Scholarship Report: Eric Tarr – Food Justice Summit 2019

Event: Food Justice Summit 2019

Attendee: Eric Tarr – Library Associate — Youth Services, Rochester Public Library

How does attending this event relate to your current role in your library?

In the last few years, Rochester Public Library has been working toward a more active role in the area of food justice. We are aware that a large percentage of our community (those we are seeing, as well as those we are not) are facing food access/justice issues. We learned that in trying to connect to the needs of our community, food is often at the core.

Libraries are committed to sharing resources with everyone. And food is one of everyone’s most basic needs. It isn’t always as simple as making connections by sharing books, stories, and knowledge. Sometimes connections must start with more basic necessities. The magic part of sharing food, is that it can then lead to new relationships, stronger connections, and learning of additional resources that the library can offer.

For the past two summers, Rochester Public Library has partnered with Riverside Central Elementary School and Rochester Alternative Learning Center to distribute produce that was planted and nurtured by students during the school year. In the past, the gardens were often neglected through the summer because the students and staff were on summer break. All their hard work had an unhappy ending. But through our partnership (and along with the Bookmobile!), Rochester Public Library had the opportunity to share this produce with the community!

It boosted our summer reach, and highlighted our off-site summer programming, and carried with it a great story.

So great!

What was your biggest takeaway from the event as a whole?

The event as a whole was pretty darn overwhelming. In the best way. So much to learn. There is so much wrapped up in food access. So much in fact, that food justice is a more correct way of viewing and discussing it. The Food Justice Summit had been previously called The Food Access Summit, but it’s not just about providing access, it’s about repairing a broken system, and there’s a lot that is broken, and a lot of work to do. There were sessions devoted to our history (white supremacy, racism, colonialism, trauma, and genocide) Sessions were devoted to the current issue (ongoing white supremacy, trauma, racism, colonialism, suppression, oppression and lost culture and history) Sessions were devoted to our future (reparations, social change, climate change, science, and our responsibility to history)

It was about food, farming, health, lives, and people. All people. And for far too long, too many people have had food, farming, health,and lives stolen from them.

Whew, it was intense and important and overwhelming and necessary.

I will add this part here, too: Rochester Public Library, Riverside School, and the Alternative Learning Center not only attended sessions, but we presented a session as well. It was great to be a part of the event, and to engage with attendees, and to receive feedback that our work is exciting, inspiring and important. Most of all, important.

Would you recommend this event to others and why?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from the Food Justice Summit is that we are all in this together. We all have a part to play in repairing our food systems, and in offering assistance to those who have been harmed, traumatized, and ignored by our history and current systems.

I didn’t hear of any other people attending on behalf of public libraries, other than RPL. Maybe we were the only one. But when in conversations with others who worked in other areas (public health, activism, agriculture, food shelves, academics, etc.) I noticed that although we were representative of very different parts of a community, we had a shared interest in food justice, a responsibility, and part to play. When we all spoke of the people we wished to help, and the work that we wished to do, and the changes we wished to make, it sounded like we were all part of the same team already.

We have all been harmed by our history and current food systems, but by no means to the same degree. We can all benefit by helping each other with our basic needs. We can all help to connect and repair relationships by making sure everyone is at the table. Food is something that we can all relate to, and that connects us all.