Since the dawn of agriculture some 12,000 years ago, the farm always fed its own first—the farmer, the family, the tribe and the community. This is no longer the case. Industrial-scale agriculture serves global markets first.

Where once the local community determined what it wanted and needed from the food supply, today international profit-driven market forces dictate what we have on our dinner table.

Yet, despite the industrial-scale “progress,” domestic hunger persists, a fact that’s especially painful during the holidays. One in eight people and one in six children are food insecure according to the USDA. Obesity and diabetes rates are two to three times higher than they were in 1992.

The food industrial complex claims to “feed the world” yet millions are food insecure or suffer diet-related disease. Energy-intensive, chemical-laden and polluting industrial farming simply ignores the fact that our children and grandchildren will suffer profoundly from a degraded environment and climate change.

Despite the strength of the industrial food complex, there is pushback and a movement towards re-localizing our food economy. The growing awareness of sustainable agriculture and healthy eating, farmers’ markets, CSAs, and local-food initiatives show that we are not willing to accept “the new normal.”

Thanks to the support of our donors and other allies in the Good Food Movement, here is the impact we are making together:

  • Developing new infrastructure to distribute local food. After a year-long study, the Foodshed Alliance published the “Food Hub Feasibility Study for Northern New Jersey,” available at FoodshedAlliance.org/downloads. The report concludes that a food hub aggregating and distributing farm food could help strengthen the farm industry in New Jersey by giving farmers easy access to institutional buyers like schools, corporations, hospitals, restaurants, and grocery stores to fill the need for locally grown, fresh healthy food. We are currently establishing a work group from throughout the state, including government leaders, the New Jersey Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups, food entrepreneurs, institutional buyers and more to determine next steps for establishing a food hub. Top of our agenda is finding a lead organization to run the food hub and securing funding.
  • Addressing food insecurity and food waste. Through our LocalShare program, local farms and volunteer “gleaners” make it possible for food pantry clients to have fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the year. In 2018, we harvested and delivered more than 90,000 lbs. of fresh food to feed those in need. This food, generously donated by local farms, would otherwise have gone to waste. This year’s total remarkably matched what LocalShare gleaned in 2017 despite 2018 being one of the most difficult growing seasons in years. Wet, cloudy weather with extremes in temperatures greatly reduced farms’ yields this year, but your support allowed us to increase our outreach to farms and respond with teams of volunteers when we were alerted there was surplus available.
  • Improving land access for New Jersey farmers. The Foodshed Alliance has worked for three years with American Farmland Trust, National Young Farmers Coalition, New Jersey Land Trust Network and dozens of other organizations to replicate the successful Hudson Valley Farmland Advisors program in New Jersey to improve land access for New Jersey farmers. The Farmland Advisors New Jersey program kicked off in 2018 and recruited 15 agricultural, conservation and land trust professionals. This team is being trained to support land transfers between beginning farmers and farmland owners across New Jersey. I’m excited to be part of this team that will get more farmers on land in New Jersey.
  • Fighting for a fair and equitable Farm Bill. Foodshed Alliance worked with Environmental Working Group to convene those affected by the Farm Bill, including farmers, agricultural groups, land trusts, conservation groups, social service agencies and anti-hunger advocates. Our board president, Jake Hunt, and I as well as other ag and anti-hunger stakeholders visited staffs of the New Jersey Congressional Delegation in Washington and NJ to educate them on the importance of passing a fair and equitable Farm Bill. When the Farm Bill failed to pass in September, we continued to monitor progress and emailed our ag and anti-hunger advocate colleagues to sign a letter to the New Jersey Congressional Delegation urging the passage of a fair and equitable farm bill.

Together, we will do even more in 2019:

  • Put organic farmers on preserved farmland with affordable long-term leases. Through our newly launched Sustainable Agriculture Enterprise (SAgE) program, we are working with land trusts and government agencies to give sustainable farmers’ access to affordable 10-year leases on preserved farmland. Short-term leasing—one year is the norm in New Jersey—inhibits investment in the long-term improvement in soil health. We have two pilot sites: one in Sussex County with 60 tillable acres where The Nature Conservancy is transferring ownership to the Foodshed Alliance, and another five acres of preserved farmland which we are leasing from the County of Warren. We are recruiting up to seven farmers through this pilot program, which we plan to replicate throughout the state.
  • Address the “elephant in the room.” As more and more people begin to recognize the impact climate change has on farming, the Foodshed Alliance will address this issue with New Jersey farmers as well as the general public, through various methods of outreach, including an educational forum for the agriculture community on climate resilient farming.

Many consider 2018 as the worst farming year in recent memory with wet, cloudy weather and unseasonable and extreme temperatures drastically reducing yields. This year illustrated how important the work you support is. Our region’s farmers need our work more than ever, to help rebuild the farm-to-table supply chain and re-localize our food system.

If you share our dreams for a healthy food system that nourishes our bodies, provides good livings for our hard-working farmers, and keeps our soils, air and water clean, please make a year-end donation to fund this work. We can’t do it without you.

We can rebuild our food system based on our values—one that is local, sustainable, fair, humane and healthy. Join us. Support the Foodshed Alliance. Together, we can impact our future.