This is the first in a series of three blog posts recapping School Garden Spring Break, Slow Food USA’s national conference in April 2016. As we look to the organizational future of Slow Food, Spring Break certainly reaffirmed our new strategic direction, which highlights three buckets of work: gatherings, campaigns, and partnerships. Over the next few weeks, this series of blog posts will highlight these areas.
“This experience is now a big part of me. Thank you for making me feel valued, important and more confident. Thank you for covering so many costs. Thank you for the curriculum. Thank you for feeding me well. Thank you for introducing me to so many interesting, knowledgeable people. Thank you for working towards a better future. Thank you for everything!” –Spring Break Participant
What did we take away from our Spring Break conference? For one thing, heaps of gratitude, as expressed so nicely above. This was Slow Food USA’s first national gathering around school gardens, so of course we were excited, but naturally we didn’t know quite what to expect. After months of planning, the weekend came and went in a spectacular flash, and we emerged with a deep sense of accomplishment, renewed enthusiasm, and gratitude for 50 new friends.
First and foremost, this conference was a gathering, a true bringing together of both practitioners and thought leaders around the unifying passion of school gardens and edible education. After sharing the application widely on social media and our mailing list, we sought out participants best equipped to implement the “train the trainer” model. Thus, we chose folks who seemed well connected with other schools and partners in their community and therefore able to create more change at home using the knowledge and materials gained at Spring Break.
The Spring Break cohort was an assorted group of teachers, garden leaders, nonprofit directors, FoodCorps service members, and Slow Food chapter leaders. One participant commented, “The conference opened my eyes to all the people that are not teachers, who care about students and having gardens in schools. The possibilities for networking with everybody I met with a goal of growing towards gardens is every school is amazing. The best conference I have ever been to!”
One of our other significant goals was to make the gathering as inclusive and participatory as possible, rendering the content and expertise both Slow Food and participant driven. One individual was “amazed by the balance of topics – both practical and theoretical.”
“This was a huge success. The mix of participants was impressive and diverse. The range of information felt all encompassing of the work that is happening and everyone was able to take away valuable information. The hands on workshops were amazing and I’ve already used one of the lessons…I'm extremely grateful that I was a part of it, and was able to expand my community of friends and resources.” –Spring Break Participant
It was also really important to us that the cohort reflected our organizational commitment to diversity and inclusion. We strived to engage individuals from a variety of backgrounds including youth, people of color, and a wide-ranging geography including representation from 18 states and 17 Slow Food chapters. One participant acutely noted, “There could have been greater diversity of races represented among the presenters but I think this is a systemic issue we need to deal with, not a reflection of this conference alone.” We value feedback highly and will begin to unpack this issue in a future post.
For now, 50 or so people also felt like the ideal number, the right size to begin to foster intimacy and build real connections. As one individual put it, “I feel that I was able to learn from a diversity of perspectives and yet truly get to know these fantastic individuals in an authentic way.”
Slow Food USA recognizes that one of our strengths is bringing people together, both locally and internationally. We inspire people to change the world through food and hope that convening people can lead to more inspiration, collaboration, and empowerment. So at Spring Break, we did just that, we gathered around cooking demonstrations, raised garden beds, and the dinner table that resulted in new friendships, an exchange of ideas and important partnerships that will have a large impact on the success of school gardens moving forward.