This is Part II of a series on food and philanthropy. Scroll down to find out which foundations are collaborating to bring real food to the plates of many.

As some of you may know, I’m a big fan of food. Not just your average “I like to eat, and eat well…” type of fan, but as a Certified Natural Foods Chef (my full-time hobby), I spend a LOT of time thinking about food. Namely, how to get the freshest, most beautiful, health-focused real food to my table and the tables of others–but also how to do it in the least harmful, most sustainable way.

Here in the Bay Area, we are blessed to live in a land of rich soil and beautiful bounty. It’s easy to get mesmerized by the bright greens and reds and purples at the Farmer’s Market, the ripples of fresh kale or that first crunch of a Honeycrisp Apple. So much so, in fact, that it’s hard to think far beyond the short-term “What’s for dinner?”

But there’s a more important question to ask. And frankly, it’s one that none of us can afford to ignore.

“What will happen to our food?”

Our food supply system is badly broken. You’ve heard the alarming statistics, I’m sure. Some of the more recent ones I’ve read come from Mark Bittman’s blog (Bittman is an Opinion Columnist for the New York Times) in a letter he reprinted by George Faison. Among the most compelling:

  • There are now nearly 5 million fewer American farmers since the 1930s
  • The variety of crops produced around the world has diminished dramatically in the last 60 years
  • 70 percent of the antibiotics used in this country are fed to the animals we eat (a practice that was banned in Europe). 70 percent!

In 1960, Americans spent 18 percent of our take home pay on food and 5 percent on health care. Now we spend 9 percent of our take home pay on food and upwards of 17 percent on health care. What’s wrong with this picture?

Now I don’t like being someone who rattles off a bunch of grim statistics without offering some stab at a solution. The truth is, food is a complex issue, and I don’t know what the answers are. But I want to learn.

Funders Coming to the Table

Thankfully, a growing number of funders have taken interest in our food system and its interconnectedness with health, environmental justice and community issues. Realizing this is not a problem only one foundation or group can solve, many have come together to leverage funds and learning around the issue. Here are a few examples:

Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders

Started in 1991, SAFSF is an international network of grantmakers working to share learning and communication around sustainable agriculture and food systems. The group offers grantmakers opportunities to convene, collaborate and increase awareness of the issues as well as funding needs, including sustainable food production, food systems, environmental stewardship, diet and health and the viability of rural communities. They list many helpful resources on their website, including The Farm Bill Policy Primer for Funders (2011).

In addition to the national SAFSF network, a handful of regional initiatives have emerged, including:

Roots of Change

California-based Roots of Change leverages the resources of multiple donors who want to make an impact on the future of agriculture and healthy food. Through convening, online communication, contracts, fellowships and grants, the network includes participants focused on diverse issues, including ecology, finance or health; food production, farm worker rights, nutritious food access for schools and low-income communities. Core funders include The Clarence E. Heller Foundation, the Columbia Foundation, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Fresh Taste Initiative

Fresh Taste was started by a group of foundations in Chicago. They are particularly interested in supporting business ventures, such as food distributors that would serve local and regional networks of farmers. Funders include the Chicago Community Trust, the Lumpkin Family Foundation, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation, and more.

Community Food Funders (a project of North Star Fund)

Just formed! In October 2011, North Star Fund, New York’s community foundation supporting grassroots groups leading the movement for equality, economic justice and peace, announced its formation of Community Food Funders (CFF), which will support the growth of an equitable, ecologically sound and sustainable food system in New York, New Jersey and southern Connecticut. The CFF steering committee includes grantmakers from The Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, North Star Fund, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Surdna Foundation, and The New World Foundation.

In addition to these three listed, a number of other regional and local grantmakers have affinity groups related to food systems in their communities, including The Vermont Food Funders’ Network, The Delaware Valley Grantmakers’ Food Funders Affinity Group and the The Appalachia Funders’ Network.

It seems that more funders are ready to feed change. I hope this trend continues.  What funding groups or initiatives do you know about that I’m missing here? Drop me a line and let me know.

Want to know more? Here’s an interesting article written by Debra E. Blum in 2010: Food-and-Farm Philanthropy Locally and Nationally: Ready to Take Bold Steps to Effect Big Change.

Showing 7 comments
  • Danielle Sanders

    This is great information! Thanks for sharing!

  • Auburn Meadow Farm

    Thanks for taking time to research and write about this Elaine.
    Don’t forget the most effective “funder” of all – you, the food buyer! Making an effort to de-industrialize your diet and buy directly from local food producers is really important. We can’t afford to wait for foundations and powers that be to create change.

    • Elaine

      Ahh yes! This is a great point, Jackie – thank you so much for reminding me (and all of us reading!).

  • T. Caine

    Great post Elaine. I think your statistic about food costs as a percentage of income points to the heart of the issue. Food is one of the main areas of living that we have come to believe that we should have access to at low cost. Unfortunately, so has come the combination of government incentives and industrialized business models to create this market and perpetuate such beliefs. Our gasoline, water supply and our electricity suffer from the same fates and are also in dire need of recalibration.

    The price of keeping food costs low pokes at us all the time. The carbon footprint of our agriculture industry is huge. 39% of our freshwater in this country is used for irrigation, most of it on farming. Environmental degradation rounds out the list of issues–a list of things that we can fix, but not for free. The fact is that some of these things should simply cost more and we should be pursuing a level of quality above what qualifies as the low-cost solution.

    • Auburn Meadow Farm

      Excellent. It’s even more disappointing when you consider that a significant percentage of the water being applied to pesticide and synthetic depleted soils is wasted due to inefficient irrigation infrastructure and the ailing soil’s own inability to hold the water.

      I also am curious about the percentage of income spent each month on cable television, smart phones and high speed internet access. Not that all aren’t valuable, but they aren’t necessary in the way the average person uses them. It could be argued that they are a collective drain on productivity which makes them even more expensive….

  • esthercjames

    Thank you very much for this post — you are a wealth of information! Your commitment and contributions to food issues shine through! Hope you will continue to blog on this topic!

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