Sweet Water Foundation Presents at the 6th Annual Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference

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On Friday, March 16, 2018, two Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) representatives traveled to Boston to present at the 6th Annual Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference organized by the Urban Farming Institute and Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. More than 500 attendees gathered at Bunker Hill Community College to learn about the current state of urban farming and discuss ways to cultivate a resilient and thriving urban farming community.

Devontae Phillips, a graduate of SWF’s Apprenticeship Program, union carpenter, and mentor with Sweet Water Foundation,and Executive Director and Co-Founder, Emmanuel Pratt were invited to engage in two full days of presentations, workshops, and connections with conference attendees. Highlights from the conference are detailed below.



Lunchtime Keynote: Radical [Re]Constructions: Revaluing Food, Farming, Family, and Future

Emmanuel Pratt was asked to be the Lunchtime Keynote Speaker on the first day of the conference. During his presentation, titled “Radical [Re]Construction: Revaluing Food, Farming, Family, and Future”, he challenged urban farms to become more than just farms and to rethink the value of urban farming in our communities. Over time, Sweet Water Foundation has become an example of urban farming that is more than just food production. SWF engages in farming as part of its practice of regenerative neighborhood development, as well as a way to connect the past, present, and future. The possibilities of urban farming as a neighborhood development strategy is particularly powerful in once-blighted neighborhoods like that of SWF’s Perry Ave Commons site. Emmanuel says, “there’s an interesting phenomenon with a kid who remembers something they haven’t experienced. It’s remembering what it is to be human, remembering what food should taste like.” A critical aspect of ‘Radical [Re]Construction’ is cultivating community-consciousness via active and participatory neighborhood development. By connecting with other urban farms across the country at convenings like the Urban Farming Conference, SWF shared its practice in an effort to revalue our food system with future generations in mind.


Devontae Phillips presents during the opening session of the Youth and Urban Farming Workshop.

Devontae Phillips presents during the opening session of the Youth and Urban Farming Workshop.

Opening Session for Youth and Urban Farming Workshop

On day two of the conference, Devontae Phillips led the opening session, “Paving Your Own Pathways,” for more than 40 local high school students. During the session, he shared his path to entrepreneurship and the way his experience at Sweet Water Foundation has given him leadership skills as he worked to rebuild the community. Devontae represents one of many young people who have been impacted by the work of Sweet Water Foundation. His presentation demonstrated to young attendees the way their career paths and leadership skills can be developed through work at urban farms.


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Hands-On, Fractal Seating Workshop

Throughout the conference, participants were given the option to participate in a variety of hands-on workshops. On day two, Devontae led a hands-on, fractal seating workshop with mroe than 20 conference attendees.

The Fractal Seating concept was developed out of the collective work and principles of A Fair Land with the intention to reclaim space using discarded, “waste” materials. The Workshop represents Sweet Water Foundation’s focus on re-creating educational spaces. The practice is rapidly spreading - from Dublin, to Chicago, and now to Boston. As the number of people who know how to build fractal seats grows exponentially, our spaces will also transform exponentially.

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Fractal seating challenges participants to reclaim spaces they interact with on a daily basis with “waste” materials. Devontae showed workshop participants how to assemble the fractal seat and then offered participants an opportunity to imagine ways the seats could transform their own spaces. SWF encourages urban farms to take the fractal seating lesson beyond the workshop to [re]create and transform their communities.

Closing Panel: The State of Urban Farming
On the last day of the conference, Emmanuel joined two other panelists for the Urban Farming Conference Closing Panel to discuss: “The State of Urban Farming : Where Are We and What’s Next?” During the dialogue, Emmanuel reminded urban farmers of the importance and need to see each other and connect with each other. Just like the fractal seating concept, if we stay connected and support each other, our communities can be drastically transformed.

Jia Li Pratt