The overall goal of the first Yukon Food and You: FOOD TALKS was to have a face to face dialogue primarily between consumers and farmer producers. We tried to illustrate a sustaining way to provide food and equally to source local, healthy food. A secondary purpose was to offer the expertise of our speakers to others outside of the event.
The event was a resounding success and it has truly opened many new and exciting opportunities to people wishing to re-engage with their own food policy. This includes the consuming public as well as farmer producers.
For the three evenings, attendance exceeded expectations and we needed to restrict entry due to occupancy limits and fire regulations. Once chairs were full, many chose to stand in order to participate. Anyone that could not get in was informed of the next evening’s presentations and given a program. Over the course of three days, there were over 250 people in attendance. In addition to noting the exceptional turnout, the audience composition of multi-ages offered a huge support to farmers; they weren’t just ‘preaching to the choir’.
The underlying hope was to also offer some education on our food system in Yukon. The topics chosen reflected the choice of the organic growers and a sample of interested consumers. The first evening asked consumers to go beyond just listening. Participants engaged with each other and farmers over some guided questions. Dr Kent Mullinix and researcher Caitlin Dorward provided the background and stimulus to these questions and they, along with our guest speakers, circulated among the table sessions adding their input and helping to record ideas. Verbal questions and answers following each guided question were recorded. These verbal exchanges and the writing recorded on the table top paper was transcribed from 160 square feet of newsprint, to the documentation with the link posted above.
This opening night provided the ‘ice breaker’ for people to understand the current state of producer-consumer relationships, and to prepare for the presentations over the next two evenings. Excellent food, some organic wine and local beer provided the perfect ambience for that conviviality Slow Food states is so necessary for a sustaining food system.
Thursday evening presentations gave a capacity crowd definitions for food security and food sovereignty from several viewpoints, the meaning of organic labelling, and the effects of a corporate food system. From a 40,000 foot view, as Jodi Koberinski pointed out, to the control a company like Cargill has as explained by Jon Steinman, to the effects upon a local producer and their neighbours as Kathleen Charpentier outlined. The audience was once again entertained and educated with the break between speakers filled with questions and answers, good food and beverages.
There was a concern in the planning stages that it was somewhat of a leap to imagine each night being filled without selling tickets to the event, however this was quickly dispelled. There was also concern that it might be tough to see the same people filling the venue each evening but once again there was no need to worry. Each night the events were filled with many new faces and those that just couldn’t seem to get enough of the information provided by the guest speakers.
Friday evening was a ticketed event with a catered and served buffet dinner after the guest speakers wrapped up with their thoughts. All speakers were very well received and were accessible for conversations throughout the rest of the evening. The tickets for Friday evening were sold out a week prior to the event and the feast of largely local food was very well received. It wasn’t until well into the evening that the ‘party’ broke up and people walked away, more educated, more connected to their farmers, and satiated with good conversation, good dinner and live music.
In exit surveys from each evening, close to half the audience responded in an overwhelmingly positive fashion with 100% of the respondents saying they would attend another such event. A link to the compiled survey results is above.
Subsequent to this event many new connections have been made and many more have been strengthened. GoOFY invited guest moderators to help on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. By including these moderators, the audience was exposed to other community groups involved in food and to a local certified organic processor. Each of the moderators were given time to express who they were, who they represented and how they were connected to this event through GoOFY or their commitment to our community. Michael King, represented Bean North Coffee Roasters as the owner/operator, Colin O’Neil presented as the executive director for the Fireweed Community Market and Janet Patterson was there as a board member for the Potluck Food Coop. Each of the moderators expressed their gratitude at being able to participate in the event and for the openness with which they were received.
GoOFY provided the transportation, accommodation and food for all three speakers and facilitated Jon Steinman to give a lecture and movie presentation at the Potluck Food Coop’s AGM on Saturday evening March 29. The Food Talks, plus the added attraction of Jon Steinman, provided the incentive for over 80 people to attend the Coop’s AGM. They were able to double the number of members serving on the board which now includes several well connected farmers. The meeting, the film and subsequent discussions were animated and filled with more ideas and support.
Two of the speakers met with the Agriculture department and exchanged some viewpoints of the state of Organics in Canada and also some thoughts on current work regarding GM crops and how to deal with effectively with this. Some discussion covered the idea of hosting a holistic farm management course and perhaps looking into the idea of incubator farms. New names and contact information connected current ideas with substance for future conferences and events. New doors were opened.
Many of the producers made important connections for their products and one group of consumers has actually made the effort to have an in-house movie showing of Jon Steinman’s Deconstructing Dinner series with a local farmer in attendance to offer local input. The thought here is to have this as a regular event throughout the year with friends and some farmers. Farmers spoke about the idea of opening their farm to an ‘open house’ of sorts to provide interested people a look at what they do on their farm.
As a result of the Yukon Agriculture branch and Arctic Institute of Community Based Research (AICBR) planning a gathering of Yukon community greenhouse and garden representatives for the same week, representation from several communities outside of Whitehorse was made possible.
There were a few ideas for improvements for a future event. The timing of the guest speakers can be changed somewhat because Thursday evening with 3 hours of presentation and questions was perhaps a little long. No one wanted to miss a thing but it was lengthy. A future event such as this really should be recorded and then offered online to those who couldn’t make it. The information provided was much too valuable at this stage to not have it recorded in some fashion. Although 3 separate laptops were provided for the power point presentations of the speakers, the projector the venue provided didn’t work for two of the evenings. Fortunately Matt Ball, with the Agriculture Branch, provided a secondary projector which worked flawlessly on Thursday evening, but unfortunately the slide shows of local products and people wasn’t able to be shown on Friday evening. Although out of GoOFY control, any future event will need to take this possibility into account. Many thanks to Matt and the Agriculture branch for their quick thinking and support.
It was commented that it would have been ideal to have better representation from Government on different levels, municipal, territorial, First Nation and federal. Although the event was not initially conceived as being focused toward those groups, no doubt it would have helped in moving ideas forward to have some representation there. The Agriculture branch was well represented and their support is gratefully appreciated.
We were fortunate the venue was a perfect size for this event. Although there were a few people who couldn’t get in due to capacity restrictions, overall it was an excellent first try at such an event. The advertising went according to plan. There was an early article in the Whitehorse Star (Ainslie Cruickshank reporter) and then 3 CBC interviews closer to the event with Brian Lendrum, Tom Rudge and Jon Steinman. Better coverage could likely have been obtained if the press release was sent out in the same fashion and timing as it was, but was followed up immediately with a phone call to confirm its news value. Potluck Food Coop did this with better success.
In wrapping up the details for the event, there are many people who want to know what this ‘next step’ is. One Minister suggested work on a Yukon Food Policy would be of value. Another member of the opposition reiterated that there must be dedicated follow up to this event to provide strong direction to the agriculture sector, the Agriculture branch and Yukon Government.
In our agriculture and food system there is so much current interest and so many players that there needs to be a concerted effort provided to keep people and groups connected to move forward to whatever next step is warranted. GoOFY will debrief its role in the Food Talks event and subsequent ideas for the future. Many ideas are currently on the table.
Feeling out of the loop? There's a slew of great books out there. Many can be borrowed from the Public Libraries in the Yukon, or the Energy, Mines and Resources library on the third floor of the Elijah Smith building, or COG members can request books from the COG library. We now have our own library too in the office in Shipyards Park. Any member can borrow or contribute books, videos, or magazines.
© Simone Rudge 2013