As I walked into the auditorium of the Charlton College of Business at UMass Dartmouth, I felt a wave of excitement and motivation. The seats were filled with such a diverse and passionate community of people, all working towards helping one another achieve change. As a student of UMass, I was positively surprised by the turn-out of my peers. Scattered among the audience, I spotted several friends that I was not expecting to see. I had no idea that they were planning to attend let alone interested in the discussion. Faith in my generation restored!
The inspirational Ellen Parker, Director of Project Bread, was the perfect pick for the event’s keynote speaker. Parker revolutionized the fight against hunger through engaging her community and has now expanded that community nationally. One look at Ellen and I assumed that she would be this sweet woman with a big heart, and of course she was, but I missed something – her fight. Listening to her, I couldn’t help but be moved by her powerful words and emotional connection to humanity.
“Food isn’t only about food, it’s about community…community resilience!”
You can probably imagine that after an hour and a half of discussing food, our stomach’s were getting restless. Dinner time! We were treated to a local menu by UMass catering: salad, quesadillas, Portuguese pastry and more mouth-watering deserts – as my mouth waters at my desk, typing this blog.
Innovation: Fresh Ideas
Presentations began with Groundwork’s own, Adam Davenport, discussing his Urban Agriculture Initiative, and continued through the line-up of amazing people with brilliant ideas.
Julianne Kelly talked about ‘What’s Cooking Fall River’ – cooking lessons online which are smartphone accessible and two new, free food banks that will help improve food access in FR.
Why is fruit so expensive? Joyce Bettencourt explained it to us and presented a solution – fruit donations and the planting of fruit trees at schools and parks.
“We don’t have a problem with ‘food deserts’. We have a problem with ‘HEALTHY food deserts’”. Kimberly Ferreira and Mass in Motion New Bedford have the solution – Subsidized Farm Share with New Bedford Housing Authority.
Dartmouth YMCA Farm Director, Dan King, solved the problem of only being able to offer produce seasonally, with chickens! 100+ chickens “live in a luxurious tiny house” and produce eggs that can withstand the winter.
Victoria Grasela discussed United Way’s Hunger Commission and new Mobil Market, an after-hours (5:30pm – 7pm) food pantry, alternating sites in the north and south ends of New Bedford.
Last, but definitely not least, was Shaktisingh Rijput, presenting his team’s Food Access App. Their project began in the fall semester of 2016 and has a bright future. Keep up-to-date with foodfinder.org to see how their prototype develops!
The night was full of captivating innovations and panelist, Dr. David Weed, pointed out how truly fantastic these ideas are:
“we are marrying today’s technology with the ancient method of farming”.
The event was wonderfully collaborative. The audience frequently asked questions and gave suggestions, which may explain why it ran an extra hour long with zero complaints. We all wanted to be there.
Every presenter and panelist also mentioned their challenges and what they need – aside from food – “Finding, Funding, Facetime”.
Closing out the forum, my close friend Alexandra Dissanayake, President of Roots & Shoots – the student organization started by Jane Goodall – was handed the microphone and offered her group’s time and dedication, as well as her own, to anyone who needed it. Business cards flew at her like rice at a wedding – which is something I don’t quite get but makes for an appropriate analogy.
It was nice to see.
Keynote speaker: Ellen Parker, Director of Project Bread
The Future of Urban Agriculture in New Bedford – Adam Davenport, Terra Cura Inc.
Improving Food Access in Fall River – Julianne Kelly, MA in Motion Fall River
New Bedford City Fruit – John Callahan, Southeastern MA Food Network
Subsidized Farm Shares – Kimberly Ferreira, MA in Motion New Bedford
Sharing the Harvest Community Farm – Dan King
Hunger Commission – Victoria Grasela, United Way of Greater New Bedford
Food Access App – UMass Dartmouth Management Information Systems Students
Christine Sullivan, Coastline Elderly Services
Maurice Cyr, BCC Mobile Food Market/UMass Dartmouth Food Pantry
Dr. Dave Weed, Healthy City Greater Fall River
Kendra Murry, Southeastern MA Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP)