It started with a community of artists in collaboration with a community of planners. The Rowan University Art Gallery is host to “How Food Moves: Edible Logistics” through the work of guest curator Daniel Tucker. As contemporary artists grappling with the complexity of food's trajectory through research-based and participatory practices, the exhibition aims to highlight a range of these works, as well as present newly-commissioned projects by artists working in the surrounding areas who can explore this inquiry from the regional contexts of Philadelphia and southern New Jersey. Tucker explores how food transits through complex patterns of distribution in between the point of origin ('the farm') and its point of consumption ('the plate').
A booklet was produced in collaboration with faculty for the School of Geography and Environment that combined the artists’ project narratives with research and texts on the US food supply chain from production to consumption. Professor Megan Bucknum Ferrigno was lead researcher with contributions from Professors Jennifer Kitson and Charles McGlynn.
At the opening reception of the exhibit, the next collaborative effort was launched inspired by the exhibit. Added to the dynamics of the University community collaborative effort of art plus planning, the element of the extended community was added through collaboration with private industry. Land Dimensions, a land use planning/engineering company with deep roots in the South Jersey community since 1979, helped plan the next collaborative endeavor.
The idea that was launched and accomplished was dinner at the Rowan University Art Gallery on Saturday evening, May 20. The intent of the evening was to gather a community of local people and join them together through a common denominator – the food supply chain – from producer to consumer. The expertise was varied and it was an educational evening for all who listened to the others gathered at the table.
Significant education was provided by the farmers in the room – where it all begins. At the end of the spectrum were two Rowan students, one who will be the next generation of family farming. The result of the evening was a casual dinner experience facilitated by Professor Megan Bucknum Ferrigno. Dinner was served by Gourmet Dining, food provider for Rowan University. Chef John worked his magic to provide the dinner guests with a majority of the menu items being locally sourced.
Below is the framework (FTI – Farm to Institution) upon which we had looked to build the evening. While the evening was inclusive of this subject matter, many other things were discussed.
In an endeavor to promote a healthy and sustainable local living economy, a FTI is a good first step in this effort. This program is a great way for communities to connect regional agricultural producers with regional eaters at public schools, universities, hospitals and other large food service operations. Institutions purchase a large volume of food and typically serve more vulnerable populations (children, elderly and food insecure), which represents a market opportunity for regional producers.
Building upon some of the initial conversations inspired by the current exhibit at the gallery, How Food Moves, this dinner aims to bring select regional supply chain stakeholders together to discuss the "what if" of a Farm to Institution program in our region, how it might look, and the viability of the program.
As we planned the dinner, we knew one thing - we wanted to start a conversation, and hoped we could further the conversation. We look forward to others joining us in a collaboration of community stakeholders who want to be a part of an effort to create a more healthy and prosperous community for all.
Please let me know if you are interested in being a part of a further discussion that will expand upon a local living economy that has our South Jersey food supply chain at the forefront of the conversation.
Special thanks to Mary Salvante, Director of the Art Gallery for her gracious hospitality, to Megan Bucknum Ferrigno, who facilitated the stimulating conversation, and most especially to all of our guests who attended.