“Fast Talk About Food” – November 11, 2011

Picture this scenario – the lively din of eighty people’s discussion; the aroma of the local meal they are sharing, prepared in the adjacent kitchen. The group proceeds to the audience-style seating where the momentum of the evening is enriched with fresh ideas, questions to ponder, and projects to envision. This is what will occur again on March 29th, at Fast Talk About Food, hosted by PVGrows Higher Education Working Group. Held at the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, the series of 5-minute “Lightning Talks” provided a highly engaging, fun way to inform others in rapid succession about a range of topics.  Building on the highly successful first event, plans are now underway for the second Fast Talk About Food on Thursday, March 29, 2012, from 5:30 -8:00pm.  Applications to be one of the featured speakers are being accepted until Feb 24.


PVGrows Higher Education Working Group serves as a network of people at the intersection of food systems and institutions of higher education in the Pioneer Valley.  To that end, speakers at the Fall event included undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty and staff members from around the Valley. The array of topics reflected innovative and thought-provoking teaching, learning and actions around food systems. The line up of eight speakers kicked off with Tovar Cerulli, a vegan turned hunter. Tovar is a graduate student in Communication at UMass whose forthcoming book discusses “adult-onset hunters.” Abrah Dresdale, an instructor of Food and Farming at Greenfield Community College, described how she used Northampton’s food security plan Feed Northampton, which she co-authored, as a template to develop service learning-based curricula at GCC. Kathleen Allen and Rebecca Johnson, undergraduate students from Springfield College told their story of how a personal encounter with a local homeless man sparked the idea for Campus Kitchens, a 100% student run project which redirects leftover food to individuals and families. Meghan Little and Andrew Mack, undergraduate students at UMass, described the genesis and success of the first permaculture garden on a public university campus to supply sustainably grown produce to its dining services. Jono Neiger, faculty member at the Conway School of Landscape Design, spoke about a residence adjacent to the school which serves as a living laboratory where students practice permaculture design and regenerative agriculture. Craig Nicolson, Director of Academic Sustainability Programs in the College of Natural Sciences at UMass, introduced the audience to the new Masters program in Sustainability Science and its concentration in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems. Richard Stein, Professor Emeritus at UMass spoke as a founding member of Pioneer Valley Biochar Initiative, a group that educates and advocates for using biochar as a soil additive to stimulate plant growth and increase productivity. Lastly, Keith Zaltzberg, faculty member of Smith College, described a toolbox for community resilience planning, developed by students, faculty and community members in a Smith College course.

In lieu of a Q & A, the talks were followed by a networking experience led by John Engel, a professional facilitator, of LifeMigrations Consulting. John’s well-crafted questions allowed participants to begin processing what they had learned during the talks. Business cards were flying as people connected. The concrete part came next – an exercise that asked people to get down to business while stretching their imagination. Everyone wrote down their idea for a food systems project, idea or connection, including the related person or group they would follow up with afterwards. Then we wrote it all down again. One piece of paper went into our pockets, as a reminder of our commitment. The second piece of paper we posted under one of three categories on the wall: “Happening Now” or “Happening In the Near Future” or “Envisioning.” What a sight it was – tangible proof of our collective thoughts and forward-moving energy! Everything posted on the wall was consolidated into a spreadsheet and e-mailed around to all who attended. Feedback forms revealed a very satisfied and inspired group of attendees. Watch the video of the Lightning Talks.

If this sounds like a scenario you’d like to be part of, consider joining the PVGrows Higher Education Working Group. Register for our next round of Lightning Talks, March 29th.  Or apply to be one of our “lightning talks” presenters.  For more information,  contact Madeleine Charney, Chairperson of PVGrows Higher Education Working Group at 413-577-0784,

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