From Sustainable Foods to Sustainable Communities: Stories from the Northeast Region


On June 1st, 2011, EGA and Philanthropy New York co-hosted an event in which various organization representatives, foundation members, and consultants met to discuss the latest techniques, challenges, and goals in sustainable agriculture specifically for the northeast region of the US. The field has seen an increase in participation and cooperation spanning different sectors such as the transportation sector and sustainable development.

There have been many success stories and examples of where and how local farming can be used well. Alison Hastings represents an MPO (metropolitan planning organization) based in Philadelphia, PA that supports the development of sustainable agriculture in a way to decrease dependence on fossil fuels. By focusing on transportation, land use practices, and the environment, DVRPC (Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission) helps bridge that gap between local farmers and their markets. Judith LaBelle represents Glynwood, an organization that connects communities with local farmers in the Hudson Valley of NY. Patricia Smith and the Reinvestment Fund works on projects that bring fresh foods into “farm deserts” or areas that do not have any access to any type of fresh food (i.e. produce from local farms, grocery stores, farmers markets).

Yet, the major challenge lies in the fact that drastic changes must occur in our current food systems for sustainable agriculture to be truly long-lasting. The Food Bill is one obstacle that does not permit easy changes for farmers and manufacturers to invest in more sustainable farming. Other challenges include meeting food supply demands from institutions and manufacturers, how to connect and create a transportation sector between farmers and their markets, and how to balance costs and values with our current subsidies system. In addition, future partnerships can be developed between wildlife conservationists in terms of land use and sustainable agriculture that won’t threaten ecosystems or their wildlife and possibly the health insurance industry in which healthy eating habits and actions can be insured.

For Foundations
Sustainable Agriculture is no longer limited to just the farming community. Public-private-community partnerships are also bringing together rural, urban, and suburban communities. These new partnerships open up new opportunities for foundations that include and are not limited to:

  1. Fund NGOs and other organizations that support local farmers both rural and urban.
  2. Support initiatives and projects. Examples include the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Finance Initiative, Glynwood’s Keep Farming, the NY Healthy Foods Healthy Initiative, and NY City Harvest.
  3. Build capacity and help to create a network amongst existing sustainable agriculture systems and communities. Each system is specific in their location and condition. Yet networks can help develop new ideas and build support between each community.
  4. Contribute in grants that support technical assistance for small farming groups, provide subsidies to local farmers, and provide financial support that enable local farmers with food distributors.