Solutions to complex problems require creativity, vision, and a deep understanding of the issues at hand. Communities and organizations are using food summits as a way to bring a diversity of voices together to learn more about food security, to dialogue about resources and opportunities, and to coalesce around a vision or next steps for action.
This week, I had the opportunity to help facilitate the Wythe-Bland Food Summit, in Wytheville, Virginia. Kathy Koch, an AmeriCorps Vista with HOPE, Inc. did a great job bringing together a cross-sector of community stakeholders from the two counties. Over forty people registered, representing various faith-based organizations, non-profits, the health sector, producers, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and emergency food providers. The speakers came from within the community, and helped paint the “big picture” of food security in the region, highlighting exciting work that is already going on, as well as barriers and challenges. The program also included facilitated dialogue and the opportunity to network as individuals. For me, it was exciting to be a part of the process—what a wealth of passionate, committed people! And the energy that they created as they began to imagine how they might work together for real change—was truly a privilege to witness.
If you are interested in hosting your own food summit, there are three key elements that contribute to a successful event:
- Make sure that you have a broad cross-section of the community present. If you can bring in people who aren’t involved in “direct” food systems work (social services, housing authorities, community foundations, county commissioners, etc.), that’s even better. A summit should galvanize participants, and make the case that food issues are everyone’s issue.
- Find the right balance between speakers and dialogue. This is a tricky one. Speakers and panels help frame the issue and energize participants, but you still need plenty of time to let people talk about the ideas being generated—this is where the creative process happens, so don’t cut it short.
- A clear idea of what participants should take away from the event. Is this a one-time event, intended to draw attention to an issue, or a first step in a larger dialogue? Will participants expect to leave with clear next steps or will it be enough to facilitate “food for thought”?
Have you hosted a food summit in your community? Please consider sharing your story (or lessons you learned from the experience) here, as a guest blogger. Email email@example.com for more information.
The Center for Association Leadership (who knew that there was an association about associations?) has a useful article on summits here.(Though, you can ignore their cost estimates—HOPE, Inc. held their summit for free, thanks to community support and donations of food.)
Nikki D’Adamo-Damery is the Deputy Director for the Appalachian Foodshed Project, and is based at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.