Saturday, March 25, 2023

Grateful for the Adirondack Food Justice Summit

Benita Law Diao

In March, The Heart Network had the privilege of participating in the 2023 Adirondack Food Justice Summit, organized by the Adirondack Health Institute and the Adirondack Food System Network, and hosted at The Wild Center. This year’s theme was “Feed Back: Food is Health” — a theme that strongly parallels The Heart Network’s Creating Healthy Schools & Communities (CHSC) priorities in Franklin County.

The one-day event zeroed in on “food as medicine,” highlighting programs and initiatives across the Adirondack region aimed at strengthening our food systems to reduce food insecurity — without compromising population health. In fact, much of the discussion spoke to strategies that can improve health while also advancing equity in our food systems. One such strategy is the implementation of Food RX models in our communities, which involves healthcare providers working with patients to connect them to healthy local food sources. One of the two keynote speakers — Benita Law Diao — challenged participants to examine more closely the barriers that prevent people from accessing nutritious foods and physical activity.

Of particular note was Devon Mihesuah’s presentation on Indigenous Food Sovereignty. Food security and Indigenous Food Sovereignty are fraught with tension for many North American Native communities. How do Native communities define and revive traditional foodways when so many don’t even have enough food and fresh clean water daily? Who do we really mean when we are using the word “Indigenous?” Who and what we call ourselves is evolving as we discuss food culture. As North American Native people continue to reconnect and revive traditional foodways it is also clear that the careless, neglectful and violent ways the lands North American Native communities were marginalized to are often so polluted and depleted that these traditional food sources are no longer available. Devon cautions those of us working to identify, understand and support food systems that work for our communities, to remember to care for ourselves as well.

As coordinator for The Heart Network’s CHSC program, my primary concern is finding and implementing strategies that increase access to healthy food and physical activity — work that boils down to equity. If we can create food systems that are accessible to the most vulnerable members of our communities, then it follows that we can build food systems that everyone can access. I’m so grateful to the organizers of the Food Justice Summit for amplifying this message.

To learn more about the Adirondack Food System Network, visit

Kat Harkins is Community Health Improvement Coordinator at The Heart Network in Saranac Lake. To learn more about its Creating Healthy Schools & Communities program, get in touch:

Photo of Benita Law Diao by Kris Parker/Adirondack Explorer

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

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