2017 has been all about clarity, growth and change at the Foodshed Alliance, none of which would have happened with your support.  Here are the year’s highlights you made possible.

To clarify the direction and efforts of our work, Foodshed Alliance embarked on a strategic planning process that involved input from its Board of Trustees, staff and stakeholders. We looked at everything from what problems we are trying to solve and who we are serving to what resources we need to get the work done. Working with a seasoned strategic-planning consultant to help bring consensus, we clarified that:

  • Our ultimate goal is to create a food system where local farmers supply the entire community with health-promoting food, while being economically and environmentally sustainable.
  • Work on promoting sustainable agriculture in New Jersey is highly fragmented with organizations and government agencies working with little coordination toward common goals. To mitigate this, over the past three years, the Foodshed Alliance has increasingly taken on a “linchpin” role to bring groups together, coordinate collaboration and catalyze change to create a sustainable food system.

Convening organizations throughout New Jersey—land trusts, agricultural organizations, social service agencies, government agencies, community-based organizations, etc.—is the backbone of our work addressing the problems we face here in NJ.

  • Local food, with its inherent health benefits, is not accessible by all.
  • Lack of viability is a huge problem for small and mid-sized food-producing farms and they are disappearing at an alarming rate as a result.
  • Sustainable agriculture, which produces the healthiest food and protects the environment, does not have widespread and coordinated support in New Jersey.

The average age of a farmer in New Jersey is 59. As farmers retire, fewer young people are entering the field. One of the reasons for this is the high cost of farmland in New Jersey, the second most expensive in the country.

Thanks to your support, we are working on this issue on three fronts: making the process of farmland transfer easier in New Jersey, investigating innovative financial models that make it more affordable, and establishing an “incubator farm” in northern NJ to help emerging farmers get started.

  • Your gift is helping to replicate a successful program from the Hudson Valley that mentors both farmers and land owners through the land-transfer process by creating a group of Farmland Advisors to guide through legal, technical, and financial issues.
  • With your support, we are networking with people from all over the country with innovative land-investment models that keep farmland in productive and environmentally responsible use.
  • You are helping us lay groundwork for an incubator farm where beginning farmers can have affordable access to land, mentoring and shared farm equipment. This year, we leased five acres of Warren County parkland that had been commodity cropland to be transitioned for organic production at the incubator farm.

Another reason New Jersey farms are disappearing is because many farms struggle to make a profit. Small farms tend to rely on direct sales at farm stands, farmers’ markets and CSAs. It is clear that this may not be enough to support a robust farming community.

  • Infrastructure that once existed in NJ that delivered fresh locally grown food to our stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals and other large institutions has disappeared. We leveraged your support to get a grant allowing us to work on this problem. Many areas throughout the country are establishing “food hubs” where small farms can aggregate and distribute food to large institutions. We are half-way through a year-long feasibility study to see if northern New Jersey can support a food hub that would give local farms an additional outlet to sell their goods and would bring local, healthy food to places that feed a large number of people on a daily basis.
  • Through our LLC, we operate two farmers’ markets to facilitate sales direct to consumers, where small farms make the greatest profit. We just completed our 10th year of the Blairstown Farmers’ Market that runs weekly from June to October. We are beginning the fifth season of the Morris County Winter Farmers’ Market, a weekly indoor market in Morristown that provides farm-fresh vegetables, meat, cheese, bread and other locally produced food from December to April. We estimate that between $400,000 and $500,000 is spent each year at these markets supporting the local farm and food economy rather global corporations.
  • Your support has enabled us to accept SNAP benefits, aka food stamps, at our farmers’ markets, increasing the consumption of healthy local fruits and vegetables by low-income residents while increasing the customer base for small farmers. In addition, thanks to a special grant, we were able to offer SNAP users free “Fresh Food Bucks” up to $10 a week specifically to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

Working closely with farmers in our region, we are acutely aware of the large amount of food that is grown but is not harvested for one reason or another (lack of workers, inadequate sales outlets, imperfections, etc.) At the same time, one in eight people in New Jersey are “food insecure” and struggle with hunger. Many rely on food pantries and social service agencies for aid where the distributed food is primarily shelf-stable and non-perishable, often calorie-dense, but nutrient deficient.

  • Thanks to you, our LocalShare gleaning program collected more than 70,000 lbs. of fruit and vegetables this year, up 60% over last year, to feed those in need. This food was harvested at approximately 120 gleaning events by more than 100 volunteers at six farms and was delivered to approximately 50 agencies in Warren, Morris and Sussex counties. That was enough food for 200,000 meals serving people in need.
  • Your support has kicked the LocalShare program up several notches this year. We accepted the donation of two pickup trucks and one enclosed trailer to increase our distribution capacity. Our LocalShare coordinator, who was part-time, now has a full-time position so she can increase outreach to volunteers, farms and agencies and network with other groups working to improve health through nutritious food.

You have also made it possible for the Foodshed Alliance to strengthen its infrastructure so we can be more effective and accomplish more of our goals.

  • In February, we moved to 27 Main Street, Blairstown, a perfect location with ample meeting space to facilitate our role as conveners so we can network and work with local farms, businesses and groups.
  • Our Board of Trustees and senior staff attended several workshops sponsored by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation on board roles and responsibilities, legal liability, fundraising, financial management, board development and strategic planning, with immediate impact improving various areas of the organization’s management.
  • Your support made our first Annual Gala a successful celebration of our farming community, our remarkable local food, wine, craft beer and spirits, and “heroes” who were honored for their contributions to our local food system.
  • Your gift made it possible for us to raise awareness of local food-system issues by collaborating with area community groups and farms on our second annual Tour de Blairstown cycling tour of our region, our annual Farm-to-Fork Dinner and the New Jersey Wine, Beer and Spirits Festival at Alba Vineyard. You helped us reach more than a 1,200 people about our work.