Our interest in the food system was born from frustration and hope experienced over the past decade. Frustration from the inability to effectively get beyond the debate and denial of the presence of a warming climate and what should be done about it. Hope from observing the way in which small New England farms are able to confer health, economic, and environmental benefits on their communities by directly connecting with their consumers and their communities.
Food connects us all, regardless of race, income or geography. It is something with which we must all interact daily. It impacts the health of our bodies and our environment. Yet, it is increasingly understood that our current food system is not promoting public health or environmental sustainability.
Some of our greatest health challenges today can be connected to our food system. Indeed, forecasts project U.S. obesity rates exceeding 50% of the country by 2030, which, in turn, will likely lead to alarming rates of diseases, increased costs to the health care system, and significant loss of productivity.
Additionally, the agricultural sector is the second highest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. We are already experiencing increased volatility in our weather patterns that are predicted in a warming climate. The flooding and droughts we are experiencing are further challenging the resiliency of our food system.
For a number of years, interest in and demand for fresh, locally grown and produced food has been increasing all across America. In responding to and meeting this demand, local farms have been able to increase the amount of food that can stay local, improve healthy food choices, improve local economies, and when done sustainably, improve the positive impacts on the planet.
Thus, by engaging consumers through their interest in healthier, locally-grown food, there is a strong opportunity to build a stronger regional food system that can result in the improved health of people, communities, economies, and the environment.
Inspiring leaders are working throughout the region to ensure access to local, affordable and healthy food for all. We look forward to joining and contributing to this effort with a focus on New England.
In July of 2011, the Henry P. Kendall Foundation launched its new regional food systems program. Since then, we have been actively partnering with the organizations, networks and leaders who are working on rebuilding a healthy food system in New England. The work and thinking of these leaders and other national experts has informed the formulation of a strategy for the Kendall Foundation’s grantmaking.
We are inspired by the New England Food Vision for 2060, articulated by regional thinkers and practitioners and released by Food Solutions New England in 2014. The vision puts a stake in the ground that by the year 2060, 50% of the food eaten here will be produced here, and done so in a way that supports healthy food for all, sustainable farming and fishing and thriving communities. We think there is real value in a shared vision that can serve as motivation and provide a shared direction for our collective efforts.
We look at the region and the food system as a whole, recognizing that many complementary strategies and tactics are required to create lasting change. Our aim is to work collaboratively with grantees, other funders and public and private sector partners toward this vision. We acknowledge that many inspiring examples exist in this region and we seek to complement these efforts in a way that leads to a well-coordinated and connected region.
In 2016, we published our reflections on our first five years and embarked on a strategic review that would inform a new five year strategic plan for 2018-2022. In November of 2017, with key stakeholder guidance, the HPKF board approved an updated 5-year plan with two focus areas, Farm to School, and Regional Movement Building.
Farm to School
Experience has demonstrated the impact of large-scale procurement of more regionally-sourced food by educational institutions. Schools all across the region, large and small, public and private, are pursuing farm to school programs in their dining halls and their curriculum. Moving beyond the trail blazers, HPKF’s goal is to influence colleges, universities, and K-12 districts across New England in ways that result in more regional food on menus, more engaged students, and a new food culture throughout the region.
Regional Movement Building
Creating large-scale change articulated in the New England Food Vision for 2060 requires a dramatic shift in understanding, preferences and culture. Much of the work will take place within each of the six states, but regional leadership will also be required, supported by strong and diverse networks that are aligned with the Vision.
To strengthen the food movement, more people need to see it as their movement. HPKF will focus on supporting efforts aimed at broadening and deepening the public’s understanding of and involvement with food systems change.
As a final note, these two areas of strategic focus are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, school communities represent as much as 30% of the region’s population. As students become active and engaged adults, they will play a key role in shaping the food culture of New England.