On Saturday, October 28th, 2023, SOFSA hosted our first annual Food Justice Gathering at Plymouth Congregational Church in downtown Syracuse. The Gathering, and its theme of legacy, took inspiration from past food justice symposiums and events organized over the years in our region.

The day began with a beautiful opening ceremony in the sanctuary space at Plymouth. Dr. Rev. Eric Jackson welcomed attendees into the space, followed by SOFSA Director Maura Ackerman and Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens. SOFSA Community Liaison and co-organizer of the event Mable Wilson sang a moving rendition of I Come to the Garden. This was a beautiful segue into our keynote presenter, activist-farmer, Karen Washington. Karen shared her perspective as a longtime food justice organizer and activist, bringing up the energy of the group before attendees moved into their first sessions.

Following the opening ceremony, attendees broke off to go to a morning session of their choice. In the Sanctuary, Maura Ackerman moderated a panel focused on the changing landscape of Syracuse in regards to I81, Micron, and ReZone. Simultaneously, Brittany Taylor was moderating a storytelling session, where panelists shared their own stories of how they came to be in the place they occupy in the food system. Syracuse Grows Garden Coordinators were sharing their stories downstairs in the Adult Education room, moderated by Ashmita Das. In Kirtland Hall, Hemparations shared about the power of the sunflower and led attendees in a sunflower seed “bomb” making workshop.

After morning sessions wrapped up, attendees headed off to Kirtland Hall for lunch. Miss Prissy’s, Baghdad, Chobani, and the Syracuse Cooperative Market all provided a delectable lunch for the crowd. Once people sat down to eat, Maura Ackerman, Qiana Williams, and Emilija Postolovska began the lunch program discussing SOFSA’s new Food Justice Fund initiative. If you are interested in learning how you can be involved in the Food Justice Fund, click here. Attendees also voted on approving SOFSA’s updated bylaws. You can read those here.

After lunch, sessions resumed. In the Adult Education room, Dr. Rev. Eric Jackson moderated a session on Reframing Food and Health while SOFSA Advisory Board member Esteli Jimenez-Soto moderated a storytelling session focused on Haudenosaunee food sovereignty in the Sanctuary. Urban Delights youth lead a planting demonstration workshop in Kirtland Hall, and SOFSA consultant Kolia Souza hosted a mini listening session to hear peoples’ stories about their experiences in the food system in the Parlor.

For the final part of the day, Memorial Hall was transformed into a Community Room with information tables from various groups around Syracuse. In the Sanctuary, Galyn Murphy-Stanley from the Interfaith Community Coop moderated a discussion on emergency food systems and community resilience. Antonisha Owens from AficaPure Artisan Hair Clinique shared about foraging and growing herbs to create herbal medicines and cosmetics in the Parlor, and Avalon Gupta VerWiebe moderated a conversation about access to land for underrepresented communities in the Adult Education room. In Kirtland Hall, Marva Hudson led a demonstration in creating refrigerator pickles.

The conversations, community-building, strategizing, and bread-breaking that were had at this event were incredibly valuable experiences. SOFSA is so grateful for the time that everyone took to be present in this space, and we are looking forward to future events.