After the lights dimmed on last year’s inaugural Light City festival—a weeklong celebration of arts and innovation featuring glowing installations, a six-day conference, and an impressive lineup of live performances—organizers turned to attendees for feedback.
Among the notes from the local business owners, academics, and artists surveyed were many that pertained to the conference topics. Though last year’s “Light City U” seminars shed light on everything from health and sustainability to creativity and social innovation, there were a few issues that visitors felt needed to be addressed in more detail.
“Food and education were the obvious topics that were most frequently cited,” says Jamie McDonald, volunteer chair of the Light City steering committee. “In particular as they related to issues like food access, e-commerce, and innovation, which are all a big part of the health and vibrancy of the city.”
In an effort to further explore our food systems, organizers are introducing [email protected] as one of the six conferences that will occur in conjunction with this year’s festival, happening March 31-April 8.
FoodLab, held at the Columbus Center on April 8, will unite local personalities with national names to shine a light on how what we eat shapes society in Baltimore and beyond.
“It’s kind of going to be like a who’s who of the Baltimore food scene,” McDonald says. “But the magic of what we’re doing is we’re putting local folks on the stage with some of the biggest names in the sector as peers.”
Among the nationally acclaimed chefs attending will be Food Network personality Jeff Henderson, who will deliver a keynote presentation on the power of culinary training for citizens transitioning into the workforce, and James Beard Award-winning author (and Chopped judge) Marcus Samuelsson, who will lead a special cooking demonstration.
Foodies will also recognize local culinary trailblazers including Dovecote Cafe co-owner Aisha Pew, Taharka Bros. Ice Cream founder Sean Smeeton, Dooby’s owner Phil Han, and Terra’s Kitchen founder Mike McDevitt, who will all participate in a panel discussion about the intersection of food and community.
Woodberry Kitchen owner and all-around sustainability champion Spike Gjerde, who clinched a James Beard Award of his own in 2015, will speak to the benefits of using the products of area farms. To further emphasize his stance, Gjerde will cater an entirely locally sourced lunch that costs the same to produce as the average meal in a school cafeteria.
“In many ways, our society has devalued food,” McDonald says. “We go for cheap and fast instead of trying to find the best quality.”
Another don’t-miss discussion will be led by Rev. Heber Brown, senior pastor at North Baltimore’s Pleasant Hope Baptist Church and founder of the Black Church Food Security Network. Brown will discuss the impact of his organization, which unites local churches and farmers to provide parishioners with access to healthy produce.
McDonald also notes that there will be a panel focusing on the flourishing food hub movement—something we’ve seen take off locally with spots like B-More Kitchen, Mount Vernon Marketplace, R. House, and the forthcoming Baltimore Food Hub in East Baltimore.
“Some of the most exciting thinking and innovation in the country is happening in Baltimore,” she says. “What we can help to inspire here can make its way out and help change the world.”
Along with the addition of the new seminars focusing on food and education, a scholarship-style ticket program has also been implemented this year in an effort to make all of the labs as inclusive as possible.
“We want anyone who wants to attend to be a part of the conversation,” McDonald says. “And we hope people walk away with a sense of connection to whatever point of view is most inspiring to them personally.”