There is an “insider” debate that pops up sometimes in the charitable food world: is it appropriate for food banks to distribute everything that gets donated to our network partners – food shelves, meal sites, shelters, after school programs and senior centers? Even food that isn’t nutritious, like soda, snack foods and candy? Good nutrition is important for everyone, so shouldn’t foodbanks and our partners make sure that free food is nutritious food? My point isn’t here is to engage in this debate, although I certainly have a point of view (and as CEO of the Vermont Foodbank, that distributes over 7.5 million pounds of food, I don’t think anything should be wasted), but to talk about the natural link between food banks and sustainable, local agriculture.
Food banks originated to take food that would have otherwise been wasted and deliver it to people who don’t have enough food to eat. Over the decades, food banks have become conduits for food distribution by the U.S. Government, recipients of donations from food manufacturers and distributors, and have been aggressively sourcing food. As food banks move from donated food to more aggressive sourcing, we can and should find more sources of nutritious and delicious food to distribute. National produce donations are available, and the Vermont Foodbank gets its share. But there are issues of transportation costs and regular availability.
The place to find nutritious local food is to make connections with Vermont’s agricultural community and with those interested in creating a local, sustainable food system. It is essential that local and sustainable includes everyone, even those who are now served by the charitable food system. People committed to local food are usually committed to community-building, and ensuring a tightly-woven social fabric.
The Vermont Foodbank is beginning to build those connections through our gleaning program and by reaching out to the local, sustainable agricultural community. And they are reaching back. These partnership are both longstanding and just starting, but I see a real force building to delivering fresh, local vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy to our neighbors in need.
So foodbanks need sustainable, local agriculture, but why does it need us? That’s part 2.