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College of the Atlantic hosts sustainable foods conference

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BAR HARBOR - College of the Atlantic's Sustainable Food Systems conference is offering a feast for the mind, mouth and eyes. The conference, Food Connections: Reconnecting Hands, Mouth & Mind through Food Systems Education, begins Friday, April 20 with a local-foods reception in the college's Blum Gallery, to celebrate an associated Maine farming photography exhibit, continuing with talks by John Piotti of Maine Farmland Trust, and the executive director of Food First, Eric Holt-Gimnez.

Food Connections treats the entire story of food, moving beyond farm and fork, to packaging, processing, distribution, sales, consumption and waste. The conference, says organizer, Molly Anderson, COA's Partridge Chair in Food and Sustainable Agricultural Systems, will come to grips with what people need to know to transform food systems and how this can best be learned.

Eric Holt-Gimnez's talk is the first keynote of the weekend focusing on food justice, food sovereignty and how these subjects are treated within our schools and colleges. After a Saturday morning welcome by COA President Darron Collins, MacArthur Fellow Gary Nabhan, author and research scientist at the University of Arizona's Southwest Center, will give a talk titled Redesigning Local Food Systems for Land Health, Human Health and Community Economic Health.

Among the numerous panels are those featuring the storied Chef Stu Comen of Yale University talking with several representatives of campus food teams about what they are doing to improve their institution's food systems. The global perspective on food systems education will be offered by members of the Trans-Atlantic partnership, including Angelika Ploeger of the University of Kassel, Suzanne Morse and Anderson of COA, and Nic Lampkin of the Elm Farm Organic Research Centre and University of Reading, England.

Sunday morning will offer a variety of field trips, including one onto Frenchman Bay with two COA alumni, Natalie Springuel of the Maine Sea Grant Extension, and Toby Stephenson, COA boat captain. They will be speaking about the fisheries of the region, and the connected histories of fishing and farming. Other groups will visit COA's farms and Acadia National Park.

There are numerous smaller sessions throughout the day on Saturday. Among the discussions are those on the intersections of farming, fishing, and forestry policies; the current farm bill; sustainability standards and certification; questions about sustainable meat; and the concept of 'public goods' which farms provide beyond food, fiber and fuel. Students have additional special events, including a discussion of organizing for social justice in the food system, and an interactive workshop led by COA students who say they have developed 'a fun way to discuss consumer choice, conservation, food justice and sustainable food systems.' Additionally, students can join a Real Food Challenge training session Sunday morning.

Discussion leaders include those who are forging paths in new distribution methods, policies that favor small organic farms, ways of getting more sustainable food to campuses, cultural connections with foodways and advocacy for food justice and sovereignty. Among those present are representatives from the Real Food Challenge, Oxfam's Action Corps and GROW Campaign and FoodCorps.

Holt-Gimnez is the editor of the 2011 Food First book, 'Food Movements Unite! Strategies to Transform Our Food Systems,' and 'Campesino a Campesino: Voices from Latin America's Farmer to Farmer Movement for Sustainable Agriculture.' Nabhan, who has been called 'the father of the local food movement' by Mother Earth News, most recently published 'Desert Terroir: Exploring the Unique Flavors and Sundry Places of the Borderlands.' Signed books from both authors will be on sale after their talks.

In addition to COA, sponsors of the Food Connections conference are Elm Farm Organic Research Centre and the Faculty of Organic Agricultural Sciences at the University of Kassel through our Trans-Atlantic Partnership, with generous funding from the Partridge Foundation.

Registration is $120, or $60 for students with identification. The conference will be held at College of the Atlantic, 105 Eden St., Bar Harbor, ME. For information, visit http://www.coa.edu/foodconnections.htm.To register or for information, contact Matthew Doyle Olson, COA Sustainable Food Systems Coordinator, at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 207-801-5688.

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