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August 2010

In this issue

   
  1. WhyHunger and the NGFN team up on healthy food systems
  2. California food hubs now planning statewide network
  3. Food value chain educators preparing a set of teaching tools
  4. Save these dates!
  5. Food Safety Report
  6. Good Food Media Digest

 

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Stories

WhyHunger and the NGFN team up on healthy food systems

WHY Hunger logoConnecting low income communities to the resources and relationships necessary for rebuilding local food systems is one way in which the 35-year-old international organization WhyHunger pursues its mission to eliminate hunger. It's also the reason that a natural collaboration is now forming between WhyHunger's Grassroots Action Network and the National Good Food Network.

Brooke Smith, director of the Grassroots Action Network, says the NGFN provides access to learning from across the country about how to scale up local food systems, which WhyHunger is working with communities to build. But even more, the NGFN is an avenue for sharing the food system learning and quality products from these communities with the world, she said.

"The NGFN opens the door to some really rich collaborations," Smith said. National connections to others who are also doing and learning can be transformative, she said.

WHY Hunger studentWhyHunger has been working over the past year with residents in southeast Arizona and the Mississippi Delta to develop community-directed plans for addressing high rates of diet-related diseases and poverty with more local, fresh, and healthy foods. Breaking the isolation of farmers in the region, particularly minority farmers, and promoting the valuable assets available in their communities, is a key part of breaking the cycle of poverty. 

"Historically, agriculture has been a very extractive process for the Delta; you grow something, ship it out, and the money goes into someone else's pocket," Smith said. "Now we're building new systems for localizing products and the economic benefits of selling them. The NGFN’s role is in connecting to partners who have a market for these products and can convince people to grow it because there is a market for it."

"I was elated to get the call from WhyHunger's partners in Arizona to discuss a national collaboration," said NGFN coordinator Marty Gerencer. "Our NGFN regional leads have a track record of success in getting more healthy food into low access rural and urban areas of this country, which is having an impact on local economies and improving the health of families and communities," she said.

MS Delta from spaceThe NGFN also has much to learn. "My trip to the Delta was life changing, and it was gratifying to learn that sharing of some of our market-based models would be valuable to the regional team there. There is also tremendous opportunity is to learn from our friends in the Delta and from WhyHunger about how best to move regional food systems work forward.”

In the Mississippi Delta, WhyHunger is now making seed funding available to implement projects that community members developed through the Future Search process of bringing diverse people together for cooperative action planning. WhyHunger works with local partners Delta State University and the community-based Mississippians Engaging in Greener Agriculture (MEGA).

"For us, the real work is around building and sustaining this foundation of local people coming together as a unit to pursue a common plan," Smith said. "We're really excited to be moving into the implementation phase now, standing firmly on this foundation."

For more information e-mail us at contact@ngfn.org.

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California food hubs now planning statewide network

Food and farm entrepreneurs across the country are increasingly building the availability of healthy, fresh and local products through the use of regional food hubs, or central locations for aggregating, storing, processing, and distributing food from nearby producers.

Now a group of such hubs in California is taking steps to further increase the flow and sustainable business prospects of local foods with a plan to build a statewide network of regional food hubs.

UEPI logoThe effort is a project of the Southern California Good Food Network (SCGFN), which formed over the past two years as a regional lead team of the National Good Food Network. The Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College in Los Angeles, led the charge in developing this network for sharing ideas, resources, and contacts.

With some 24 active members, the SCGFN has built a powerful regional food system base of farmers, distributors and others connected to it. In an inventory last year of its network resources, for example, the SCGFN found its reach spans access to 1,000 growers, five produce wholesalers/distributors, 30 warehouses, 130 trucks, four processors, 20 farmers’ markets and other retail outlets, 45 school customers, 54 other institutional food buyers, 45 restaurant customers, and 1,620 CSA members.

San Diego Growers logoOne SCGFN member is the Tierra Miguel Foundation Farm near San Diego, which is working with the San Diego Growers network to design and build a regional food hub. Jonathan Reinbold, director of Tierra Miguel Foundation Farm, has been at the Southern California Good Food Network table and has watched the idea for a statewide food hub network grow into an action plan.

