National Farmers Union Conference on Cooperatives

Hello, my name is Jon Shina, and I am currently a Farm and Food Systems Major at Greenfield Community College, and I am also currently employed at Franklin Community Cooperative. It’s been a long road that has lead me to being both back in school and working at a member owned cooperative grocery store. Back in 2008, I was living in Brooklyn trying to make it as an artist and working full time as a mover. One of my coworkers at the time was a raw foodist, and one day he invited me over to have a juice from his juicer. I was blown away by this juicer (the omega masticating juicer if you’re curious), and I quickly got one as a surprise present for my birthday from my girlfriend Shannon. It was so exciting, and we rushed down to the nearest market, and bought all the random fruits that you could imagine. After juicing random concoctions for a few weeks, our friend Deanna told us about organic food, and sent us a video of an interview with Michael Pollan to watch. That 1 hour long video was the beginning of the beginning! Shortly after our viewing, we bought a copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which lead us to countless other books on topics like food and food systems, billions of hours of food docs on Netflix, weekly visits to farmers markets, and becoming members for the first time at a food Coop in Brooklyn. And finally, our passion for healthy food, food justice, and stewardship for the environment took us out of Brooklyn, and brought us to rural Western Massachusetts, where Shannon and I are now both back in school learning about everything food related. So it has been a fascinating 7 years of learning about where food comes from, and the food system’s impact on global/national markets and the environment. I had an amazing eye opening experience being at the Nation Farmers
Union 2015 Conference on Cooperatives! I wasn’t really even sure what I was attending, or what I was going to learn. I tried to have no expectations except for the fact that Minneapolis is the Mecca of Coops. The conference was an immense learning experience, and all of the speakers were poignant and they all really drove home the benefits of the cooperative business model. BUT, the real amazing experience for me was meeting all of the other college students from states that I have never been to in the Midwest! I met kids from North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and many other states. The majority of students that I met grew up on farms, usually large scale ones, and they where all attending college for some sort of Agriculture Management. I need to be perfectly honest here, I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb at the conference. I am a 33 year old student who grew up in a suburb of Boston where there was maybe one farm in my town which was probably inactive and more used for a tax exemption rather than producing anything. Then, for the majority of my adult life, I lived in cities during a time when urban farming didn’t even exist yet, nor did I know where my food came from, and I was living in Food deserts, and totally oblivious to what was happening to the environment around me. Jeez, I only started gardening two summers ago! Needless to say, my life experiences have been very different from, say, my roommate Chris during the conference who was only 19, grew up raising livestock, and has barely left North Dakota. This was my takeaway from the conference, meeting young farmers and the children of farmers who own large scale farms like the ones that I initially read about in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. No longer where these farmers just an abstract character in some book or Food Doc, but instead these where real people, with different life experiences, backgrounds, and knowledge then me, and here we were having very long and meaningful conversations about growing food, and the food system that we all live in. I personally would categorize myself more in the Permaculture background of gardening and farming, although I still very much consider myself an amateur. That being said, I had numerous great discussions with various conventional farmers, who again, tend to land in the hundreds to thousands of acres. Our conversations were very interesting, with both sides explaining their views on the subject on hand. All conversations were very polite and engaging, with no one side arguing for whose philosophy was better. It was truly a learning experience, and I now have a very good understanding of who these farmers are and what they stand for. And that is my eye opening take away from the NFU 2015 Conference on Cooperatives.