‘Cultivate 2012’: Pivotal year ahead for increasing women’s leadership and voice around food issues

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Cultivate 2012, a groundbreaking summit of women leaders of the healthy food and farming movement, was held in May in Racine, Wis. Thirty women from around the United States gathered at this conference sponsored by The White House Project (TWHP), the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) and Women Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN).

Farm to fork

The summit served as a kickoff for the “Plate to Politics” programs that will explore ways to advance women’s leadership in the sustainable agriculture movement and other healthy food systems. “Women have always been the primary drivers behind the healthy food and farming movement-as farmers, purchasers of their families’ food, and staff at the nonprofit organizations that support the work,” said Leigh Adcock, executive director of WFAN. “It’s time for more of us to take a seat at the decision-making tables at every level.”

Four Minnesota women were among the national attendees: Pakou Hang, a political strategist who works with immigrant farmers across the country; Anna Claussen, who works on creation and retention of natural and social wealth in rural communities; Julia Olmstead, a sustainable agriculture policy expert, and Aurora Conley, a environmental activist on issues of water quality and the preservation of native stands of wild rice.

The Minnesota delegation joined with women farmers, leaders of national grassroots organizations, policy analysts, political activists, government leaders, media professionals, authors and academics to dive into an historic opportunity to make an impact on our current and future national food system.

“I believe it is critical that we re-incorporate spiritual, cultural and emotional experiences into our food landscape and within our food system. Furthermore, we must support women in this movement, as they will be the fundamental drivers.”
-Anna Claussen

“I wanted to explore the linkages among health, poverty, agriculture and our food system. Immigrants are critical to our food system and they cannot be left behind in the local food movement.”
-Pakou Hang

Connecting the dots

Sustainable agriculture and the national food system have become the “it” issue in recent years. The startling rise in childhood and adult obesity, the exposure of dangerous practices in food production facilities around the country, and the fact that access to healthy food options is not a true reality for many Americans in both urban and rural communities, are converging to drive this issue to the top of the national security agenda.

Positive signs of systems change must also be acknowledged. According to the latest United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) census, there was a 30 percent growth between 2002 and 2007 in women who were principal operators of farms or ranches. Women are also fueling unprecedented participation in farmers’ markets, organic food sales, community gardens and school lunch reform.

Women have undertaken leadership positions in addressing national food security and sustainability and it is women who make the majority of decisions regarding food preparation and consumption in the U.S. Women make nearly 80 percent of household purchasing decisions, but we comprise only 16 percent of the United States Congress-where key decisions regarding national food production, industry standards, and food security and availability are made.

Action steps

The key areas of work identified at the conference for Plate to Politics:

  • an authentic, positive message in the national media prioritizing the intersection of health, economy and food;
  • a national database and social media platform for collecting and championing diverse and inspiring stories of women farmers and food activists across the country, including connecting them with opportunities to be policy leaders from the local to the federal level;
  • a targeted education campaign for Congressional staff and leaders on policy; and • development of resources to educate and inspire a broad diversity of voters on food issues.

Farm house to White House

It is clear that consumers all over the country-most specifically women-are demanding access to sustainable, healthy options for ourselves and our families. If this growing mindset is to truly make an impact on changing systems, we need to shine a spotlight on the women leaders who are driving this movement. We want to support candidates who are championing these issues and ramp up the leadership skills, aspirations and civic engagement of women 35 and under who proclaim food, the economy and health as the seeds that drive their passion to lead.

Get involved:

The Plate to Politics website, www.PlatetoPolitics.org offers several ways to get involved in this movement, including:

  • Take the Cultivate 2012 survey-tell your leadership story.
  • Help identify women who want to advance their leadership in this movement. Encourage women contenders for appointed and elected office from the rural co-op board to Congress.
  • Stay tuned for more ways to heighten voter engagement and education around these issues over the next 18 months.
  • Sign up to be a Cultivate 2012 intern.

The White House Project (TWHP) is a nonprofit organization that aims to advance women’s leadership in all communities and sectors-up to the U.S. presidency-by filling the leadership pipeline with a richly diverse, critical mass of women. www.thewhitehouseproject.org

Women Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) ‘s mission is to link and empower women to build food systems and communities that are healthy, just, sustainable, and that promote environmental integrity. www.wfan.org

The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) serves farmers striving to produce high-quality, healthful food using organic and sustainable techniques. These farmers produce more than just food; they support thriving ecosystems and vibrant rural communities. www.mosesorganic.org