Featured Leader: Sunny Baker, MS Farm to School Network
In 2018, Sunny Baker, Co-Director of the Mississippi Farm to School Network, joined 25 FSLN members at the Food Systems Leadership Retreat in New Orleans, LA, to learn systems leadership skills, connect with peers from across the region, and have space to reflect on personal and professional journeys. Over a year later, we asked Sunny to reflect on her experience at the retreat and share her dreams for what the future of food systems might look like in a post-COVID world. Thank you, Sunny, for taking the time to speak with us and for your ongoing efforts to lead school food reform, transform classrooms across the state, and create a new culture of regionally-based eating.
Reflections on the Systems Leadership Retreat
The Retreat had a focus on justice and equity, topics that I knew were deeply important, but did not have enough knowledge of to really dive deep into how they connected to food. The Retreat also introduced the concept of systems thinking to me, which has dramatically changed the way I think about my work and food in general. At the Retreat my mind was blown. I was exposed to an entirely new way of thinking – systems change. And within systems change, I was able to see exactly how equity could be the lens for all work. It was as if I slowly wiped the fog off of a window and I began to see my work and my role in that work in a whole new light. Not only did I learn about food justice and systems change, I also learned how to effectively guide community work and similar style meetings/events.
After the retreat, I immediately began to review each part of our work: Who did we partner with? How did we spend our money? Where were we focusing our work and how did we make those decisions? believe my time at the Retreat, along with a couple of other events that occurred in 2018 led me to being selected as a WK Kellogg Foundation Community Leadership Fellow, where I am diving even deeper into Equity and getting to share food systems work with the rest of the 80 person cohort. The Retreat has made our organization stronger both statistically and anecdotally. We have more participation in our programming, and deeper, stronger partnerships because of it.
Personally, my work has much more meaning now. My passion for this work has increased 10 fold and I love to get to share that with whoever will listen.
I feel like before I did the retreat my work was surface-level. I now define success in the light of a healing. To transform the food system we need to work towards healing those with generational trauma, healing the earth, and healing ourselves. This also means pushing back the powers that be, our leadership, our funders, our partners. The value of the Retreat, for me, meant an entire shift in the way I see the future.
Reflections on COVID-19
Now, almost two years later, the Coronavirus has exposed the greatest of weaknesses in our structure, including the food system. We are at a crossroads, an incredible opportunity to shine light on a different way of operating. I've learned from adrienne marie brown* and her Emergent Strategies, which I highly recommend for those in the food justice space, to dream big about the future. We can only facilitate transformational justice if we have visions of what we desire.
I desire many learnings from this hard time, but related to school food; I dream of Universal School Meals, prolific regional sourcing, fair wages for our school food service staff, farmers, and food system workers, and for all these home gardeners to keep up their beautiful new spaces!
I also hope all of my food justice colleagues can take care of their own needs first, you can only be your best to others if you are your best to yourself! In modeling self-care during this time, I hope you underachieve, stop to breathe, and constantly remind yourselves that these are not normal times and call for extra gentle care for your own mind and body.
PS. I highly recommend the podcast "How to Survive the End of the World" by adrienne and her sister autumn, "a podcast where we learn about the apocalypse with grace, rigor, and curiosity"
*note the purposeful lower case