"As our regional network developed, we noticed all these food distribution projects emerging or coming to the forefront throughout southern California," he said. The group of hubs involves some that have been in business for years, as well as new projects, such as the San Diego Growers' planned location. "We were already working together through the Southern California Good Food Network, so we decided to focus a project on how to network these aggregation and distribution efforts," Reinbold said.

Roots of Change logoFurther funding from USDA’s Risk Management Agency, Roots of Change, and the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute helped the SCGFN pull together a vision document that includes a draft strategic implementation plan. Organizers are now vetting this document with state and national partners and advisors, including local government leaders, farmers, distributors, institutional buyers and others who would have a stake in it, including food hub groups in other parts of the state.

ALBA"We started as a smaller southern California group of food hubs," said the UEPI's Sharon Cech. But it has expanded with involvement from a northern California constellation led by the Agriculture and Land Based Training Association (ALBA) from the Salinas Valley, another NGFN regional lead team. From there, the idea grew to a statewide concept.

A statewide food hub network could really ramp up the availability of fresh and healthy foods while making local markets easier and more attractive to producers as well as buyers, such as schools and hospitals, Cech said.

"The purpose is also to improve the efficiency of individual food hubs and make each of them more sustainable," she adds. Potential savings include those that can come from sharing technology, such as database and web management, and from sharing staff training, third-party audit costs, marketing expenses, and even processing equipment and product labels.

Jonathan ReinboldThe ultimate outcome of this food hub networking is stronger regional food systems across the state, said Jonathan Reinbold. "We have a really fantastic group in San Diego devoted to building a regional food system that meets our local needs primarily but that also supports the rest of southern California's foodshed and, from there, a potential network of California foodsheds."

For more information e-mail us at contact@ngfn.org or Sharon Cech at cech@oxy.edu.

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Food value chain educators preparing a set of teaching tools

There is now so much entrepreneurial spirit and community wisdom driving food and farm businesses to work more closely and collaboratively. The Wallace Center and the USDA are working together to capture and share the best of this knowledge.

Cerner OfficeA group of 32 experts gathered together in Kansas City for an intensive, three-day work session in late July organized by the Wallace Center at Winrock International and the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. Their task: To put what practitioners in the field know about "values-based food supply chains" into everyday language and easy-to-use tools.

It was the second and final "writeshop" that the Wallace Center and USDA-AMS have hosted as part of an ongoing research collaborative. A writeshop brings together on-the-ground practitioners for several days of taking all they know out of their heads and organizing it into guidebooks, videos, and other practical tools for sharing knowledge.

The topic in this case is the values based food supply chain, or food value chain. In such chains, growers, distributors, buyers and others recognize they must rely on and support each other if they are to deliver the environmental, social, and economic accountability that consumers increasingly want with their food. Farmers in food value chains, for example, are no longer anonymous input suppliers but valued and strategic partners in the process of bringing healthy, green, fair, affordable food to market.

Ag of the MiddleThe first Wallace-AMS writeshop, held last November, resulted in a comprehensive reference document on food value chains. The USDA is now working to turn the draft into a full-fledged guide for release later this winter. The second writeshop, last month in Kansas City, resulted in the mock-up of five different tools that businesses, educators, and organizers could use to demonstrate what food value chains are and how they work. The guide and tools will join a growing body of work on food value chains by researchers with such organizations as the Agriculture of the Middle project, the Center for Integrative Agriculture Systems, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the Sustainable Food Lab, and the University of Kent in the United Kingdom.

Writeshop 2One of the proposed tools to come out of the July writeshop is a multi-media resource. Through a menu of graphics and videos, it would provide a broad look at the food value chain universe along with close-up views of what such chains look and feel like to different businesses in them. Another proposed tool is a game in which players take on the roles of producer, distributor, and buyer in the food value chain. Players experience the consequences of decisions they make in a triple-bottom-line world, where they must accumulate social and environmental capital while also making money.

