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In today’s world, it can be difficult to know the exact origins of the food that is bought at the grocery store and used to prepare daily meals. Food that is certified organic is reassuring to health-conscious consumers; however, it still does not inform people exactly where their food was grown. This is an issue for people who want to be certain that their food has been sourced responsibly before landing on their dinner plates. Thankfully, the emergence of Foodshed Alliance, an advocate for local farmers for Northern New Jersey, has given local citizens peace of mind, assuring them that their food is grown using safe farming practices that safeguard both people and the planet.
Foodshed Alliance started as a program within Genesis Farms in Blairstown, NJ, in 2000. The term foodshed “describes a region where food flows from the area that it is produced to the place where it is consumed, including the land it grows on, the route it travels, the markets it passes through, and the tables it ends up on.” In 2010, the organization separated from Genesis Farms to focus on developing a more transparent relationship between farmers and consumers in northern New Jersey. Now staff members Kendrya Close, Lisa Kelly, and Christine Parauda work closely with the 11 members of the Board of Trustees to aid local farmers in growing and supplying top quality food to citizens of New Jersey.
At the heart of the organization is a deep-rooted sense of determination to help New Jersey Farmers grow nutritious crops that do not harm consumers or the environment. Their business model focuses on increasing farmer’s access to healthy lands so that people can have access to healthy food. Foodshed Alliance wants to develop a trusting relationship between farmers and consumers, who can be sure that their food is grown sustainably. Such a relationship will keep the state’s food system resilient and self-sustaining. As a result, farmers can sustain themselves as they strive to take care of both the environment and people who live in it. Farmers, the environment, and consumers are all interconnected, and Foodshed Alliance works to support all three entities to nurture a long lasting and healthy relationship.
The farming community of New Jersey prides itself in providing local citizens with produce that is nutritious and responsibly grown. In 2000, Genesis Farm, the Earth learning center in Blairstown, NJ, along with several other farmers, discovered that there was an overall concern over the health of the land and soil in New Jersey. This high level of concern drove farmers to question what was happening to the land and more importantly, what must be done about it. Thus, grew the grassroots organization that is now known as Foodshed Alliance, whose goals are “to foster healthy land, healthy food, and healthy communities.”
In 2010, shortly after the executive director, Kendrya Close, joined the organization, Foodshed Alliance separated from Genesis Farms. They wanted to focus more on its mission to work “at the intersection of food, farming and the environment to foster a self-sustaining foodshed that supports farmers, nourishes people, respects the land and strengthens our communities.” The organization is dedicated to fixing issues within the New Jersey food system so that farmers can continue to harvest healthy and high quality food. To accomplish this, Foodshed Alliance works with farmers to gain a better understanding of what their needs are on an individual level. Through these relationships, the organization has developed three major programs: increasing land access, developing food incubators, and diversifying food distribution. The purpose of these programs is to increase the availability of healthy farm land that can sustain local farmers and the consumers of nutritional food.
Foodshed Alliance believes that “the future of our health, our land, and our communities depends, to great extent, on the existence of local farms – that farmers are the keystone to our connection with our food, the land and our sense of place.” Thus, they place a high priority on helping the current generation of farmers sustain themselves through their work while supporting the next generation of farmers as they prepare to do the same thing. One way they try to do this is through increasing land access for New Jersey farmers. New Jersey is home to land that is beautiful yet expensive; which makes it difficult for new farmers to get their start. In doing so, farmers will be able to continuously produce and supply nutritious food to northern New Jersey consumers. Additionally, they are ensuring that the farmland is respected and protected by the farmers who believe in sustainable farming practices, which in turn sustains their livelihoods.
To help increase land that farmers can work on, Foodshed Alliance is working with the Administrator of the Warren County Department of Land Preservation to identify parklands and preserved farmland that can be used as incubator farms. These huge parcels of land can be divided into smaller portions to incubate new farms for about two to three years. As farmers become well established, they can set off on their own mission to responsibly produce food that will benefit consumers who purchase it. In the meantime, Foodshed Alliance is also working to help local farmers to target larger institutions as a new customer basis. The goal is to have schools and hospitals purchase food that is nutritional for the children or patients that consume them. These institutions will know where their food comes from and be sure that it was sourced responsibly.
