Building Local Agri-Food Systems
Our country is facing a major crisis, and it’s not just financial. Industrial farming is eroding the environmental basis for its own productivity. Corporate concentration is squeezing out small businesses and squeezing taxpayers as agrifoods corporations return again and again to the public trough. With 50 million people hungry, national poverty rates rising, and the incidence of diabetes and diet-related diseases skyrocketing, it is clear that fundamental change is needed. Something is seriously broken. The scale of this crisis is too big for these issues to be addressed in isolation. We must fix the whole food system. What will it take to achieve a prosperous, healthy food system for all? Food First’s Building Local Agrifood Systems program tackles the issue from all sides. We are conducting action research on innovate models for sustainable businesses; working to ensure that jobs in the food sector – some 18% of all jobs in America - are good jobs for fair wages; researching and helping build local policies to support a better food system; campaigning nationally to end the food crisis; and engaging the creative energy of youth to build the movement for food justice nationwide.
The livelihood struggles of low-income, African-American, Native-American, Latino-American, Asian-American and immigrant communities are at the center of our programs for food justice and agricultural sustainability. Low-income people of color are mobilizing locally, forming national coalitions, drafting legislation, and reaching out internationally in their efforts to build healthy, equitable, food systems that contribute to the social and economic development of their communities.
Food First’s “added value” in this effort resides in our ability to produce information, analysis and learning materials that help people improve and control their own food systems. Our research informs and documents these experiences, contributing directly to the national and global debates on food and development. In Oakland, California, we are in our second year incubating the Oakland Food Policy Council. The Council was fully seated in late 2009 and has formulated their Strategic Plan. Learn more about this work at www.oaklandfood.org.
Nationally, Food First is participating in efforts to build a national coalition of urban communities of color for food justice. We serve on the steering committee of The U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance founded in June 2010 at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit. This alliance is an outgrowth of The U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis, a group of 60 activist, church, social service and labor organizations working on a campaign to address rising poverty and hunger in the U.S. which we also initiated and participated in.
Long before Michelle Obama dug up the White House lawn, folks in Detroit were busy planting gardens over the city’s urban decay, Pennsylvania had secured low-interest loans for urban food retailers in under- served neighborhoods, and Oakland established a Food Policy Council to help turn their food system into an engine for economic development. This confluence of successful local alternative systems, known now as the “food movement”, has proven itself in neighborhood food systems. But to really take on the full depth of America’s food crisis, the movement needs both policy and practice to turn these local alternatives the national norm. By doing this, we create tools for informed activists, local governments and small business owners. We provide up-to-date information and analysis on little-studied issues. We develop policies, together with grassroots movements for change, and we amplify the voices of those most affected by our county’s food crisis.
Learn more about Food First's hands-on work in building local food systems here.