Writeshop participants tailored three other proposed tools to specific audiences for specific reasons. One is for approaching community foundations to gain their understanding and support of food value chain work. Another is for teaching extension and other educators how to introduce limited-resource farmers to the food value chain idea in a respectful, inclusive way. The last one, for experienced food value chain practitioners, is designed to help these business leaders help each other address issues that can arise as food value chains mature.

Writeshop participants are now testing out these tool ideas in their everyday work while Wallace and AMS look for funding to develop the tools further and get them out in the world. Participants and writeshop organizers will keep in touch and continue co-developing the tools through an online discussion board.

For more information, contact research collaborative coordinator Michelle Frain Muldoon at the Wallace Center: mfmuldoon@winrock.org or 703-302-6587.

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Save these dates!

CFSC Conference in NOLACommunity Food Security Coalition Conference in New Orleans, Oct 16-19

Come on down to New Orleans October 16-19 for the fourteenth annual Community Food and Security Conference. With a full plate of tours, workshops, pre-conference sessions and more, the organization that has led national organizing around food, culture, and justice invites you to come and experience "the gumbo that unites us all!"

It Takes a Region ConferenceIt Takes a Region: Northeast regional food system convening in Albany, NY, Nov 12-13

The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) convenes this November 12-13 meeting of practitioners and advocates in the northeast to explore the concept and reality of regional food systems: What they are, and why and how to build them. The event in Albany, NY includes pre-conference trainings on Nov. 11. NESAWG is a regional lead team of the National Good Food Network, convening the full spectrum of food buyers, producers, distributors, community leaders and more.

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Food Safety Report

Steve WarshawerEach month, Steve Warshawer, food safety coordinator for the National Good Food Network, writes a regular column on the status of new and changing food safety regulations. A farmer and food distributor, Steve is focused on the challenge of developing food safety rules that work for food producers as well as food regulators.

There has not been much movement on food safety legislation or other food safety projects that the NGFN is tracking, though there is some promise of a Senate bill finally passing (for instance, see this article). As always, though, I have a full monthly food safety report where I go into some more details.

You may remember that last month I mentioned that the NGFN and United Fresh Produce (UFP) decided to try an experiment: allow any member of the public to "virtually" attend a meeting of the UFP GAP Harmonization process. The experiment was successful! Several people logged on - some for longer than others - to listen in on the Technical Working Group's discussion. Attendees were also able to see the same computer screen that we saw in the meeting room. Most importantly, attendees typed their questions and comments to me right in the meeting. I was able to relay that information to the entire Technical Working Group in real time.

United Fresh ProduceBecause we found such success, we're doing it again. We're opening the entire two-day meeting up to the public, August 25-26, entirely for FREE. The UFP process has, all along, been extremely inclusive, and this is just another indication of their willingness for all voices to be heard. You can participate in the actual meeting where we are defining the GAP standard. This is an innovative and exciting opportunity and if you have any interest, I hope you take some time to join us. Note: even though the meetings will run from 9a-5p Eastern time on the first day, and 8:30a-about 2p on the second, you are not obligated to attend the entire meeting.

To participate in this exciting opportunity, you need only to make sure that you register for the United Fresh GAP Harmonization Technical Working Group August 25-26. You will be given instructions on how to connect to the meeting upon your registration.

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Good Food Media Digest

POLICY

Local Governments Support Sale of Local Food

Governor GranholmMichigan's “Governor Granholm signs a bill today that allows small farmers and home cooks to sell their goods without getting a state license. The law is supposed to make it easier for people to sell homemade food products at farmers markets and roadside stands, as long as they make less than $15,000 dollars a year at it.” [Source: http://ipr.interlochen.org/ipr-news-features/episode/8974]

USDA Launches 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ Blog

Ideas and Stories - KYF blogCalled "Ideas and Stories" administrators from various departments, including the Office of the Secretary, Economic Research Service,  Natural Resources Conservation Service and others, share their efforts to connect consumers to producers, and support local and regional food systems. Be sure to catch the post where Rayne Pegg mentions the Wallace Center's Farmers Market efforts! [See: http://kyf.blogs.usda.gov/ ]

Sustaining an Ethical Food Chain

“Currently seen as an inalienable right, abundant, low-cost food in Europe and America required policymakers, food companies, agri-giants and supermarket bosses to sign a pact that has had stark consequences for billions of people and the environment.” [Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/14/sustaining-ethical-food-chain]

Senate Passes Child Nutrition Bill. Now What?

