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Exploring Food and Community: #colgatefoodtrip

By Chris Henke on May 26, 2016

Since joining the Upstate Institute as faculty director (nearly one year ago already!), I’ve really enjoyed chances to bring together my interests in food and community with the local goals and needs of our Upstate community. Our Summer Field School, which is just about to kick into gear for the 2016 season, features several projects centered around food in our region, including collaborations with the Partnership for Community Development, Madison County’s Planning Department, and Cooperative Extension’s Agricultural Economic Development program. You will be able to read more about these projects right here, as students will be posting about their work later this summer!

This week, however, I’m packing my bags, preparing to leave Upstate, NY for eleven days on a trip with six other Colgate faculty, to explore issues of food, community, and culture in three Midwestern U.S. cities—St Louis, Chicago, and Detroit.

Supported by Colgate’s Kallgren Fund, which provides funding for group faculty travel, we will visit a range of groups and sites in each city to learn more about how food has shaped the past, present, and future of each place. My faculty colleagues participating in the trip include Ben Anderson (Economics), April Baptiste (Environmental Studies), Antonio Barrera (History), Rob Nemes (History), Peter Rogers (University Libraries), and Mark Stern (Educational Studies). We will leave on May 31 and return on June 11, spending 3-4 days in each city, road tripping between each site.

Why this topic, and why these three cities? Over the past decade and more, a series of food-centered movements have taken hold in the U.S. Farmers markets, community gardens and farms, artisanal food and drink producers, foodie culture—each of these trends have become more and more prominent in recent years, reflecting, in part, increased desires among eaters to know more about their food and how it was produced. Related concerns with the industrialization, inequity, and long-term sustainability of our food systems have also created a context for political action and community organization around common interests in food justice and sovereignty. While these trends are happening in Colgate’s own Upstate region, urban centers like the Midwestern cities we plan to visit are especially prominent in these movements, providing both a scope and a concentration that will allow us to experience and learn a lot in a relatively short period of time. St Louis, Chicago, and Detroit are also great sites for understanding the ways that deindustrialization, immigration, and racial and ethnic inequality have shaped food and community in these locations.

As we visit each city, I will be thinking about ways to bring back ideas, stories, and models for my classes, my research, and my work through the institute and in our community. I know that my colleagues on the trip have the same goals, and I can’t wait to see how our experiences on the trip influence the ways that we live in this community when we return. (I plan to eat a lot of great food, too.)

Want to join us? We don’t have room in our van to bring everyone, but you can join us virtually by following the Twitter hashtag: #colgatefoodtrip. You don’t actually need to have a Twitter account to follow the tweets—just click on the link. I will post pictures and updates along the way, showing some of the sites and scenes. Here’s a sample from a day trip we took to Utica earlier this spring:


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