More than 1,000 farmers, community food advocates, farm policy experts and others turned out for the first day of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group's 20th annual conference.
The event, held today and Saturday at the Chattanooga Convention Center, was sponsored by Gaining Ground. The Chattanooga-based nonprofit promotes locally grown food to boost the economy, conserve the environment and improve health.
Farmers accustomed to working long, arduous hours in the fields got a rare chance to congregate with other growers and proponents of sustainable farming, sharing hard-won sage wisdom and learning new techniques for growing, attendees said. Some sessions focused on the politics of U.S. farm policy, which has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years.
But the camaraderie was one of the major draws for some farmers, attendees said.
Inspiration comes from "knowing you're not alone," Jennie Bartoletti, urban farmer at local nonprofit sustainable farm Crabtree Farms, said today between educational sessions.
During one educational session, speaker Scott Marlow of Rural Advancement Foundation International - a private nonprofit in Pittsboro, N.C., focused on equity in agriculture - said the politics of farming in the South is inextricably linked to historical discrimination in farming policy, Marlow said during his session.
Some disparities in agricultural life today stem from discriminatory policies implemented in the 1930s and 1940s that disproportionately supported white farmers, he said.
"You cannot talk about agriculture in the South without dealing with race and social justice," he said.
For complete details, see tomorrow's Chattanooga Times Free Press.