Additionally, Foodshed Alliance runs smaller programs such as Localshare, Riverfriendly and Green Drinks. Localshare, coordinated by Christine Parauda, partners with farms and recruits local volunteers who gather imperfect or excess crops that cannot be sold and distribute them to about 19 food pantries. In 2016, 46,887 pounds of food was donated through the LocalShare program. This program successfully brings together members of the community to do some good while reducing food waste.
Localshare is aimed at helping society, while Riverfriendly focuses on the environment. Through a partnership with North Jersey Resource Conservation and Development Council, the program has been brought to NJ to encourage farmers to protect the water sources that they use in their farming practices. Farmers who display good farming management are rewarded, which influences other farmers to perhaps do the same thing.
The goal to protect the farmland of New Jersey and publicize the importance of responsibly farmed crops has been gaining recognition. Big companies such as Panera and Costco are working to sell fully organic and nutritional food. As more business and institutions pledge to go organic, farmers at the local level will have a greater incentive to also grow organic food that will bring in business while providing healthy food to more people. Foodshed Alliance is at the forefront of this goal as it supports local farmers. Occasionally, it hosts a social program called Green Drinks that brings together farmers who can discuss innovative farming techniques and more. Green Drinks allows great ideas and experiences to be shared between farmers looking to improve the way they operate.
Foodshed Alliance supports new farmers and helps established farmers improve the way they operate. This way, farming can sustain the livelihoods of farmers and consumers can have access to nutritional food.
Foodshed Alliance supports local farmers primarily by encouraging them to protect the land that they grow their crops on and the people who they supply to. However, they also teach farmers marketing and business skills that helps them operate and sell their produce better. They host seminars, lectures, film discussions, farm tours, TedX Talk viewing parties that focus on sustainable agriculture, genetically modified (GM) food and locally produced food. The organization wants to see farmers succeed. This is why they have been happily managing the Blairstown Farmers’ Market for 10 years and the Morris County Winter Market for the past 4 years. Foodshed Alliance works with farmers every step of the way until they are ready to deliver high quality produce to consumers.
Despite New Jersey’s limited and expensive land, Foodshed Alliance continues to fight for the access of more land for farmers. This creates jobs in the industry while promoting a more robust local economy. As a result, New Jersey can become self-sustaining, and profits and benefits stay local.
Foodshed Alliance has been given a government grant to work on a feasibility assessment of a New Jersey Food Hub. A Food Hub would provide farmers with the infrastructure to efficiently produce and meet the demands of larger institutions. The organization hopes to have it established in about a year so that small to mid-sized farmers can supply to restaurants, grocery stores, corporate and school cafeterias. To further aid farmers, the organization has also developed a Resiliency Plan that is in line with its goal to fix the New Jersey food system. The plan has identified the weaknesses of the local food system and developed solutions that aim to strengthen the system.
As more awareness is raised on the benefits of responsible and sustainable practices, big food suppliers will want to supply organic food which in turn benefits sustainable farms. This is why Foodshed Alliance wants “to bolster our local food system to increasingly feed a greater proportion of our local population.” Thus, they understand the significance of supporting sustainable farmers so that current and future generations of farmers can thrive; which is beneficial to society as a whole.
Foodshed Alliance is providing healthy and nutritional food to people in New Jersey, which improves their way of living. Furthermore, they are helping these farmers distribute their food to bigger institutions like schools, restaurants or hospitals, bringing this healthier option not only to families and individuals but also to a bigger population.
Through fundraisers, gatherings and other social events, Foodshed Alliance gets people together to raise awareness, educate them and also make people feel part of the sustainable community, from farmers to families.
When it comes to environmental benefits, Foodshed Alliance has the goal of nourishing the community with healthy food while taking care of the land and water in New Jersey in a sustainable way. As more farmers work to protect the land while growing food with consumers in mind, the future of farming may very well strictly be based on sustainable practices.
Kendrya Close, Executive Director