Your Place at the Table

Your Place at the Table
Words by Elizabeth Sturgeon
Photos provided by
 Laura Núñez remembers eating a seemingly endless supply of blueberries in a central Florida field. Nearby, her parents filled their buckets with berries over long days under the same summer sun. While she ate her own supply, she also watched the workers spend countless hours laboring with almost no time to rest.

That’s just one voice in the conversation about the food system. Now an administrative and program assistant for the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, Laura works for an organization that collects these voices, those of rural farmers, market managers, new gardeners and simply the curious eaters, so that people may learn from each other by discussing the beauties of food growth and addressing the injustices present.

ASAN will host their statewide Food & Farm Forum at Camp McDowell on December 6-8, and this is their biggest event of the year. “The forum is a good, tangible look at what ASAN does. It feels like equal parts education and relationship building,” Alice Evans, ASAN’s executive director, says. There will be a diverse selection of educational sessions, ranging from hydroponic farming to herbal medicine to vegan cooking.

Since its beginning in 2001, ASAN sprouted from the mind of the farmer. The network was established by farmers who wanted support for alternative, sustainable farming methods. Through the network, they can share ideas and turn to each other. “It definitely started as a farmer-centric organization and has remained that way, but we’ve always put one foot into being a full food-system organization,” Alice says. ASAN expands their conversations to include the steps after the farm itself, all the way to the consumer. “You have to have everyone at the table representing all parts.”

They moved into their East Lake United Methodist office about two years ago, now surrounded by the other businesses housed there and the church’s own organizations. It sounds like an odd placement, but ASAN blends into the environment. With its own farmer’s market every Saturday, East Lake United Methodist provides local fruits and veggies in an area where fresh food is hard to come by and delivers produce and recipes to senior living homes around the area.

A new addition to this year’s event is the Youth Farm & Forum, created and run by young people (ages 14 to 21) interested in the food system. “It has to be intergenerational to be resilient,” Laura explains about farming techniques, and she’s excited to see youth participants discuss and run with some cool ideas. They’ve planned educational sessions about seed planting and systematic equity, along with hands-on activities like a butchering session. (Yes, they’re butchering a pig.)

One of the beauties in ASAN’s mission and especially the forum is that there’s something for everyone— the vegetarians and the livestock farmers, the life-long gardeners and the consumers. Any participants with some interest in what’s on their plate will find “their people” that they share a connection with. “They’re taking out time that is precious and rare to come gather like this,” Mindy Santo, an ASAN program assistant, says about the farmers. So, people are encouraged to bring their families along to have local food and good conversation.

Even more than the notes people take at the sessions, the personal connections are what ASAN’s looking forward to as always. The Food & Farm Forum provides a mixture of discovering your own niche interest and challenging yourself to see a new view or issue. And it ends with eating around a table or chatting around the campfire. “We can all come pause and celebrate together,” Alice says.

To learn more about the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network and to register for the Food & Farm Forum, visit