2017 Food for Thought Conference Recap


An Energizing Boost for Farmers, Producers and the Local Food Movement from the Georgia Farmers Market Association.
A Report by Laurie Wakefield, Gwinnett County Master Gardener
Photo Credit, Warren Cameron, 5 Acre Studios

At the end of 2017, the Georgia Farmers Market Association (GFMA) hosted its second
Food for Thought Conference. It was my privilege to help the association coordinate and promote the conference as well as the Celebration of Farmers and Local Producers that followed the conference on Friday evening.
Two hundred participants, including farmers, producers, and local food advocates, attended the two-day conference; enthusiasm was high and participants were eager to learn and share their own knowledge and experience.
Throughout the conference, I heard two common themes expressed: Keynote speakers’, presenters’ and attendee’s statements echoed their shared passion to impact and serve their communities by growing responsibly, raising awareness and improving local food systems. I also heard similar versions of the statement, “I learned over time, grew through my experience and my performance improved, here’s how...” All were generous with their time and eager to help one another.


Keynote speaker Ken Dawson said, “In addition to making our living, we must improve upon the land that supports us, teach younger growers to do the same, and feed the community in which we live.” Ken has been farming, selling at farmers markets and serving in leadership roles for these markets over 30 years. During his keynote session he shared photos and specific tips and techniques for selling produce at farmers markets that he has learned through the years. Following his presentation, Ken was an active participant in the conference.


Keynote speaker, Dr. Leni Sorensen, a culinary historian, teacher, consultant and writer, said her philosophy is “to pass on the stuff I know.” During her keynote, Leni shared entertaining stories and photos from her life while describing the rural life skills that she inherited and learned along the way. At one point during her presentation Leni asked for a show of hands, “how many of you have a cast iron pan?” then she replied, “I have 40.” In addition to her keynote session, Leni answered questions and coached attendees over lunch and an informal Q&A session.


Sessions on a variety of topics designed for farmers, homesteaders, market managers, and food advocates took place over two days. Presentations were made by a variety of leaders and experts including the University of Georgia faculty and members of the UGA Cooperative Extension, representatives from the Atlanta Community Food Bank, and various farmers and market managers! Powerful networking and idea sharing took place during lunches and between sessions, then extended into the celebration event on Friday evening.


The Celebration of Farmers and Local Producers followed the conference on Friday evening at the Hudgens Center for Art and Learning. Participants mingled among the artwork of Elizabeth Catlett, enjoyed live music by local independent soul jazz artist and farmer, AjaRay, and enjoyed delicious, locally produced cocktails and food, prepared by local chefs.