The Local Food Summit in Denver, organized by the Mile High Business Alliance, was informative and great fun. But the strongest memory I took from it is of the woman who asked this question at the last panel discussion of the day: “Were all the women busy this afternoon?”
I skipped the morning session and attended the afternoon sessions, and one of the first things I noticed was that most of the panelists were male. This in a state where the numbers of women farmers are growing quickly, according to Judith Rice-Jones, a master gardener, former librarian at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and the woman who asked the question above.
I attended these three panels:Grown to Order: Starting Your Own Farm Food Cooperatives and Their Role in Changing Our Economy Local Food Producers Support
I thought the first was titled a bit deceptively. The people sitting on the panel were Quint Redman of Agriburbia, a design-build firm for small farmers; Dan Landes of Watercourse Restaurant, and Bob Blair of Fuel Cafe. The latter two have farms that provide a small portion of the produce for their restaurants, but they were not the kind of farmers I was looking to hear from when I chose this panel. There should have been at least two people on this panel who were farmers and nothing else. Redman and Blair did answer my question as to whether I could grow food on my apartment patio and sell it to restaurants. The answer was basically no. Redman said there are so many regulations on farmers now that he doesn’t work with anyone who is farming less than 1 acre. However, he did say he wants to find a way to help very small farmers. Blair suggested I establish relationships with restaurants by donating produce.
The panel on food cooperatives was the most hopeful session of the day. Eric Kornacki of Revision International told a story about the growth of co-ops in Cleveland’s poor neighborhoods. A group of people in Cleveland approached the arts organizations downtown, which were located in a poor neighborhood, and asked them where they spent their dollars. Then they worked to create co-ops in the surrounding neighborhoods that could get some of that business. One example was a co-op that started doing laundry for one of the arts organizations. I also heard about the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Cooperative Development Center, and about a cooperative grocery that’s in the planning stages in Park Hill. Maybe three years from now there will be a grocery co-op in Park Hill like the People’s Co-op in Portland that I enjoyed so much.
The fact that sticks in my head from the final panel about local (processed) food producers is that India once had 12,000 varieties of rice and 500 varieties of lentils—that from Milan Doshi, founder of Five Points Fermentation and proprietor of the Queen Anne B&B at 21st and Tremont, which has its own garden. I also learned that Ben Mustin of MMLocal did NOT grow up canning.
It’s obvious that there’s a lot of support for small-scale farming and food production in Denver and Colorado in general. I love that about this city. And the Mile High Business Alliance is deepening that support. I do wish, however, that MHBA would make gender balance among panelists its focus for the next summit—an odd thing to ask of an organization that is staffed by women. And maybe branch out a little—I got the impression that most, if not all, of the panelists were members of MHBA. Perhaps the members would like to hear from people outside the organization?
Thanks for this thoughtful article. Sarah Wells here – Development Director at MHBA, and main producer/organizer of this event (and longtime feminist). I wanted to say thank you for speaking out about this concern, and to let you know that I will continue to keep this in mind as we look for speakers and participants in our programming.
I will say, for now, that we did invite several female speakers who declined the invitation or were not available. And, in light of everything else that goes into a conference like this (including raising enough sponsorship dollars to make the conference affordable for farmers, entrepreneurs and activists), we had to go with who and what we could confirm in a short period of time (this whole event came together in just 7 weeks). Of the 35 speakers in our breakout sessions, 40% (14) were women, and 60% (21) were men. So, even though we didn’t hit a 50/50 mark, we did have several female leaders represented. Perhaps this discrepancy also speaks to an imbalance in the number of women in leadership positions in food-based businesses — something we should certainly keep an eye on and be discussing.
If you (or whoever reads this) has ideas on useful discussion topics or speakers you’d like to recommend for future events, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at sarah[dot]wells[at]milehighbiz[dot]org