2021 INFAS Online Summit

INFAS hosted our first annual virtual online summit on February 6th, 2021. The theme was “transforming academia to support sustainable, sovereign and just food systems.” We had nearly 100 registrants and about 70 people participating, including dozens of prospective members.  The 90-minute agenda included:

  • A re/orientation to INFAS from the chair of the INFAS executive committee. This provided a quick recap of the network’s founding and first 10 years followed by a review of our reorganization starting in 2019. Watch a recording here.
  • An introduction to each of the new INFAS working groups (WGs): extension, research, education, justice, and organizational development. Each WG is chaired by a member of the INFAS executive committee.
  • An introduction to the planning process for the 2021 UN Food Summit and the seat that INFAS holds on the Action Track 4 (equity) planning committee.

Two sets of breakout sessions with each WG and about the UN planning. You can read short recaps from each session below.

Education Working Group Summary

The INFAS ED Working Group has aligned mission and functions with the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association (SAEA). There is now overlapping leadership / core members in both the Ed WG and the SAEA Steering Council designed to leverage the strengths and resources of both entities towards unified goals and activities. ED WG mission is to promote and support the development, application, research, and exchange of best teaching and learning practices in Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems education and curricula through communication, training, development, and collaborative activities for teachers and learners. The INFAS Summit session discussed the SAEA national conferences and workshops, the new SAEA website platform for resources for educators and students, and the Frontiers Special Topics Critical and Equity-Oriented Pedagogical Innovations in Sustainable Food Systems Education with new and existing INFAS members encouraged to submit manuscripts on this topic.

WG Chair is Damian Parr, dmparr@ucsc.edu.   

Extension Working Group Summary

Marcy Ostrom provided more context and detail about the “Taking the Pulse” project and Rich Pirog about potential partnership between INFAS and the Racial Equity in the Food System Working Group hosted at Michigan State. Most participants had a full or partial extension appointment. We discussed the need for extension to change at the national and state leadership level, in overall and specific ways (e.g., valuing long-term relationship building with few tangible “products” for reviews/promotion). We also discussed the need for specific guidance and models for more traditional local extension agents to make their programs more inclusive. WG chair is Lauren Gwin, lauren.gwin@oregonstate.edu.   

Justice Working Group Summary

Our sessions first discussed the role of the Justice group as a stand-alone WG, while also being a thread woven throughout all INFAS activities. Participants agreed that both the stand-alone WG, and the related activities in other WGs, are needed for accountability and assurance that INFAS stays true to its commitment to promote justice, equity, diversity and inclusion themes in all we do. We discussed that academic environments are often not a welcoming place for people of color, and the need for significant change. We will follow up with interested members for future meeting participation, which may include some strategic planning for the WG. WG chair is Julie Grossman, jgross@umn.edu.

Research Working Group Summary

The sessions discussed the Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems Special Topic issue: Achieving Food System Resilience & Equity in the Era of Global Environmental Change as an applied INFAS research activity. We discussed project details, including the justification for the initiative, INFAS sponsorship of published manuscripts by members, and the potential for a future conference or speaker series on this topic. The WG chair provided a summary of abstracts & manuscript types submitted to date, a "gap analysis" identifying what is missing from the current submissions relative to the original proposed scope of the Special Topic, and a solicitation of targeted submissions and request for recommendations of colleagues who might help address content gaps. In closing, the WG chair offered to organize a 1 hr. follow up discussion with interested participants to discuss submissions or future engagement with INFAS on this topic.  WG chair is Albie Miles, albie@hawaii.edu.

Professional/Organizational Development Working Group Summary

Primary discussion topics included:

  • The need to watch recruitment processes for four Sustainable Food System chair positions that were endowed by the WK Kellogg Foundation, as the current chairs are transitioning, i.e., Nancy Creamer, Tom Tomich, Mike Hamm, Casey Hoy. INFAS members could be tapped to serve on search committees. The Executive Committee chair and these chair holders are in touch with Kellogg about helping these positions stay true to the original endowment intent. Diversifying who might fill these positions is also a goal.
  • Universities are desperate for diverse candidates to fill faculty positions. As INFAS diversifies our members, the network can become a trusted source for candidates. 
  • To help support sustainability institutes and transdisciplinary food system work thrive on campuses, we could document and propose strategies for this, including that sustainable agriculture centers can align themselves with broader sustainability institutes and INFAS could provide mentoring for new center directors by our senior or retired “executive corps.”
  • INFAS could fund a grad student to develop an annotated bibliography on participatory action research to show that co-production of knowledge and different ways of knowing are sound research and pedagogy methods used extensively in multiple contexts and disciplines.
  • INFAS could help link USDA-funded working groups and research collaboratives  (ie: AOTM, for example)
  • INFAS needs an operable communications plan. 

WG chair is Michelle Miller, mmmille6@wisc.edu.

UN Track 4 Summary

Our session focused on the UN Food System Summit - its history, the messy politics, and the role that INFAS is (or should be) playing in the Action Track 4 on Equitable Livelihoods that we were invited to join for planning the 2021 Summit. Please contact us if you'd like to get more involved, learn more, or offer advice about how to be strategic with this process!  Lesli Hoey (lhoey@umich.edu) & Peter Hurst (peter.hurst@bluewin.ch)