Posts By Abbie Stutzer
Food equity is emerging as one of the most important social justice issues influencing the modern food system. It’s jarring that people throughout the United States are still unable to easily access healthy local produce when processed chips and soda can be bought at every corner store.
So Seedstock wanted to take the opportunity to recognize five organizations that are doing everything possible to get healthy, local produce in the hands of everyone who wants to eat well—no matter their location in a city.
1. Massachusetts Avenue Project & Growing Green
The Massachusetts Avenue Project & Growing Green’s (MAP) beginnings date all the way back to 1992. Although the Buffalo, New York organization’s start was modest—it was first classified as a “block club”—it is now a thriving nonprofit dedicated to growing food that nourishes while beautifying and bringing the neighborhood it resides in together. Although the organization has evolved over the years, it still aims to build food equity, while also engaging young people.
When the mushroom company he was growing for closed down its operation, Allyn Brown, who has been farming for nearly 40 years, wanted to find something similar to mushrooms that would provide him with year-round cash flow.
That’s when Brown decided to grow hydroponic lettuce. But he knew he had to learn how to run a hydroponic operation from an expert to become successful. So, he spent some time at Cornell learning from Lou Albright, a well-known hydroponic guru.
“I did a short course in hydroponics and started to convert my facility over to lettuce,” Brown says. “That got successful and within one year, it doubled in size.” He christened the operation, Maple Lanes Farms 2.
To meet demand, Brown immediately started looking for another greenhouse space.
Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa is dedicated to serving its patients, staff, and visitors the best food Iowa has to offer. And thanks to a few handfuls of local, Iowa farms, the hospital has been able to maintain that standard.
One of the companies that helps Mercy Medical obtain fresh produce and goods is Iowa Choice Harvest. The Marshalltown, Iowa company has partnered with the hospital since 2015. It is dedicated to helping farms across Iowa find customers and co-processes and co-packs for existing and start-up businesses in the Midwest.
“We began planning in 2006 and began production in 2013,” says Sung Hee Grittmann, sales coordinator for Iowa Choice Harvest. “Iowa Choice Harvest is the brainchild of an innovative group of farmers who are passionate about establishing a viable local food system while simultaneously supporting Iowa farmers and creating new economies.
Since the founding of Southern Foodways Alliance in 1999, the organization has focused on highlighting the attributes of southern food culture, featuring the work—edible and otherwise—of all types of southern writers, chefs, farmers and more.
Seedstock recently interviewed Melissa Hall, assistant director of the SFA, and found out how the SFA has grown over the years, how it remains funded and future goals of the organization.
Ross Harding and Howard Morrison decided to start a company together in 2012 after Harding hurt his neck. The problem? Neither were sure what they wanted to do. So, they met at Morrison’s family plantation—known as Lebanon Plantation, an acre of land that dates back to King George’s land grab in the 1700s—in Savannah, Georgia and had a talk. The friends discussed wellness, health, and good food.
After their conversation, the soon-to-be-business partners decided to use the land at the Plantation to organically grow two emerging “superfoods”—ginger and turmeric. Harding grew up in Australia close to fields of ginger, so he knew the spicy root would respond well to Georgia’s climate and the sandy soils near Savannah. Turmeric also grows well in warm, steamy climates. He says they chose the spices because they taste great and can easily be made into finished, value-added products.
ProduceRun co-founder and president William Pattison is no stranger to farming. His family has worked the land for four generations.
“ProduceRun started on our own family farm,” Pattison says. “We wanted a better way to be found, sell and distribute our farm products to the public. I feel that our technology can make a real difference for farmers, making it easier for them to do business, and creating easier access for buyers.”
Eric Kelly, founder of Charm City Farms, has always appreciated the great outdoors. Since he was a kid, Kelly dreamed of working outside with his hands and communing with critters. But when he became an adult, reality set in—he had to get a 9-to-5 job.
But Kelly’s life took a turn after he was in a car accident. He decided to make a change. So, he left his job and hiked part of the Appalachian trail. “I tried to reconnect to myself,” he says. “I already liked plants and had a great relationship with animals, but I wanted to learn more.”
In Hawaii, demand for locally grown food is pushing farmer Kerry Kakazu to grow upward. In 2013, Kakazu seeking to provide sustainable hydroponically grown food to a growing marketplace, launched his vertical farm, MetroGrow in Kakaako, Honolulu.
Initially skeptical of the economic feasibility of vertical farming, the stars eventually aligned and Kakazu determined that it was the right time to launch his operation.
“[…] I didn’t think a vertical farm could be economically feasible because of the energy cost of lighting at the time,” says Kakazu. “The events that triggered the start of the farm were the rising interest in local food production, the introduction of LEDs to lower the energy cost of lighting, and wanting to be involved with the local restaurant industry.”