Fall Plenum & Learning Journey

Sept 7-10, 2023

MFJN teamed up with The Social Gastronomy Movement (SGM) for a weekend full of connecting, collaborating, and making change in our local and global food systems. These posts summarize some key moments and learnings from the weekend, yet there was so much more that is not reflected here!

What resonates with you? Where do you see challenges? What resources have you found to help move us towards a food system that honors all life in and around us?

Reflections by Rosie Russell

September 10, 2023

Millions of people eat alone. Add a little water, stick it in the microwave, turn the television on, get lost in a world without human connection. Hear your thoughts, festering, while you quickly fill your belly, and return to work, or your bed. The sound of silence, of loneliness, of emptiness. The cold, bleak suffering we collectively endure.

Three people with matching t-shirts gather around farmers at Big River Farms, with a field next to them and trees in the background
Hearing from farmers at Big River Farms

Does it even exist? A world where healthy food is abundantly available, where food is a relationship rather than a transaction, where we have the time and space to sing, dance, and share meals made with the recipes passed down from our ancestors? A world where food is grown by our friends and neighbors, and is enjoyed with a side of laughter and warm conversation? Well, of course. 

While Ore (Or-ay) and Winifred banter about their days, they pull weeds together at Big River Farms in Marine on St. Croix. They share recipes with okra and sweet potato. Together, they harvest hundreds of pounds of vegetables, and package them for the market. Julieta briskly walks to her boulevard gardens on St. Paul’s West Side neighborhood. She graciously hands out marigolds to those fortunate enough to be passing by. To those who are Spanish speakers, she shares her wisdom about the interconnectedness of her crops, how they work together, and the medicinal values they provide. She gives out cherry tomatoes, which are enjoyed especially by those who have not had a chance to eat that day. They are refreshed, and full. Many hands, together, bring life to healthy, nutritious food, while dancing around their gardens and sharing stories of their past. This world is alive and well, and it welcomes you in. It welcomes you to enjoy the home cooked meals, prepared by your neighbors. It welcomes you to enjoy the flavors of culture and connection. It welcomes you to participate, to choose to leave behind the system that isolated you in the first place. To begin the process of healing, which takes time and commitment.

Farmer Julieta stands next to a bountiful boulevard garden and shares a marigold with one of the event particpants
Julieta shares a marigold with a visitor at her boulevard gardens in St. Paul’s West Side neighborhood.

This world may seem hidden, but it is not. When we reach outside of our phones, our Chat GPT, our online models and tools, and we walk next door to ask how our neighbor is doing, that is when we see it. We see this world when we look up. When we put away our screens, turn off our cars, and walk down the street. When we go outdoors, where there are no doors, our eyes are truly open. We bump into a friend, a new face, or an elder and hear a story that makes us laugh or even cry. We see the mulberries falling from the tree and ready to be enjoyed. We see the tomatoes ripening on the vine. We smell the food, wafting from the neighbor’s kitchen. We feel the cool breeze, and see the seeds being carried across the sky. As we do this together, we strengthen our interconnectivity to this multi-sensory network of food.

Over the past two days, I had the pleasure of seeing this world in full swing and listening to the stories of many beautiful and dedicated members of the Metro Food Justice Network (MFJN), all working together to foster a welcoming food community. This diverse and dynamic network is successfully growing, cleaning, cooking, distributing, and reclaiming healthy food across a vast and multi-cultural region. They are sharing knowledge and skills, fostering health and well-being, and building a sustainable local food economy that is supported by relationships, rather than transactions. Many who support this network are doing it on unpaid time. They work hard, fighting against a system that works diligently against them. They persevere, despite the pushback, despite the limited resources, despite the many people telling them it is unsustainable, and in doing this, they sustain this delightful world. As money pours into pots that are unavailable to them, they get creative. As money continues to flow outside their system, supporting developments that displace them, they find new spaces on the boulevards. They adapt, and persevere, to ensure their community continues to be well fed, to prevent the thousands of children who are unhoused from going hungry, and to minimize suffering and sickness from the world being built around them. This network perseveres to serve the community, as an act of survival, of necessity. It exists because it must, and as it strengthens, it heals. 

Maybe one day, we will return to a world where nobody eats alone.

Rosie Russell is a social sustainability professional residing in the Twin Cities metro area. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Development from Buena Vista University, and a Master of Science from the University of Minnesota, where her research focused on co-designing a social organizational life cycle assessment framework in partnership with The Good Acre, a food hub in Falcon Heights, MN. In addition to having over six years of experience in watershed management planning, she has co-founded and co-led numerous diversity, equity, and inclusion committees and routinely presents about her work and research at conferences, universities, and schools. Her expertise is centered around empowering connections through social network mapping, co-designing stakeholder engagement methodologies, and building shared language across multi-disciplinary networks. Rosie is currently working as a freelance consultant.
Rosie’s community journalism work is the foundation for all of the writings, resources, and learnings on this page. Many thanks, Rosie! 

Read the event summary here!

Hearing from farmers at Big River Farms
Touring and telling stories at The Good Acre
Farmer Winifred shares her sweet potato secrets at Big River Farms
Well fed and happy after Community Cooks
Deep in discussion at the MFJN Plenum
Even the chefs are wowed by the communal meal prepared by all!
Pulling things together after the site visits - what did we hear?
SGM folks posing by the beautiful corn patch at Capitol View Communal Gardens & Orchard
Ms. GillEtte shares stories and laughs at Capitol View Communal Gardens & Orchard
Everyone is psyched to take away lessons from The Good Acre!
Social Gastronauts from around the country and the world joined us for the event!
Nasturtium taste testing was encouraged at Rusty Patch Farm during the Big River Farms tour
Getting ready for the Big River Farms tour
Kicking off the event with a communal meal in the Breaking Bread Cafe space
Three people with matching t-shirts gather around farmers at Big River Farms, with a field next to them and trees in the background