This is a post by Susan Clark, executive director of the Columbia Foundation. The Columbia Foundation grants tens of thousands of dollars each year to regional sustainable food and farming projects.
Our communities desperately need a transformation of our food system. All over the country, people are calling for locally produced, healthy, fresh, affordable food.
We know that the support for change is growing – people are ready to get their hands dirty, growing fresh food in their neighborhoods, their children’s schools, and their own backyards. Just this week, I heard from a sustainable, organic farmer in Oregon that local demand is so high that she can hardly grow enough to keep up.
It’s about time that the market and public policy recognized and rewarded these realities.
The sad fact is that most of our food is still produced on huge industrial farms and shipped thousands of miles. We dig it out from layers of plastic without knowing where it came from, when it was harvested, or if it has any nutritional value left. Low-income families often have no access to affordable, fresh fruits and vegetables (not even weeks-old shrink-wrapped produce), forcing them to stock up on cheaper, high-calorie, low-nutrition substitutes. Our children are growing up without being taught to grow anything else. And as a result, our knowledge of farms and farmers, of how to grow some food ourselves, has slipped beyond the borders of our neighborhoods and minds.
Our food system makes it nearly impossible for would-be farmers and food entrepreneurs committed to healthy, sustainable food to support themselves. Without regional distribution systems, local growers have no connection to local urban communities that could buy their produce. The market favors large-scale, export-oriented, mono-cropping industrial farms. Rather than supporting local farmers, we import food from China, Chile, Mexico and other countries across the globe.
But positive and revolutionary change is underway.
Pioneering organizations and communities across the country are leading the charge. Columbia Foundation has funded many of these sustainable regional food projects in California for nearly three decades. We have awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to help more farmers grow sustainable and organic food to feed all communities. From building organic demonstration gardens, to bringing in nutritious school lunches from local farms and making sure low-income families can find fruits and vegetables close by, our grantees are reshaping how their communities eat and think.
And the list of food heroes keeps growing. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s 2010 Growing Green Awards, which I helped judge, identifies and recognizes trailblazers in sustainable food from all over the U.S. Along with my co-judges -Michael Pollan, A.G. Kawamura, and Nora Pouillon – I reviewed more than 170 nominations of truly inspiring growers and business leaders. These pioneers are shaping the future of food, and the future of public and environmental health. They are reducing pollution, nurturing biodiversity, building soils, and cutting water use, something I was especially excited to see coming from a drought-ridden state. And that’s all while they increase the supply of delicious, nutritious, sustainable, foods from local farms.
Our children can grow up knowing the joy of eating food that’s healthy for their bodies and the environment. We have the power to shape their future – by supporting organic, sustainable, and regional agriculture with our voices and wallets.
Please help me spread the word. NRDC’s 2010 Growing Green Awards winners will be made public in mid-April, and we need to get their stories out to all communities. Together we can build awareness for this important (and tasty!) movement. We can spark the food transformation, one community at a time.