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Coming Together to Reflect, Recharge, and Reimagine

In October, about 40 people gathered in Santa Ana Pueblo, NM, for the first in-person convening of the Healthy Food Community since it began in 2020.

Over three days participants reflected on what the community has accomplished so far, spent time in relationship building and experiential learning activities to recharge, and worked together to refine the community’s vision and purpose to reimagine what it can achieve going forward. The region offered opportunities for participants to learn firsthand from programs that are shifting power and resources to communities experiencing hunger, including Indigenous, Latino, rural, and low-income communities.

The time together provided a reminder of three important lessons.

1. The best solutions come directly from communities.

“Nothing about us without us.”—slogan from the disability rights movement

Carmela Roybal of the University of New Mexico Native American Budget and Policy Institute kicked off the convening with a keynote about the resiliency of Native American tribes over hundreds of years. Despite a long history of violence and oppressive policies, Native American tribes are leveraging traditions and ancestral knowledge to produce culturally appropriate food through ecologically sound and sustainable methods. During experiential learning experiences at Roadrunner Food Bank, Encuentro, and Santa Clara Pueblo, participants saw real-life examples of how communities leverage local assets to advocate and address pressing needs.

Looking ahead, participants proposed a shift in the community of practice’s purpose and goals to include a more explicit commitment to supporting the leadership and autonomy of the communities most affected by food insecurity — shifting from creating the vision without community voices at the table to an orientation that empowers communities to reimagine for themselves what an inclusive and just food system will look like.

2. Transformational change happens when diverse stakeholders connect around a shared vision.

“When people think the same idea and move the same, that’s a cult. If you think differently and move in the same direction, that’s a movement.”

–Loretta Ross, social justice activist and cofounder of SisterSong

The Healthy Food Community of Practice was created to bring together players from the many different subsectors that connect to food access and security. The community includes a range of perspectives including dieticians, policy analysts, benefits enrollment specialists, and leaders of community programs. The community has provided space for these perspectives to come together in ways they likely would not have otherwise.

As participants worked together to draft a refined purpose and vision for the community, the group reaffirmed a commitment to working together to share knowledge and resources, continuing to build relationships, expanding its reach into other communities, and pushing for changes in policies and programs that will lead to a food system that is inclusive and just. One example of this commitment is the work of the innovation pods — small groups that come together to work on discrete topics. A couple of the highlights from the innovation pods’ collaboration includes the holistic, inclusive framework developed by the Nutrition Education pod and the Food Sovereignty pilot program in Santa Clara.

3. We are working to achieve outcomes we may not see in our lifetimes—patience and persistence are key.

“Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen: reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in. This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always, for every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting, after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.”

--excerpt from “The Seven of Pentacles” by Marge Piercy

For the Healthy Food Community, the harvest we seek is a just and inclusive food system. This may take generations to achieve. Reaching this will require sustained focus on the long-term goal while also achieving wins that support communities, shift policies, and strengthen programs. The cumulation of these wins over time and the dedication and persistence of individuals working in various parts of the food system are the tending and growth that will yield the harvest. As the community looks ahead to its next phase of work together, let’s celebrate the progress we have made and reaffirm our commitment to the harvest we seek.

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