Seventh Local Food Summit addresses food sustainability

Robert Dunne/Daily
Jason Frenzei, Huron River Watershed Council member and event organizer, shows off the local food hero cape at the closing ceremony of the Sustainable Food Conference at the Michigan League Ballroom Sunday. Buy this photo

By Samantha Wintner, For the Daily
and Samiha Matin, For the Daily
Published February 15, 2015

University students, together with food lovers, entrepreneurs and farmers, filled Rackham Auditorium on Sunday for the seventh annual Local Food Summit.

Billed as a sustainable food conference, the event promoted building stronger relationships with local food businesses, as well as encouraged local entrepreneurs to adopt environmentally responsible business plans.

“The intent is to bring people around local food so that they can experience learning from multiple different angles,” said Ann Arbor resident Jason Frenzel, one of the event’s organizers. “So we have participants here who are very new to the Local Food Summit and we want to allow them an opportunity to meet people who are very involved in the system and learn a few basics. We also want to create opportunities for people who are currently involved in the system so that they can get a chance to increase networking.”

Slow Food Huron Valley led the Food Summit, which was sponsored by the Michigan Dining and an assortment of food-related organizations, including Whole Foods Market and The Farm at St. Joe’s.

The summit takes place in different locations every year so more people can collaborate and address local food issues. The organizers have previously worked with the University and Washtenaw Community College to engage with students and the local community.

This year, the University was chosen to host the event because of its history of working with local vendors, food entrepreneurs and artisans to prioritize sustainable strategies.

“Food Love” was the theme of this year’s Food Summit.

University alum Lucas DiGia, an emcee of the event and a member of the Local Food Summit’s planning committee, noted that while “Food Love” partially reflected the event’s proximity to Valentine’s Day, the theme was chosen to reflect the love and appreciation the event’s organizers have for all the members of the local food community.

The event included presentations from numerous speakers and breakout discussions where attendees were asked to reflect on food sustainability topics.

The sessions included “Just the Ten of Us,” which focused on local food security, and “Caring about our Food Community,” in which University students discussed food waste on college campuses.

Loren Rullman, University’s associate vice president for student life, welcomed attendees to the event in a brief speech. He mentioned that University President Mark Schlissel has made sustainability a priority during his time so far in office.

Last fall, Schlissel announced plans to launch a review of the University’s sustainability goals. The University has failed to make significant progress on several of the goal’s initially set under former University President Mary Sue Coleman, according to Schlissel.

He said the University’s administration has strived to make food a part of this effort, and has increased University composting and encouraged more local sourcing.

Judy Wicks, the founder of White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia, was the Summit’s keynote speaker. Known for her community engagement, environmental stewardship and responsible business leadership, Wicks’ speech focused on building a more compassionate economy.

“Business is about relationships with people and nature,” she said, adding that these relationships can be threatened by a profit- and competition-driven economic system.

The current model, she said, is built on the concept that nature is something to be exploited. She added that this notion runs contrary to her upbringing.

“We all belong to Earth,” she said. “Our current economic system is destroying the life on it.”

Wicks touted the “localism movement,” which strives for the growth and use of local and more sustainable food resources.

“(It transforms) the economy from life-destroying to life-giving,” she said.

She explained that the relationships between small businesses and their communities are integral to the success of local economies. Subsequently, she decided to pay her staff a living wage as opposed to the minimum wage.

Additionally, she said the White Dog Cafe became the first business to use 100-percent renewable energy and adopted a “humane menu” in which all ingredients come from family farms that prioritize humane treatment of animals.

She pointed to other responsible business models — like that of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor — which has expanded only locally as opposed to nationally. She said this restriction has maintained an authentic relationship with the Zingerman's community.

Wicks concluded with remarks that businesses can grow locally in non-material ways by expanding their consciousness and nurturing relationships with their communities. She said this could contribute to the development of a global network of sustainable businesses.

Following Wicks’ address, several attendees participated in a “story slam” led by writer, poet and activist William Copeland.

Individuals shared experiences that had led them to connect with the localism movement and memories that cultivated their love for food.

“I do know that there are many ways we are similar, one of them being the fact that we all eat,” said Colleen Crawley, an Ann Arbor local and a participant in the story slam. “We are willing to work together and make our hands dirty.”

Several organizations were honored at the Food Summit, including the University’s Student Food Co. LSA senior Colleen Rathz, vice president of outreach for the Student Food Co., attended the event.

“A lot of people are talking about campus food, food security and healthy eating and nutrition, so I’m really excited to work on that,” she said. “I love that (we are) a presence on campus and are able to provide students with produce.”