The USDA's Regional Food System Partnership grant supports a new project: Rooted in Community.
This project invests in strengthening regional, equitable farm to institution (FTI) relationships and value chains in three New England communities, which in coordination will lead to greater regional and values-based food procurement across New England while shifting institutional power dynamics around race.
Springfield, MA; New Haven, CT; and Cumberland County, ME will form a cohort, represented by three community-based organizations—Springfield Food Policy Council, Cumberland County Food Security Council, City of New Haven Food System Policy Division—who are already driving food systems change at the local level.
The partnership will be supported by three state departments of agriculture and coordinated by the regional network backbone organization— Farm to Institution New England (FINE) — who will connect the cohort with regional partners, resources, and trainings, while sharing stories and strategies developed in each community with the broader network. We believe that strong, inter-woven and community-driven foundations of FTI work lead to sustainable regional impact for New England producers and residents who eat at institutions.
Three objectives drive this project:
- Community level: Plan and implement multi-sector community-driven farm to institution initiatives in three New England communities, ensuring authentic engagement with residents who are most affected by this work and prioritizing disinvested communities.
- Cohort level: Establish a cohort among three communities for peer-to-peer learning, capacity building, and cross-cohort leveraging.
- Regional level: Reinforce and grow New England's farm to institution movement by creating a dynamic and multi-directional exchange of promising practices, success stories, and relationship building opportunities between the community cohort and the broader New England network.
Springfield, MA and the Springfield Food Policy Council (SFPC)
Springfield, MA (pop. 153,000) sits in the agriculturally productive Pioneer Valley. As the third largest city in MA, it is also a major urban industrial center. Residents are vulnerable to a variety of health risk factors* including economic (25.5% fall below the poverty line), race (46% Hispanic, 19% Black, 3% Asian), and age (about 1⁄4 of the residents are children).* A recently completed Community Health Needs Assessment revealed areas of the city with rates of food insecurity over 20%.** Springfield is home to numerous institutions, including Springfield College, Baystate and Mercy hospitals, and a large public school system, several of which are managed by Sodexo. Like many communities in New England, they are surrounded by farmland yet community members face extensive barriers to accessing local food. In 2019, after years of advocacy by SFPC and other community members, and in cooperation with Sodexo and the City of Springfield, the Springfield Culinary Nutrition Center opened. This 62,000 ft2 facility prepares and provides meals for 30,000 Springfield students daily. The Center, while a huge win, just grazed the surface of the infrastructure and coordination necessary to ensure that Springfield residents have access to fresh and nutritious food. Through this collaboration, SFPC will continue to fight hunger and nutrition inequities and expand access to fresh, affordable and culturally appropriate foods in the city’s institutions, including healthcare systems that extend across the state. As a cohort member, they will bring their specific experiences with food service management companies, urban gardening, land use, and environmental justice to the FTI conversation.
In this sobering period of uncertainty, I am buoyed by the opportunity for learning that will inform our communities and hopefully others who witness our work together.
– Liz O’Gilvie, Director, Springfield Food Policy Council
New Haven, CT
New Haven, CT and the City of New Haven Food System Policy Division (FSPD)
New Haven (pop. 134,023) is a vibrant coastal city in southern Connecticut. It is a racially diverse community, home to roughly 32% Black or African American, 31% Hispanic/Latinx, and 5% Asian residents. More than 25% of its residents — including 34% of its children — fall below the poverty line. More than 50 community gardens and seven farm sites in the city together produce more than 75,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables each year, yet there are still municipal and systemic barriers which prevent institutional procurement opportunities for hyperlocal producers, especially those in Black and Brown communities. The FSPD, led by one of only 20 municipal Food Policy Directors in the country, supports and helps manifest community-led efforts that envision and create an environmentally sustainable and socially just food system. As a city government, FSPD has a mission to provide information and services to all city residents making them a unique partner in this project. The Food System Policy Division has accomplished a lot in their short tenure with limited resources. Through this collaboration, FSPD will grow their farm to institution work with New Haven institutions, including the public school system and community colleges. As a cohort member they bring a unique city government perspective as well as extensive experience with community-driven decision-making.
Cumberland County, ME
Cumberland County, ME and the Cumberland County Food Security Council (CCFSC)
Cumberland County (pop. 294,500) in southern Maine includes the coastal city of Portland along Casco Bay and the lakes region to the northwest. The residents are predominantly white (89%), but there is a growing immigrant and refugee population settling in the county. Portland Public Schools is the largest (6,515 students) and most diverse school district in Maine. Nearly 48% of students have families whose income qualifies them for subsidized meals. In 2020, the Maine legislature developed a Resolution to End Hunger by 2030, with a priority to ensure access to healthful, culturally connected food. Through this effort, CCFSC will build on their work to increase the amount of local, culturally connected food served in Portland Public Schools while expanding impacts into neighboring school districts and colleges. As a cohort member, they bring experience with community and parental outreach, immigrant farmers, and values based procurement.
This project creates an opportunity to bring more than a decade of experience and learning – through trials, successes, and errors! – from stakeholders across the broad farm to institution network in New England to support these communities. At the same time, the network will gain from the collaboration of this cohort to support ongoing work to foster the change we seek. We see this approach as a core strategy for our collective work moving forward.
– Peter Allison, Executive Director, FINE
About the USDA RFSP Program
The Regional Food System Partnership is a program of the USDA Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), which recently announced $64M in funding to its 2022 awardees, $7.7 of which support programs in New England. This umbrella program was created in the 2018 Farm Bill, and encompasses the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP), Regional Food System Partnerships Program (RFSP), and Value-Added Producer Grants Program (VAPG).
Funding for Rooted in Community was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service. The contents of this website are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.