Guest Article: Part I of Alexis Bogdanova-Hanna’s article on our trip to The Growing Power Conference in Milwaukee:
It’s barely Thursday, September 9th at 4:45 AM in East Lansing, Michigan. Bleary-eyed and squinting through the dark, Taylor and I load the car and are northwest bound within minutes. We’re headed to Milwaukee via a car ferry, but it’s still three hours to the edge of Michigan. As we drive through the lollygagging hills, fruit groves and crop fields of Western Lower Michigan, farmers on either side of the highway are already awake and humming along. The vistas are appropriate, as we are about to spend the next three days celebrating the Sustainable Farmer, the Essential Agriculturalist, the Local Food Advocate, the Aquaculturalist, the Food Justice Activist, and other Visionaries at the “Good Food Table” : Growing Power’s first conference on urban and small farming.
As we pull up to the SS Badger, docked in Ludington, the sun has cleared the horizon and dances across massive white totems asleep on the beds of semis, which we discover are segments of wind turbine towers – their presence nearly foiled by two-hundred-yard piles of the “other” black gold, coal, sparkling in the distance. Four breathless hours of Lake Michigan beauty later we arrive in Manatowoc, Wisconsin, two hours north of Milwaukee. The ride is a meditation on fresh water, precious as it is, and plentiful in this ancient glacial intersection.
We’re a day early, so we take our time southbound on 43, catching glimpses of the coast and a nearly contiguous patchwork of dairy pasture and barns until we arrive at the Wisconsin State Fair Grounds in West Allis, far ahead of most of the 900+ people expected to be here for the entire weekend. Wisconsin is the promised-land of dairy, home of Organic Valley and many of Horizon’s farmers; and it’s not only cows – the state ranks first in milk goat population, at 40,000 head, and does well with cranberries, too. It’s fitting that the conference will play itself out here at the State Fair grounds, an institution of agricultural pageantry, traditional to American farm life for well over a century. This particular ground is hollowed, once home to Native Americans who stewarded the land for sustenance.
Friday Morning opens with the man himself, Mr. Will Allen, in true shoulderless-shirt form and surrounded by a vast Growing Power coterie. He welcomes us to the Good Food Table and the “composting process” of the conference itself. The audience – a bold mix of good food revolutionaries from around the country and the world – is enraptured by Will’s call to grow the movement, his appeal to move beyond talking and “just start doing.” Winona LaDuke follows, her voice billowing with pride and tinged with urgency, as she recounts the rice harvest the day before and the need to protect the genetic integrity and ancestral heritages of our seeds and land. Indeed, “the decolonization of our food.” Urban farming luminaries fill-out a panel just before lunch, when we are served the very rice Winona and fellow Anishinaabe harvested earlier in the week.
Immediately after lunch, Taylor prepares for his panel with Joel Morton, the voice of Farmaid’s hotline, and Amy Mall, founder of Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm in Chicago. The session is titled “Tools for Change: Resources and Opportunities for Supporting New Farmers, Transformative Food Systems and a Just and Diverse Food Economy.” It’s standing room only before Joel gets started explaining the resources available through Farmaid’s website and hotline. He’s the guy on the other end of the line when you call – and you couldn’t be in better hands; his voice is measured and assuring, exactly what a farmer beset by crisis (or just in need of a good chat) would like to hear. Next up is Taylor, who provides an overview of the challenges beginning farmers face and how the website (yes, this one) serves our needs, now more than ever as its popularity increases monthly. Check out a clip of his presentation below. Amy closes the panel with a beautifully rendered narrative of how her community’s relationship-based garden is flourishing – a testament to the success of, in her own words, a “MacGuyver-style” approach from the start.
Stay tuned for PART II of the travelogue …
see full photo albums: