USAIN Conference Reflection
By J. Oren, Graduate Student, San Jose State University School of Information
The 2022 USAIN virtual conference took place through a series of virtual meetings hosted through the University of Arkansas. This year’s conference theme was: Supporting Agriculture, Food, Fiber and Family. This virtual event did a wonderful job of providing a welcoming experience for all information professionals and presenters.
While the COVID-19 pandemic confined the conference to Zoom meetings, the only regret I experienced was not having the opportunity to visit the University of Arkansas in person (even in spite of the proclamations about the pollen count). As an MLIS student with interest and experience in agriculture, I attended with eyes wide open ready to learn from the multitude of presenters and speakers who were sharing work.
The keynote speaker, Dr Kara Young Ponder, discussed the importance of race in agriculture. She highlighted and exposed the history of the American food system. The social construct of race has been used historically to justify agricultural practices which reinforce racism, and oppression of workers and landowners alike. This was a session that opened a startling reality for me.
Dr. Young Ponder first explained how race was used as an identifiable marker to enslave forced labor, thus creating a foundation for racial injustice. Dr. Young Ponder expanded on the idea of race in agriculture by sharing how the forced internment of Japanese farmers during WWII created a food scarcity issue. This presentation struck a chord with the practices of agricultural economics in the San Joaquin Valley. Also, we see in the Sacramento valley the impact of the Japanese internment and the loss of agriculture resulting in lands being converted into housing and urban sprawl. When fields are converted into sidewalks and strip malls, there is not ever a return to food-producing fields. This also raises the question of food quality. When food is not grown locally, it must be transported, threatening nutrition and quality.
Because of the WWII issues, Victory Gardens were promoted to make up the difference in output from interned farmers. While Dr Young Ponder’s keynote address was much different from many of the other presentations in regards to its sociological content, it set an important tone for a conference which delved into information, economics, and land use practices. Much of the history of race and agriculture isn’t shared or exposed; this was the only presentation in the conference which touched on this subject, but the importance of knowing historical precedent and practice is a crucial component when studying equity in agriculture.
Although Dr. Young Ponder’s presentation was a lightning bolt for me, all presenters shared valuable information and insight into their work. I especially enjoyed the tour of the Turpentine Creek Animal refuge. While a zoom presentation to a exotic cat rescue refuge isn’t the best format to view these animals, the presentation was information-rich as well as unexpected in that it expanded my narrow ideas of what constitutes agriculture. This presentation demonstrates an example of the wide variety of agriculture represented at the conference.
This opportunity from USAIN made a life-altering impact on me. I thought I had a handle on the business and importance of agriculture, but my perspective, appreciation, outlook changed because of this opportunity. As a librarian, I know that I shall use the information and share the experience with those I serve in the community. I feel that I am a better advocate now.