Nearly 100 delegates from six New England States gathered June 11 and 12, 2015 at the Food Solutions New England (FSNE) Summit in Boston, MA. Delegates discussed food worker justice and opportunities to improve regional self-sufficiency and sustainability. Delegates heard about a regional plan to grow 50-percent of regional food needs locally by 2016.
Scott Sawyer of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund said most Americans generally spend about the same amount on food each year – an average of 13-percent of their income. People with higher incomes spend extra money on prepared meals and eating out. The poorest families spend a higher percentage of their income, almost half, on food and beverages.
The percent of “food-insecure families” has risen to double digits across New England in recent years. Fresh, nutritious food may be unaffordable. The number of people living in poverty continues to rise in America. Low incomes prevent consumers from purchasing fresh, healthy foods. Speakers agreed that food quality could determine people’s quality of life. When people cannot afford high quality food, their quality of life suffers.
Fresh, nutritious food may be unavailable. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines Food Deserts “as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.” There may not be a grocery store, farmers market or other healthy food provider within walking distance or near a bus route.
Christoph Hinske of the Institute for Strategic Clarity opened his presentation with his personal story. He was born in a political system that does not exist any longer (in the German Democratic Republic). To maintain political order in lean times, Hinske’s family was intimidated to prevent them from speaking out for change. Nevertheless, when enough people collectively said “no,” that system ended and the Berlin Wall came down.
Food Solutions New England hired Hinske and the Institute for Strategic Clarity (ISC) to map the regional food system in New England and help understand the dynamics and underlying agreements that drive its current outcomes and behavior. Hinske and his team will identify leverage points for change that, with low inputs or costs, deliver maximum output or influence. Informed by his research on abundance driven agreements in the field of sustainability, Hinske’s team started to identify change agents (organizations and agencies) within “the old” system advocating for and leading systems change through gradual evolution from within. Hinske explained that all segments of a system must be embraced to achieve the aspired change. No segment can be ignored or left out — no one can be blamed or have a finger pointed at them.
“We have to be clear, cookbooks are some of the most political books on the market,” said Hinske. Their ingredient lists influence shoppers on a daily basis. In the past, authors listed local ingredients that were readily available or seasonally available. Today, recipes include items from around the globe and grocery stores respond by offering “everything from anywhere, anytime” said Hinske. This scarcity driven behavior leads to unhealthy globalization, increased food transportation and storage costs as well as climate change.
Referring to bringing down the Berlin Wall, Hinske said, “If square headed Germans can do that, how hard can it be to change the food system?”
Regional self-sufficiency would benefit every region of America and the world. “A New England Food Vision: 50 by 60™” describes a New England future where food can nourish a social, economic and environmental landscape supporting a high quality of life for everyone. “A New England Food Vision” includes a bold goal of growing 50-percent of the clean, fair, just and accessible food consumed in New England by the year 2060. This goal is achievable using these initiatives:
- Preserve farmland, forests and aquaculture sites
- Ensure all land and water uses protect farmland, buffers and waters
- Maintain or improve water quality, water distribution systems and irrigation efficiency
- Support farms, marine-based and value added businesses
- Train future farmers, fisherman and aqua-culturists in sustainable and organic practices
- Connect farmers and harvesters to available land, roofs and waters
- Ensuring a living wage and sufficient jobs for all able workers
- Ensure smooth business transfers to the next generation of growers
- Encourage home, school and community gardens and growing education
- Encourage farming on urban lots and rooftops
- Ensure new buildings can support rooftop gardens
- Consider growing food in parks and on public lands/shores
- Invest in local and regional distribution systems and retail outlets
- Create seasonal cookbooks and offer cooking demonstrations
- Subsidize consumption of healthy foods
- Teach nutritional education
“Change only happens when you make it a fun and vibrant experience,” said Hinske. Do not try to take away people’s potato chips, rather inspire them to make an alternate choice one or two times per week. Small changes in habits and daily agreements add up and gradually lead to transformative shifts in systems behavior and outcomes.