points into Sustainable Food Systems.” In hosting this conference for the first time in the Southeast, we were mindful of the diverse, yet often invisibilized, legacies of food and agriculture that shape the region. Like so many towns in this region, Athens and its surrounding areas are shaped by histories indigenous removal, as well as enslavement and exploitation—but this place is also a rich site of resistance and social activism, deeply influenced by a vibrant African-American heritage.
This complicated history motivated us to develop a program that showcased the dedication of local farmers, chefs, scholars, and community activists who have been working on the ground for years, and sometimes generations, to make food systems for equitable, accessible, and healthy for people, communities, and the environment.
One of the things that makes this conference so special is its interdisciplinary focus on food and agriculture—bringing out everyone from anthropologists, geographers, and rural sociologists to philosophers, activists, and agricultural economists. This year’s conference included over 350 presentations, both in person and virtual, held over four days—with panels such as “The Stories We Tell: Food System Narratives around Taste, Identity, and Resistance” and “One Bread, One Body: Food, Faith, and Fermentation.”
The conference began on Tuesday, May 18, with pre-conference tours—including an Atlanta Food Justice Tour, and a North Georgia Farm and Food Tour. That same evening, we held a Welcome Reception which allowed us to showcase local food and ag-based businesses and give attendees a ‘taste’ of Athens food scene, followed by AFHVS and ASFS presidential addresses.
Our Keynote Speaker was Dr. Monica White, Associate Professor of Environmental Justice at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her talk, entitled “Black Farmers, Black Scholars, Black Futures,” previewed Dr. White’s next major work exploring the lives and experiences of Black farmers and Black activists who sustained Black communities the South during the period of Jim Crow and the northern migration. Looking to this history, Dr. White sees important lessons about the role of agriculture in resisting injustice and sustaining communities.
Chef and Farmer Matthew Raiford, author of the 2021 book Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer, was the invited speaker at our Evening Program and Dinner. Chef Raiford’s talk, entitled, “What’s In a Name—Sustainable, Organic, Regenerative Agriculture?”, highlighted the histories and limitation of these terms, and called for renewed attention to the human dimension in sustainable agriculture and food systems. The meal—a seasonal take on Carolinian-Georgian cuisine—was prepared by sisters Megan and Amanda Brock of M&M Comfort Zone using all fresh, seasonal veggies grown with love by UGArden, our student community farm.
The 2023 ASFS/AFHVS conference will take place May 24-28, 2023 in Boston. We hope to see you there!