5 Things I Learned from the RI Food System Summit



Food system graphic from http://rifoodcouncil.org/


Rhode Island’s first Director of Food Strategy, Sue Anderbois, has been working on a RI State Food Strategy. It combines information about existing resources, goals for Rhode Island’s future and priority-setting for positive change. She presented this plan and convened stakeholders in a daylong conversation, in partnership with the University of Rhode Island. The event was filled with both formal topical panels,informal discussions and information-gathering sessions, as well as good food.

SEG’s own Director of Food Initiatives, Isabella Cassell, and SEG Board member, Diane Lynch, participated in a panel called Mapping Financial Resources for Food Enterprises, which explored the key capital components in growing a food business.

Since our mission here at Social Enterprise Greenhouse is to help mission-driven entrepreneurs launch and grow their ventures, we feel especially excited to see so much attention on this issue that we love!

The group went on to discuss supporting the food community within Rhode Island, looking at existing gaps in the food system and working together to catalyze systemic change.

Here are a few takeaways that stood out to me from this groundbreaking event:

  1. Gather information. It helps to understand what problems we are trying to address. The data-gathering process is an opportunity for us to get to know our community — who is here, what are they doing, what is working and what are some needs that aren’t being addressed? This might look like interviews with individuals, resource mapping, meetings, research, observation. It is about asking questions. What’s the history? What are the underlying issues?
  2. Collaboration. How might we find overlap and opportunities to work together? We all come to the table with different strengths and backgrounds. Rather than each person or group trying to solve the exact same problem in the exact same way, where can we collaborate, learn from each other and support all of our work? Where can we help each other with resources, information, advocacy and sharing?
  3. Language Matters. In our excitement to create change, perhaps it helps our cause to be mindful of others’ culture and history. Promoting healthy food is a great idea, and caring about farmers, the environment and food access are all vital. And yet the way we talk about these issues does matter in a place with so many different people from so many different backgrounds. Inclusive language can help us to reach many more people. Good food belongs to everyone!
  4. Rhode Island is rich in resources. Our people, land, enthusiasm and food systems reflect this. It is a strength of ours here, and when we think about the quality of life in our state, food is often part of the picture. How can we best use food as a leverage to bring new people, keep those who are already living here and provide great experiences to visitors who pass through?
  5. Food is an entry point to many other conversations. The food system intersects with many other systems. When so many stakeholders get together at a summit, we can discover new ways to communicate this web of interaction. The Farm to Institution program, or FINE, is an example of this, raising questions for us like: How do our systems work? How is food currently distributed? What are values that matter when institutions feed individuals?

You can view the first draft of RI’s food strategy here and get involved with the RI Food Policy Council here.

SEG hosts events for entrepreneurs and food-lovers too! Our next Food Accelerator will launch on Thursday, February 9th. 


Traci Picard
Venture Development Assistant

Traci Picard is a VISTA serving as Venture Development assistant here at SEG. She comes from the world of alternative health, running a small herbal business and teaching classes like Critical Thinking for Herbalists and Asking Better Questions. Traci is also a writer pursuing a Journalism degree, a mother of 3 and a passionate fan of books and the Public Library. Born in Providence, she has lived all over but continues to return home.

Contact: tpicard@segreenhouse.org