Saturday, February 6, 2010

Recap of the Fresh Food Forum at Brown, One Man's Opinion

First off, kudos to the Farm Fresh people for putting this event on, good speakers, variety and networking opps too. The local farm and food movement is certainly strong in Rhody and regionally as well. I had the opportunity to engage a few fellow participants and thought almost all of them were passionate about what they are doing, a refreshing change from my former corporate world.
My overriding concern is the focus on the "food deserts" and driving sales of fresh in those areas with SNAP, EBT, WIC, etc.. I'm not opposed to any of these programs or the need to improve the diet of these communities, the upside in health and reduction in associated costs would be a good thing; I am struggling with the lack of effort/funding to increase fresh local sustainable food to the rest of the population, the larger group that has the ability to choose because they have the income to do so.
If farms are to survive and expand,(more small sustainable farms, not large industrial ones) there needs to be a allocation of resources to make that happen. The Farmers market has to be a year round part of the shopping experience, an incentive to make it a habit rather than a novelty stop in the day. Farmers new and old have to make a fair income for what they produce, they should not earn at a level that would qualify them for SNAP.
The CSA business model is one way to drive farm income up without forcing industrialization. What other ideas are out there? The Public Market, can it stand alone or does it need to be quasi governmental? Local food in the schools, schools growing their own?
I put this out there to encourage discussion and exchange of ideas, let the thinking begin.


  1. I think it needs to be all of those things and more. Schools are struggling to make ends meet and it would help them out in many ways to grow their own. We just need to show them how. I hear all the time that friends are looking for Farmers markets and don't know where to find them. They want to buy local, but get overwhelmed and give up. The markets need to be more vocal, so that everyone knows that they are there. I really believe that if more people knew what was out there, they'd buy more local foods.

    The only other thing I'll add, is that our society has gotten so far from preparing foods from scratch. Cooking demonstrations and recipes can help to show shoppers what they can do with new foods. We need to teach people how to cook again.

  2. All good points, thanks for the comment.

  3. I think I will make a pilgrimage to the winter market today... Good post. I am in the research phase of starting my own small, sustainable farm. I spent years growing food on large industrialized farms. I had enough, went back to school, and I graduate this year.

    So my mission in 2010 is figuring out how to make a living as a sustainable farmer...

    See you all in Attleboro I hope

  4. David, you mentioned improving sustainable local farming through sales to schools. Here's another similar, but year-round idea. I am the nutritionist at Bristol Elder Services. Various organizations like Bristol Elder are responsible for the production and delivery of meals on wheels program and congregate meals. At Bristol Elder we provide meals to about 2000 seniors in need daily. Massachusetts wide the MOW program provides about 40,000 seniors per day plus about another 20,000 meals at congregate sites. The program is of course price sensitive, but if you can provide food at a price acceptable to schools, then it will be acceptable to the MOW program. These programs generally work through caterers who actually purchase and prepare the food and our caterer currently works with one farm. I am encouraging working with more local farms through SEMAP.

    Also, another type of customer your farmers might want to get to know is hospitals. They typically serve a few hundred meals daily and could be reliable large volume customers.

    The reason I came across your site was via SEMAP ( My plan is to visit several area farmers' markets to get to know the local farmers better and hopefully farmers and meal programs like ours can mutually benefit.

    Thank you for raising the question and raising awareness of the value of local produce.

  5. Eric, thanks for the comments all good ideas.
    You should definitely visit the markets to engage the farmers to directly sell to schools, hospitals and caterers like you use. I think there is also coupons to buy at farmers markets specifically for congregate feeding at the senior level, MDAR is the agency which directs that program if you are not already familiar with it. See you at the market 12-4 this Sunday then every Sunday after July 11th.