Food Tank, in partnership with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, is hosting the 1st Annual Chicago Food Tank Summit on November 16, 2016.
This event will feature more than 40 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students will come together for interactive panels, networking, and delicious food, followed by a day of hands-on activities and opportunities for attendees.
Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Harry Rhodes, Executive Director of Growing Home, who will be speaking at the summit.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?
Harry Rhodes (HR): When I was young, my mother always had a vegetable garden and compost pile, and emphasized good eating and nutrition. As a young adult, I moved to Israel and spent some time farming on a kibbutz. I especially enjoyed working in a date orchard and eating fresh dates.
At Growing Home, I have seen the power of growing food as a vehicle to transform people’s lives.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
HR: Since I started at Growing Home in 2001, I have seen the huge growth in urban agriculture and the local food sector. I believe that people want to be healthy and eat healthy food. The biggest opportunity is to continue to raise awareness and make good food available in all communities.
FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?
HR: I am most excited by the increase in urban and peri-urban agriculture. There are many acres of vacant land in the Chicago Metropolitan Region, and likewise in many old industrial cities such as Detroit and Cleveland. These have the potential of feeding people in communities where they live, communities that have often been described as food deserts because of a lack of access to good, fresh food or even to a grocery store. This is slowly changing thanks to urban agriculture and local food activists.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
HR: Les Brown, Growing Home’s founder, had the vision for Growing Home that inspired me and many others since. He started talking about urban farming and training homeless people in this field in the early ’90s, when very few people had even heard of this concept. Les hired me in 2001 to make his vision happen, and I’m sure he would be very proud of what we have accomplished if he were alive today (he passed away in 2005).
Les said, “homeless people are often without roots.” They’re not tied down, not connected, not part of their family anymore. Our organic farming program is a way for them to connect with nature—to plant and nurture roots over a period of time. When you get involved in taking responsibility for and caring for something, creating an environment that produces growth, then it helps you build self-esteem and feel more connected.
FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?
HR: Seeing the power of food and farming to change lives drives me to keep going. I’ve seen that food can be a catalyst to change individual lives and change communities. The Englewood community on the south side of Chicago is being changed through the development of an urban agriculture and healthy food district. This includes urban farms (Growing Home’s were the first in this community), community gardens, locally owned cafes, and a new grocery store—Whole Foods. The food system in Englewood is being changed and is having a huge impact on the health and economic well-being of this community.
This excites me and keeps me going.
FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn’t have to deal with?
HR: We are struggling against an industrial food system that is more interested in making profits than feeding people. The rise of chemicals in our foods and GMOs are things that our parents and grandparents did not have to deal with. There are many powerful forces in Washington, D.C., and around the world that fight against a locally based healthy food system because it would mean that they might lose their power and money.
FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?
HR: I would like to see clear labeling of all food, including GMOs, so that people can make educated choices regarding what they put into their bodies.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
HR: Buy directly from farms via farmers markets, CSAs, or even local grocery stores or restaurants that tell you the farm the food is coming from.
FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?
HR: Do not allow farms to use the newest, most potent, and dangerous forms of pesticides. These have been proven to cause cancer and should be illegal.
FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?
HR: I would love to see a president openly support local and organic food and pledge to change the way the USDA supports farmers. The emphasis needs to be on supporting small farmers growing good food for people to eat, and not on supporting commodities.
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Sponsors for this year’s Food Tank Summit in Chicago include: Almond Board of California, Annie’s Inc., Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, Blue Apron, Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Clif Bar & Company, Driscoll’s, Elevation Burger, Farmer’s Fridge, Food and Environment Reporting Network, Inter Press Service (IPS), Niman Ranch, and Organic Valley. More to be announced soon.
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