URI hosts second annual Rhode Island Food Summit to support local food movement

Local produce from The Farmer’s Daughter

Nearly 400 people gathered at the University of Rhode Island on Jan. 18 for the second annual Rhode Island Food Summit to network with those who work in the local food system and to hear from local experts, discuss partnership opportunities, learn about funding sources, and celebrate and support the development of the local food movement in the state.

Dan Levinson, founder of the URI Food Center and one of the organizers of the event, opened the program by encouraging the audience members “to see yourself as a great actor in a spectacular community that has a shot at being a game changer in how our culture looks at food.”

He set the scene for more than 50 speakers, each of whom had just a few minutes to tell their personal story, outline the issues they were tackling, pitch innovative ideas or ask for or offer advice.  And throughout the afternoon, Levinson offered those new to the Rhode Island food scene a minute to introduce themselves and their activities.

Farmer Rob Swanson advocated for increased farmland protection efforts by telling the story of how farmers three generations ago could comfortably raise a family with just 20 dairy cows or 1,000 chickens. Due to the high cost of land in Rhode Island, that is no longer possible without publicly supported programs to preserve farmland.

Fisherman Chris Brown argued that the fishing industry is facing major changes due to climate change as fish stocks shift their ranges, “delivering us fish that we don’t have the equipment to catch or the quotas to meet,” he said. “One of the things that will allow us to survive these changes is to redefine success, not by how much we can catch but by what we can do to provide for the future.”

The speakers, however, did not just focus on how to produce more local food. They addressed a wide variety of issues.

“When we think about food systems, we immediately think about production and consumption, but we forget the pieces in between, especially the less glorious backdoor side of the system,” said Leo Pollock, founder of The Compost Plant. “We have incredible waste resources here – animal waste, food waste – and there’s a real opportunity here. What would it look like if Rhode Island was one of the leaders in thinking about composting infrastructure, composting systems and building soil knowledge?”…[Read more]