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:
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:
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 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.
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.