The local, sustainable agricultural community, and the movement to bring it mainstream, can really benefit from a clear connection to the food assistance network of food banks, food shelves and meal sites that make up the charitable food system. It is my experience that people committed to local food are committed to community-building and ensuring a tightly-woven social fabric. They will embrace the connection, especially if it can take their movement forward. Also, to truly be sustainable, a food system cannot just rely on a committed core of people: most of society needs to participate or the farms, and the system, cannot survive.
One hundred years ago all we had were sustainable local agricultural systems. Food simply could not be stored and transported long distances, which meant it went from farm to market for the most part. Those were the days of independent butchers, bakers, produce stands, and dairies. By the 1940’s, large, self-service supermarkets were appearing, radically changing our foods systems. The industry has been growing larger and more consolidated ever since. And the trend continues.
How can food banks help?
In a change process there are generally three groups of people: the early adopters, who will quickly embrace change (10-15%); the large middle, who are waiting to see which way the change is going before making a move (70-80%); and those that will actively resist change (10-15%). Here in Vermont we are already seeing the early adopters moving. The trick is to show the large middle that a tipping point has been reached and it is safe to adopt a new way of shopping and eating. Having the Vermont Foodbank, our 280 partners and the tens of thousands of Vermonters who access this food demonstrating how “farm-to-plate” can work – in a practical way – can go a long way to relieving the anxiety of the 80%.
The Foodbank, our partners and clients are a great laboratory and incubator for making the “farm-to-plate” model work in a situation where the conventional wisdom says it can’t work – with limited income people who don’t necessarily come from a culture of preparing fresh foods. In other words, if we can make it work, it’s ready for prime time.
The relationships between the Vermont Foodbank and the local, sustainable agricultural community are both longstanding and just starting. It is time to expand and deepen the relationships, and build the momentum necessary to sustain a movement.
So food banks need sustainable, local agriculture, and sustainable, local agriculture needs food banks. Let’s get to work.