Transition Greater New Haven uses Open Space to explore food and community self-reliance

The 2nd Open Space Community Think Tank — FOOD. Hard Times: Community Self-Reliance, was hosted by Transition Greater New Haven on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009. Here's a recap of the event from Bernard Brennan.

photoLast Saturday, Transition Greater New Haven co-sponsored our “Second Open Space Community Think Tank: FOOD” with the New Haven Bioregional Group.
The day consisted of three sessions of concurrent workshops and an incredible potluck lunch. A full proceedings report is available on our website
Our invitation took the form of a question, posed two different ways: "When the food trucks stop rollin', what's gonna keep us goin'?" and "How can we work together to create new jobs, beautify our neighborhoods, establish food security and build community by coming together around FOOD?"  
The event was hosted by the Common Ground School, a remarkable high school, urban farm, and environmental science center. In addition to their shared mission, they provided computer support and invaluable spaces (both a large congregation space and classrooms for workshops). 
Open Space events are far easier to plan that conventional conference, principally because the participants create the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, and then run the workshops themselves. Therein lies its power: combining passion with the responsibility to get something done. This is tangible community building. 
What will be the repercussions of this event? The Open Space format is all about inspiring our collective genius and community empowerment. In this movement, in can (and perhaps should) be hard to track, let alone control, all of the outcomes of such a gathering. However, the feeling that there was much hopeful work to be done was palpable at the closing of Saturday’s day-long event. 
Our initial Open Space last year precipitated the creation of a thriving alternative local currency (SHARE Haven Time Bank), and the formation of our officially-recognized transition initiative itself (visit for more info). 
kitchen photoFollowing this Food Open Space, the first meeting of a standing “Food Action Group” has already been scheduled for Thursday. It looks likely that a local school will become a demonstration site for a comprehensive “Food to School” initiative. Yardshare farming will begin (with or without the help of An organizer met someone with available space at the event and they are planning regular skill sharing classes -- part of our “skilling up for power down” aspirations. A local food co-op may come into being through the initial creation of an exploratory committee. And dynamic discussions were held on using public lands for growing food, organics recycling, foraging wild edibles, and regional food security.
If you are considering your own Open Space events, we have two primary recommendations. First, have at least your facilitator study Harrison Owen’s book “Open Space Technology: A User's Guide.” This is a necessary foundation for success. Second, it is crucial that your invitation be both carefully worded and comprehensively distributed. Make sure your allies are there, and make plenty of room for surprises. Although we have had limited experience with the Open Space format (just two events to date) we are convinced that it is an important catalyst for our transition initiative, and we have already scheduled our next Open Space in January (topic to be announced ;-) 
Bernard Brennan
Transition Greater New Haven

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More info:

Proceedings of the 2nd Open Space Community Think Tank: Food: Individual Reports (comments welcome) // Food Open Space Report.pdf (download)

(Photos courtesy of Maria Tupper)


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