local food systems
By September 30, 2017, the USDA plans to increase investments across its New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program by $5.6 billion over two years. During this period, targeted outreach and technical assistance initiatives aim to increase participation in the program by 6.6 percent.
“We’ve got a big challenge in front of us—new farmers are hard to find,” said Lilia McFarland, USDA New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program coordinator.
On a hot summer afternoon near Indianapolis, people start lining up early when the Gleaners Mobile Pantry truck pulls into a community partner parking lot. They may stand in line up to two hours to walk through the pop-up marketplace, where they can select dry goods and meats and fresh produce, when available, from the farmers’ market-style food pantry.
Kathy Hahn Keiner, chief programs and agency relations officer at Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, is one of the people running the Mobile Pantry program and often rides along to help set up the mobile marketplace. Gleaners has two refrigerated trucks and a fleet of smaller trucks that provide close to 300 mobile pantries a year.
“At a mobile pantry we’ll serve 150 to 200 families in a two-hour distribution. There may be three or four people to a family, so over 12 months that’s a lot of people. The most we’ve ever done at once is five on a Saturday, but that’s an awful lot,” Hahn Keiner says.
When 1 in 7 people are going hungry in a country that throws out half the food it produces, there isn’t a supply problem; there’s a distribution problem. This was part of the hypothesis tested in a 2011 study conducted by former University of Colorado students Caleb Phillips and Becky Higbee. By looking at data collected through a local food rescue organization, the study found that large volumes of food were going to waste in northern Colorado because there wasn’t a well-coordinated effort capable of catching that food before it became completely unusable. The research team showed that, with funding and adequate labor, organized food rescue and redistribution efforts were not only possible at small and large scales, they could also capture enough potentially wasted food in Boulder and Broomfield Counties to feed everyone in that area.
On the wings of this information, Phillips and Higbee joined with friends Nora Lecesse, Helen Katich, and Hana Dansky to form Boulder Food Rescue. The project began with the same systems-minded approach as the study. The BFR crew met with local grocery store officials, whose stores were trashing unsold food, and asked why they wouldn’t choose to donate it instead. Some blamed the rules of local food banks, which prohibited donations of produce outside of its original packaging. Many more grocery managers lamented that food gone past a supermarket’s saleable standards is too perishable to survive the extended journey from store to food bank to plate. As the study had already shown, timing was key.
When Tessa Edick was a young girl, she spent visits to her grandmother’s dairy farm in upstate New York pining over a big city life in which she would have her own elegant law office and manicured, dirt-free fingernails.
“Honestly, we were broke, and it was just smelly and embarrassing,” she says. “I wanted glamor and success. But a funny thing called life happened.”
As she grew into an ambitious communications professional, Edick found an unlikely synergy between her early farm experiences and her love of boutique culture. Beginning with her own label of specialty jarred sauces–Sauces N’ Love—that ended up selling in 4,000 stores nationally within its first five years, Edick continued to carve out a niche for herself as a food product development pro. She created lines for Tom Colicchio, Todd English, and several major retail companies, and in 2010 established her own consulting and development company called Culinary Partnership that offers everything from co-packing to TV production services.
Today, amidst the urban sprawl and paved over groves and ranches of yore, Orange County, CA residents might be surprised to learn that it is still possible to find cattle happily nibbling on grass and grazing the rolling pastures of 5 Bar Beef, a Silverado, CA-based ranching operation located in the Santa Ana Mountains. Residents can purchase 5 Bar Beef’s grass-fed, pasture-raised beef at several farmers’ markets in the county and online.
5 Bar Beef is something of a throwback, but the sustainable holistic grazing practices in use on the 800-acre ranch are entirely evidence-based — and Frank Fitzpatrick, owner and head cowboy in charge, believes that the techniques he uses offer hope for California’s water crisis and the planet at large.
Food hubs are financially viable forces for good in their communities providing locally grown to institutions, wholesale buyers, grocery stores, restaurants and other retail outlets. They also offer much needed infrastructure, aggregation, and marketing to enable small and mid-sized farms to achieve and maintain economic sustainability.
These conclusions were among the results of the 2015 National Food Hub Survey of more than 150 food hubs across the U.S. The report was released on May 12 by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. Seedstock recently spoke with the center’s director, Rich Pirog, to learn more about the report’s findings and the future of food hubs.
Growing up in the corn and soy fields of rural Indiana, Andy Schwartz has seen first-hand what large-scale farming can do to soil quality. But it wasn’t until he managed farms of his own and made his own compost that Schwartz realized the role large-scale composting could play in keeping the quality of soil high and protecting the environment.
“When I made enough compost for myself and the food waste kept coming in I realized that I had to come up with a plan,” he says. “The plan was and is to keep valuable organic materials out of the landfill and use them to create a healthy growing medium for plants. Heirloom tomatoes and peppers from my garden are a much better outcome for food waste than producing methane gases and harmful leachates in a landfill.”
Determined to “feed the food that feeds you,” Schwartz studied successful composting projects around the country and launched Grow.Eat.Repeat, a compost pick-up company in Savannah, Georgia. With more than 300 restaurants, 100 hotels, and 50-plus schools in the city, Schwartz had no trouble identifying his primary market.
A public school district in Southern California is enhancing its curriculum with an interactive learning center known as “Farm Lab.”
The Encinitas Union School District is rolling out the mixed-use educational space on a donated 10-acre plot of land in the prominent horticultural hub of Encinitas, California. Central to the plan is a roughly five acre educational garden that will produce fresh organic produce for the district’s school lunch program. The lunch garden will eventually be complemented by a nutrition lab, a science lab, a maker’s lab for visiting students, an educational space for local organizations, a one acre community garden, and a one acre hands-on educational garden. The site is also bordered by a food forest that will be used to grow other organic produce for the community.
Farm Lab has been in the “pilot phase” since the end of the 2014-2015 school year and has so far leveraged its space as a tool for offering hands-on lessons and experiential learning to students at all nine elementary schools in EUSD. Farm Lab Director Mim Michelove says Farm Lab is using a “D.R.E.A.M.S.” approach to education that focuses lessons on Design, Research, Engineering, Arts, Math, and Science. The hope is that students can spend an entire day in a centralized location and experience a variety of educational activities that require more time than typical classroom lessons.