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Slow Food USA Welcomes Two New Chapters

by Julie Kunen, Slow Food USA

Slow Food USA is delighted to welcome two new chapters to our network: the Four Rivers chapter in Paducah, Kentucky and the Georgetown University chapter in Washington, DC. While their geographic contexts might be vastly different, both chapters share some unique characteristics. Both founded by pairs of charismatic women, these chapters plan to tackle food justice and equity issues.

Slow Food Georgetown University

Lucy Morrison and Shelby Gresch are the Chair and co-Chair of the Georgetown University chapter. Lucy was inspired to form the chapter after attending Slow Food Nations this year and joining the Slow Food Youth Network. She recruited Shelby, a friend from class, to join her. Shelby was unfamiliar with Slow Food, but grew up on a small farm in Idaho and is interested in agriculture and sustainable development. After her conversation with Lucy, she went home to research Slow Food and learn about the movement, becoming enthusiastic to join Lucy in creating the chapter. Both women were frustrated that, while there are many campus clubs focused on environmental issues, none addressed issues such as regenerative agriculture and food justice. They realized that forming a chapter was, in Lucy’s words “totally do-able, so we just went for it.”

While the chapter went through the application process for Slow Food, Lucy and Shelby also applied to the university for standing as an official campus club, but were initially denied on the grounds of over-similarity to existing clubs. They appealed the decision, making a strong case that no other group was addressing farm labor rights and other pressing agricultural issues. Their application was approved on appeal, enabling the chapter to access university resources such as funding and meeting spaces.

Already, the Georgetown University chapter has around 20 committed members and as many as 30 have attended events, while 150 people receive their newsletter.

The chapter will focus on building community, with events such as apple picking, Sunday dinner discussions about food issues, and an upcoming pie bake, which will donate pies to a local food bank. Shelby and Lucy seek to launch discussions about food issues on campus and beyond, engaging students in their local food system and empowering them to make a difference. They hope to bring the values of Slow Food to the Georgetown campus by, for example, working with the dining halls to bring more transparency to what students are eating. And someday soon, the university’s community garden may feature plants grown from seeds in the Ark of Taste.

Georgetown University chapter co-directors Lucy Morrison, right, and Shelby Gresch, left.

Members of the Georgetown University chapter on an apple-picking outing this fall.

 Slow Food Four Rivers

The Four Rivers chapter in Paducah was co-founded by cousins Jessica Lambert, a Kentucky native, and Jonie Sharp, a recent transplant from Oregon.  The two women prepare dinner together every Wednesday night and although neither had any prior experience with Slow Food, they cooked up plans for a new chapter over those many meals.

Just like Shelby and Lucy in Washington, DC, Jessica and Jonie saw a big problem with food access and thought, “someone has to do something about it, and it might as well be us.“

This part of Kentucky and neighboring Illinois, where the Ohio, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Cumberland rivers come together, is home to many farmers and vast tracts of farmland. But between the commodities corn and soy, it is hard for farmers, particularly growers of local, fresh, healthy food, to find one another or for consumers to find them. Paducah is a sprawling, medium-sized town that, over time, has moved away from a culture of southern home cooking to a culture of fast food eating. As Jessica put it, “there are more fast food restaurants than there are churches, and we’re in the Bible Belt!” And, like many towns across the US, Paducah suffers from diet-related health challenges such as obesity and cancer. At the same time, it is very hard for residents to find fresh local food to feed their families.

Education about the relationship between nutrition and health is largely lacking. Jonie, who studied nutrition, was shocked by the lack of access to fresh, local food and the ubiquity of candy and other junk food options in their schools. Both women have elementary-school-aged children and find that their neighbors and fellow parents have very little awareness of the connection between nutrition and child welfare.

But, in a community they describe as a hugely friendly place that loves to learn and to do things together, Jonie and Jessica are convinced that they can help foster connections between farmers and residents interested in fresh, local foods. They plan to start by creating a local food directory to help make these connections and to talk with farmers to learn more about what they need. A school garden program is a top priority.

This winter, the new chapter will make a push for new members from the community who share the same goals and ideals of good, clean and fair food.  As the Four Rivers chapter founders put it, “we can’t do it alone. We need people in the school system; we need the health and wellness folks. We want to address food inequality. We want to bring people back to their food roots.”

Co-founders and co-directors of the new Four Rivers chapter of Slow Food, Jonie Sharp and Jessica Lambert, with their Wednesday night stew….


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