By Lotta Chan, CFJC Research Associate
The gorgeous scenery of the UC Santa Barbara campus was the perfect location to hold our latest Farm Bill 101 workshop, which aims to help communities connect the dots between local priorities and national food policy. While the sunshine, ocean, and greenery are enough to entice anybody to visit, I found that the students are the real heart of the campus.
The dynamism of the group was energizing and “invigorating”, in the words of one particular attendee. Throughout the workshop, students engaged each other by asking thoughtful questions about what they view as core problems in our food system. After learning about the different titles of the Farm Bill and the distribution of funding for each, students discussed how the current policy structure impacts their lives and their communities. A lack of local, healthy, affordable produce was their number one concern, tied to an uneasiness surrounding industrial agriculture. In one student’s evaluation of the workshop, she wrote that what she found most interesting from the discussion was an understanding of “the harmful ways our tax dollars are being spent, largely to benefit the agribusiness and food industries.”
But it was interesting to note that another big concern participants had was the lack of education about food policy, food labeling, and healthy eating. I was informed that workshops such as this one and other educational food programs are hard to come by, which does not support reflection and creating positive change.
Moving from the national to the local, Research Assistants at the university helped lead a discussion centered around Santa Barbara County’s food system issues. I learned a lot about the county’s import and export of crops, how its agriculture and food process contribute to growing greenhouse gas emissions, and suggestions for improving the system to make it healthier and more equitable. While it was interesting to learn about what students viewed as problems, it was even more exciting to learn about what they saw as solutions. Students brainstormed and discussed how to effect positive change at every level, ranging from the extremely local to the national. Immediately, they said they will begin to have more discussions on food and grocery trips with their housemates and friends, and many expressed a commitment to vote with their dollars for organic, local, and healthy food.
Localizing food production was a vision of a sustainable future that had overwhelming support from the group. Many students stated they would try to start gardening and composting at home, and beyond that, they would work toward expanded gardening and composting on campus. To reach the county, state, and national levels, the group discussed getting involved and voicing their opinion on policies, as well as getting together to create organized efforts for change. In another student’s evaluation, he wrote that after the workshop he was “motivated to begin campaigns surrounding local food—like in elementary schools.” Beyond joining existing food justice organizations, students also discussed starting a local chapter of Occupy Our Food System, a national movement to put control of the food system back in the hands of the people. We hope to continue working with these students to provide resources, tools, and educational materials for their continuing efforts.
CFJC partnered with UCSB’s student Environmental Affairs Board and the Santa Barbara County Agrifood Systems group to host the Farm Bill workshop, which had about 30 people in attendance. If you are interested in hosting a workshop together with CFJC, please contact Lotta at email@example.com.
Together we can create a food system that works for everyone.