Monday evening (8 August) we had our inaugural gathering of the SELRS (Sustainable Equitable Local Regional System for Food) gathering in Lacombe. I am working with Rene Michalak as Community Activators for this project. It's an excellent role and exciting opportunity to bring my previous work experience and current life path together.
Below is a personal reflection of our first gathering, it is not meant to speak for anyone else's experience or opinions of the evening.
I left Lacombe feeling so full, I was empty. Enriched by the diversity of experience, passion, knowledge in the room - I could leave with a sense that we've the right people around us and I (with Rene) as one of the activators and facilitators will have the role of supporting momentum and not trying to create it (a much more pleasurable job).
I also left with some key words settling into my brain. Alternatives; Choice; Collaboration; Infrastructure; Direction.
Thinking about what impact I see SELRS (as a project having) - it is alternatives and choice. Alternatives for producers and eaters and those in between - that they have options about where they sell and access their food: alternatives that suit their needs, scale and health. Which is tied to choice. And I don't mean a choice in brands where the same stuff is on the inside of the box. I mean information of the alternatives and options and freedom to choose between them, to take control and decision-making back into our own hands; to remove the dependency on single system food options that make people feel powerless over their food choices and business opportunities.
So - what do we need to create SELRS?
Listening to the group and reflecting on other experiences I've had - collaboration and infrastructure were the headlines I started to see.
Collaboration between producers; between producers and eaters; between eaters; and across all links of the food system. We need to start with building relationships but we will need to move beyond knowing each other and passing along information or product. We will need to no longer look at each other as competitors or as a pay check or as a supplier of goods - we will need to start to understand each other better; to acknowledge we have common goals and purpose and by working together, we can be stronger, more creative, more adaptable, more.
What is sorely lacking is the infrastructure to support the collaboration and the system that is built through it. A healthy system flows and grows and changes through the exchange and responses between parts in the system. Infrastructure will be needed to facilitate this.
Another headline or pattern that I can't ignore is direction and red tape reduction from the government. There is a sense that much of what we'll want to do will be made difficult by the walls of existing policies and regulations or the gaping holes of lack of support for them. I am not sure, at this time, that this is something we can take direct action on or need to aim at directly. My sense is that right now we need to focus on what we want to create and be aware of where the walls and holes are surrounding these and then deal with them as they arise. Rather than trying to remove them or fill them before we have something concrete to offer up. But that's just my sense right now and I know I am going to learn more about this from our group.
I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this project because I saw it as the perfect opportunity to be part of building and strengthening a food system that I (literally and metaphorically) want to feed. I am encouraged, inspired, enlightened, and lightened by the people and conversations that have come around us so far, and so early on. I know if we keep asking ourselves "What's our next, best step?" and keep walking and learning and actions together - what emerges is going to be relevant, powerful, and necessary.