Diversity is Byword of Urban-Rural Food Systems Conference

In Riverwest, the Diversity is Our Strength signs refer to the ethnic and economic diversity of our community. But when Gail Kahovic, Food Systems Program Director at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, talks about diversity being strength, she is referring to crop and animal breed diversity, diversity in the farm ecosystem, and diversity in the ownership and production aspects of our food systems. “Many people think that just because our supermarkets sell over 150 different types of breakfast cereals that we have a highly diverse food system,” Kahovic says. “But what is often not observed is that four companies dominate the breakfast cereal industry: Kellogg, General Mills, Quaker, and Post.” Even the grains being used for these products have little diversity, especially the corn, she says, referring to a study about the narrow genetic base of U.S. hybrid corn. Kahovic says that just as cultural diversity gives social health and vitality to our country, the strength and health of our farming and foods systems is dependent upon diversity. That’s why this year’s Urban-Rural Food System Conference, Nov. 13-14, will focus on “Celebrating Diversity: The Key to Healthy Farms, Food and Families.” This 12th annual conference will be held at Prairie View Elementary School, N2131 Townline Road, East Troy, Wisconsin. Keynote speaker Patrick Martins, co-founder of Slow Food USA, will speak on “Preserving America’s Bounty” on Saturday morning. Slow Food USA is an educational organization dedicated to stewardship of the land and ecologically sound food production; to the revival of the kitchen and the table as centers of pleasure, culture, and community; to the invigoration and proliferation of regional, seasonal culinary traditions; and to living a slower and more harmonious rhythm of life. Martin’s current work with Heritage Foods focuses on helping farmers market their artisan foods, providing an alternative to industrial agriculture. The healthy array of workshop options includes “Diversity in our Farming Systems: Stewardship of the Farm Ecosystem,” “Artisan Cheeses in Wisconsin and Cheese Tasting,” “The Genetic Diversity of our Food,” and “Honoring Our Culinary Heritage: Telling Our Stories about Food.” The Cornucopia of Regional Food Tasting — Farmer’s Market set for Saturday, noon to 3 pm, offers opportunities to meet farmers and taste-test their products. Farmers who would like to be vendors should contact Linda Caruso at 312-735-0050 for more information. On Saturday evening, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute is hosting a public Harvest Dinner and Dance, 5:30 to 10:30 pm. After a brief tour of the institute, MFAI’s own Chef Julie will serve up a cornucopia of regional food. The barn dance will begin at 7:30 pm. Sunday, from 1 to 3 pm, a Chefs-Farmers Banquet prepared by well-known regional chefs will celebrate the bounty of various local farms in a white tablecloth, multi-course meal. Chefs include Jack Kaestner, Oconomowoc Lake Club; Ken Hnilo, Gilbert’s Restaurant in Lake Geneva; and Dave Swanson from Milwaukee. Registration for the conference, sponsored by Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy, is $100. Saturday evening’s Harvest Dinner and Dance is $15 for adults. Sunday’s elegant Chefs-Farmers Banquet is $35 for adults. For more information, visit www.MichaelFieldsAgInst.com or call Gail Kahovic at 262-642-3303, ext 100.