This Friday and Saturday, November 12 and 13, Birmingham will play host to the fifth annual Food Summit, organized by Greater Birmingham Community Food Partners (GBCFP). The conference, to be held at the Avon Theatre, is an opportunity for people active in the food movement and other interested parties to learn more about how they can help improve Alabama’s food system. According to a GBCFP news release, the focus will be on food policy, food security and economic development.
The term food security refers to the availability and affordability of fresh, nourishing food in a community. Many low-income neighborhoods in both rural and urban areas of Alabama do not have enough good food available to them. “The two major problems that we see in Birmingham around food security are access and education,” according to Elisa Munoz, GBCFP program coordinator. “It’s about getting access for people to fresh, healthy foods and also educating them on what to do with those healthy foods. You can give people all the turnip greens and butternut squash they can handle, but if they don’t know how to cook it easily and healthfully, you are not doing them any service at all.”
According to Munoz, conference participants will learn more about how to spread this food access and food knowledge in their communities. “At the summit, we have a lot of sessions where we talk about how to do this with your student group, in your faith community, in your home and in the community at large,” Munoz says. “We want you to get a feeling of empowerment that you can change your community and your home.”
Keynote speakers for the summit will be Mark Winnie and John Talmadge, according to the GBCFP website. Winnie is the co-founder of the Community Food Security Coalition and author of the book Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty. Talmadge is the president of Social Compact, an organization involved in attempting to provide economic opportunities for inner-city neighborhoods.
Edwin Marty, co-founder of Jones Valley Urban Farm (JVUF), will be one of the other speakers on Friday, when the conference will have numerous breakout sessions and networking opportunities. “He will talk about all the basics of food security,” Munoz says. “We need a food-literate community that understands these terms thrown around in the media. He will also talk about what we’re doing to tackle these issues in Birmingham and Jefferson County.” Using three acres of land in downtown Birmingham, JVUF is a model for ultra-local, sustainable agriculture and food education.
According to Munoz, the conference will discuss a variety of ways to get more good food into communities, including the possible extension of tax credits to encourage small grocers and corner stores to open in areas that need them. “Because we are partnering with Main Street Birmingham, we are looking this year at the economic development issues that surround food,” she says. Main Street Birmingham is one of several food groups, government entities and private companies that have helped organize or sponsor the conference.
On Saturday, there will be multiple food-related events, including a farm tour, a canning class and a cooking demonstration. “People can take what they learned on Friday and see it in action and actually start participating in the local food community.” Munoz says.
The final event on Saturday—at 3 p.m. at Pepper Place Market—will be Taste $2.78, in which Birmingham chefs will be challenged to prepare a tasty, healthy school lunch costing no more than $2.78. This refers to the money to be provided per child for school lunches by the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act. The event is sponsored by Slow Food Birmingham.
It may very well be that the future of the food system in Alabama can’t be left solely up to legislators. It seems to require a grassroots movement and a change in public thinking. Individuals have to change the way they think about food. Events like the Food Summit can perhaps help push the process along. “We just want to see people empowered to get involved and to know what’s going on in the community around food and food security,” Munoz says.
The Food Summit will take place at the Avon Theatre on Friday, November 12, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and at various locations around Birmingham on Saturday, November 13, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Registration is $25 and closes after November 11. The Avon is located at 2829 Seventh Ave. South. For more information, visit www.foodsummit.org or www.gbcfp.org.