Local Food Summit Denver: Cool Ideas, But Where Are the Women?

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?