Dr. [Don’t] Know It All

If you want to re-discover your hope for the future, I highly recommend teaching an introductory course for college Freshmen. No, really – hear me out.

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Field trip to Elmwood Stock Farm

Last semester was my first experience teaching a GEN100 class for our College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, and I was gifted as diverse a group of students as you could hope for. They also insisted on calling me Dr. B which I was charmed by. Who knew Irish surnames were so challenging to remember?

My students came from all corners of Kentucky, all coasts of the U.S. (yes, even the Gulf Coast,), and all walks of American life. Some came from multi-generational farm families; some had never set foot on a farm before. As we explored different dimensions of our food system, they shared their personal experiences ranging from showing sheep at the state fair to waiting in line at the food bank. I was humbled and inspired by their vulnerability and sincerity, and their genuine desire to care for each other and the world around them.

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Randal Rock has forgotten more about Sorghum than I’ll ever learn.

Over the course of the semester, we explored the wide world of ‘Agriculture, Food and Environment.’ Through their eyes, I was reminded of how vast and fascinating, and sometimes overwhelming, the study of agriculture and food systems can be. Thanks to their questions, confusions, excitements, and concerns, I was pushed to challenge and revise my own habituated frameworks and discover new realms of learning. Heading into the spring semester, I find I have a renewed sense of excitement for the learning that lies ahead of me during “conference season.”

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We graduated our beloved Cindy Garcia in December. We learned as much from her as she did from us.

Catch me at the Networking Session

We’re lucky to have a suite of great farm and food conferences and meetings right here in Kentucky. I love kicking off the year with the Kentucky Fruit and Vegetable Grower’s Conference. If you’ve never attended, it’s a great chance to learn about new techniques and opportunities for specialty crop production in our state, and a great chance to catch up with all your farm-oriented colleagues that you lose track of during the growing season.

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There’s always more to learn about our Kentucky Food Systems

Later this spring you can check out Community Farm Alliance’s Eastern Kentucky Farmer Conference to learn more about working in Appalachian Kentucky. The Organic Association of Kentucky’s annual meeting always impresses me with the depth and breadth of learning they provide. I’m also looking forward to the Just Food Symposium this February that focuses on racial equity in our Kentucky food systems. As an added bonus, if not a sole motivation, the meals at local food conferences tend to be pretty great. I’ll never forget eating country ham and drinking bourbon next while sitting next to Wendell Berry at my very first CFA annual meeting back in 2010.

Shameless plug: Come to our Local Food Systems Summit

Of course, this whole post was a lead up to my shameless plug for our 2020 Kentucky Local Food Systems summit. Last year was our inaugural summit, and due to an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response, you all have collectively strong-armed us into making the conference an annual affair. Thank you, I think.

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With our partners at Bluegrass Farm to Table and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, along with the support of our generous sponsors, we’re excited for this year’s bigger and even better event. We’ve got a fantastic line up of speakers ranging from school nutrition directors to community garden enthusiasts and pet food manufacturers. Yep, you heard that right.

Even more importantly, I’m eager to see what we learn from our fellow attendees. A common sentiment we heard from last year’s attendees was how much they enjoyed meeting fellow food system professionals and enthusiasts. I loved seeing colleagues who I’ve known for years from different dimensions of the food system meet each other for the first time. It was a great reminder of how lucky I am to professionally sit like a big ol’ spider in the middle of our food web.

To bring it full circle, I am thankful to my students for lifting a jaded veil that I didn’t realize had settled over my world view. They reminded me that this work of local and sustainable food systems is vast and ever-changing, which means a lifetime of learning and discovery for a curious mind. There are always new allies to meet, new foods to try, new landscapes and histories to explore. I hope you also connect to your inner thirst for understanding, and I look forward to what you’ll teach me this spring.

Author: lilianbrislen

Rural Sociologist and regional food system practitioner

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