Last Thursday was a big day for SOFSA and, more broadly, for the food system in all of Onondaga County. We worked with the Onondaga County Agriculture Council and the CNY Regional Market Authority on a major event, hosted our first large-scale in-person convening of partners and stakeholders since the COVID-19 pandemic began, launched our Storytelling program with the strength of our newly-hired Community Liaisons, and shared Gannon’s Ice Cream with Mayor Ben Walsh and County Executive Ryan McMahon — all to celebrate the launch of FoodPlanCNY, the result of a research project of the same name helmed by our very own Professor Matt Potteiger and the late Professor Evan Weissman.
Beginning in 2016, the project “brought together diverse voices from across Onondaga County to tell the story of food.” According to the website, “Food Plan CNY is collaboratively developed to assesses how we grow, distribute, consume, and dispose of food. The plan captures the strengths and aspirations of the county’s food system, and identifies steps to improve policies, programs, and individual actions that shape the way food moves from farm to plate.”
In their research, Professors Potteiger and Weissman conducted interviews with dozens of stakeholders across the county, covering the production, distribution, processing, and marketing sectors as well as the consuming public, and the waste and recycling process. Accordingly, the event showcased the work of the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCCRA) and the Onondaga County Health Department among other local partners, and delegates were on hand from Southwest Community Learning Farm/Urban Delights, Salt City Harvest Farm, the Syracuse Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program, the Onondaga Nation, the Food Bank of Central New York, Brady Farm, the New Americans Forum, and many, many others. Students from Syracuse University’s Lender Center for Social Justice conducted a brief activity that invited attendees to consider the different roles they played in the food system while across the way, our newly-minted Community Liaisons interviewed others about their personal experiences with food and food insecurity.
On the other half of Shed D, David Knapp, Chair of the County Legislature and SOFSA Advisory Board member, acted as the master of ceremonies for a speaking program that included the County Executive and Professor Potteiger, but also Dr. Indu Gupta, the Onondaga County Health Commissioner, and Professor Jonnell Robinson, another Advisory Board member and a close collaborator and confidant of Professor Weissman’s.
Together, the speakers and tablers underscored an important truth: while the vulnerabilites in our food system did not begin with the pandemic, neither did the people who are working to reinforce them. Long before March 2020, scores of people across our county were fighting night and day on SOFSA’s mission, to strengthen our food system so that it works for all people in Syracuse and Onondaga County. It is SOFSA’s goal to unite those people on the issues presented in FoodPlanCNY as well as others we don’t yet know about. And with all these smiling faces collected at our table at last, we can finally ensure everyone gets something good to eat.