“In a big victory for students everywhere, school lunch may finally be moving away from gross goods towards sustainable fare. Yesterday, the Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. If signed into law, the bill will provide $4.5 billion over ten years to federal child nutrition programs — namely, school lunches…. For one, the bills will beef up farm-to-school programs, providing more fresh, local produce in school cafeterias.”  [Source: http://food.change.org/blog/view/senate_passes_child_nutrition_bill_now_what ]

Can organic farming really feed the world’s billions?

Olivier De Schutter“Earlier this summer, United Nations expert Olivier De Schutter held a special meeting in Brussels that concluded agroecology (or sustainable farming) outperforms industrial agriculture and could be scaled up to feed the world while also protecting the environment and reducing pollution that’s contributing to climate change.” [Source: http://csrwiretalkback.tumblr.com/post/904307331/5-reasons-sustainable-food-is-the-answer ]

 

FARM TO SCHOOL

Illinois Farmers, Got Fruits and Veggies?

FamilyFarmed.org“Family Farmed.org is partnering with Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality, the major food service provider for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), to ask Illinois farmers to contract for $500,000 of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables.” [Source: http://www.familyfarmed.org/illinois-farmers-got-fruits-veggies ]

FOOD ACCESS

The Fight Over Food Deserts – Corporate America Smacks Its Way Down

“This June the City of Chicago approved Walmart's bid to open up dozens of new facilities, beginning with grocery stores in the city's chronically underserved South side. Just a month earlier the company committed $2 billion dollars to fight hunger in the U.S. But behind the high profile donations is a decidedly less charitable story repeating itself throughout corporate America.” [Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-holt-gimenez/the-fight-over-food-deser_b_646849.html ]

PRODUCERS AND PRODUCTION

American Cities Should Model Themselves After… Detroit?

“Though Detroit's landscape seems pretty bleak, the city's starting to experience a regrowth — literally. Community groups and businesses are reclaiming those 33,000 vacant lots and other areas to plant gardens and start farms. Detroit may not roll out many cars anymore, but the fruits and veggies the city produces keeps the town's breadbaskets full. The effort puts people to work, generates healthy and ecologically farmed foods, and gives the city a much-needed facelift.” [Source: http://food.change.org/blog/view/american_cities_should_model_themselves_afterdetroit ]

Nation's largest organic, grass-fed beef producer debuts 'super-local' supply program

Panorama Meats logo“Panorama Meats, Inc., the nation’s largest producer of organic, grass-fed beef, said Wednesday it kicked off a new “super-local” supply program with Whole Foods Market, Inc.” [Source: http://www.sustainablefoodnews.com/story.php?news_id=10035 and see also the Panorama Meats press release ]

RETAIL & BUYERS

Use of local food stores booming in recession

Common Ground Food Co-op logo“When Common Ground Food Co-Op opened the new store in Urbana two summers ago the co-op had 1,700 members. Now it's reached over 2,500, exceeding expectations and allowing plans for expansion. And sales have almost tripled since then. Meanwhile, over at Strawberry Fields in Urbana, in the last two to three months sales have been ticking upward, particularly in produce and local foods.” [Source: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/agriculture/2010-08-08/use-local-food-stores-booming-recession.html ]

World’s Largest Cruise Lines Switching Millions of egg supplies to cage-free

“Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines- the World’s First and second largest cruise companies, respectively – are switching a portion of their eggs supplies to cage-free.” [Source: http://www.sustainablefoodnews.com/story.php?news_id=10098 ]

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