Food Sustainability Conference Draws 175 from across U.S., Canada

Pandora Thomas (right) speaks at a workshop

The third annual UMass Amherst food sustainability conference, “Revisioning Sustainability,” drew 175 students, faculty and staff from other universities, food service managers, sustainability coordinators and business people from over 60 institutions in the U.S. and Canada to the campus on June 22–25. Participants explored the role of higher education in catalyzing the food sustainability and permaculture movement, incorporating hands-on training and skill-building, organizer Meghan Little reported.

“The third annual event was our biggest ever,” she said. “It’s becoming clear now that everyone who attended has become part of an international network that supports regenerative food systems, which is a very exciting and fast-growing movement.”

Attendees participated in a wide range of presentations, workshops, tours and trainings related to the food system. From permaculture design and planting techniques to community organizing and food justice to marketing and farm-to-school procurement strategies, the conference provided a unique combination of diverse, relevant, and forward-thinking content.

Participants also had the opportunity to tour the Hampshire Dining Commons, nearby permaculture gardens and an ecovillage in Shutesbury, where they ate a local, organic dinner beside the community garden. “This event seemed to really impact folks and provide a huge step forward in networking and skill-building around food sustainability work,” Little noted.

Pandora Thomas, a certified permaculture teacher who co-founded the Bay Area firm Earthseed Consulting, kicked off the conference with her keynote speech on the first evening. She works on projects ranging from an eco-literacy program, “Green Life at San Quentin,” to recently founding the Black Permaculture Network to engage a broader, more diverse audience around integrating permaculture design into social advocacy.

Also at the keynote event, conference organizers presented Amherst Regional High School student Sophia Dwinell with a full scholarship to the conference in appreciation of her January letter to the editor of the Amherst Bulletin. In it, she congratulated UMass Amherst for taking part in the Real Food Challenge and called on the national Real Food movement to “reach out to younger students as well in elementary, middle and high schools.”