Reflections on the Breakthrough Leaders Program in Sustainable Food Systems

Guest blog post from Sheree Martin, student in our June 2012 Breakthrough Leaders Program for Sustainable Food Systems. She is an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, a lawyer, and grew up on a farm in North Alabama.

My mind was overflowing with information, ideas and plans as I flew home from Burlington after my week with the Breakthough Leaders Program.

The experience really was–and continues to be–both life-changing and life-affirming because it validated and reinforced my commitment to changing our food system. On a practical level, I now have a much better understanding of how to move forward to make my goals for sustainable local foods a reality.

Two key takeaways:

1. Sustainable local food systems are already becoming a reality.

It’s empowering to know that small-scale, sustainable agriculture has returned as a viable business model and is something I can pursue as an entrepreneurial farmer and promote as a policy leader in Alabama.

The opportunity to meet and hear these and other business and social entrepreneurs was huge:

The Intervale Center is nurturing new farmers and new distribution models
Vermont Soy has built a business on locally-sourced organic soybeans
Fletcher Allen is preparing and serving local foods to patients, staff and others without increasing costs
● The diversified, human-scale Bread and Butter Farm shows what a family farm can be and offer to the community.

2. A network of food system change advocates exists. 

As a result of the Breakthrough Leaders Program, I feel much better-equipped to tap into the existing network at the state and national leadership level so I can put my talents to work for maximum effect.

In the past 2-3 weeks….
I’ve been meeting with food systems change advocates in my state. I’ve already found opportunities where I can be a part of efforts to lead food policy discussions that are in the planning stages for my state. And I’m taking steps to help ramp up the pace and scope of these efforts.

I wake up every day excited about what I have on my agenda to bring about food system change in Alabama, the Southeast and beyond.

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