The HVADC Cultivator
The Hudson Valley Food Systems Coalition
The Hudson Valley Food Systems Coalition (HVFSC) is a forward-thinking initiative bringing together professionals from across every sector of the Hudson Valley’s food system to share ideas, identify issues and build solutions. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has recently made the meeting of minds more complicated for this inclusive think tank, the need for the Coalition’s mission to reimagine and revivify every aspect of local food culture has never seemed like a more vital endeavor.
Started by Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley (CFHV) and their Director of Special Projects Aliza Krevolin in March 2019, the Coalition developed out of Community Foundations’ seven-year-old Farm Fresh Food Initiative. The primary purpose of that program is to connect farm fresh food to those who need it most. The program achieves that mission through grantmaking which supports initiatives such as mobile markets, home deliveries, backpack programs, and more. Sourcing food for these activities naturally put the organizers in contact with regional suppliers and relationships with farms and agribusiness blossomed. The interconnectedness of the food system and how issues in one area impacted another became self-evident, and CFHV wanted to help strengthen networks to build better solutions.
“We got a good understanding that a space was needed to talk about food systems as a whole - a space to bring people together,” said Krevolin. “Our goal was to invite people into the same room and provide the space for them to talk.”
The Coalition was initially facilitated by Dutchess Outreach Director of Development Sarah Salem and Bread Alone COO Sharon Burns-Leader. The first meeting was oversubscribed and brought together professionals from the fields of farming, food production, non-profits, government, preservation, transportation and other sectors. Attendees of that first meeting, including HVADC, shared ideas, identified areas of concern and working groups, and set out to chart a course forward for how the HVFSC could have the greatest impact.
“At that point we were just bringing together trans-disciplinary partners in the food system. We thought we might get 20 people but we ended up hosting over 100, with a waiting list,” said Salem. “We came together to think about the state of food, uncover needs and to look at everything from a more comprehensive lens. At that first meeting we had an agenda but we allowed the people who were there to set the course. The Coalition is built by its members, they shape the work through their involvement.”
In the early stages the Coalition looked at food system models across the country. They later identified the specific areas of need in the Hudson Valley and built focused working groups, each tasked to evaluate a specific issue the Coalition looks to “disrupt.” The seven areas HVFSC identified in its working model include; Core Values (such as Race and Equity, Strong Communities, Vibrant Farms and Gardens, Thriving Economies, Systems Thinking and Cooperation, and Healthy People); Centralized Processing & Aggregation; Consumer Access; Land Access & Agricultural Production; Marketing & Procurement; Resource & Waste Recovery; and Transportation & Distribution.
“Our goal is the creation of intangibles,” said Krevolin. “We need to come up with ideas. Imagination and creativity is what you need in the creation of systems. If we presuppose that the usual doesn’t work, what do you imagine the food system could look like? Then, how do we get there?”
After two more successful quarterly meetings and a calendar year after the Coalition first came together, the pandemic struck. By this time, the Coalition had grown to over 75 participating stakeholder groups. All the stress points in each sector of the food system being investigated by the working groups were laid bare by COVID-19 and soon after by the racial, criminal and social justice protests that enveloped and rack-focused the nation’s civic priorities. Though the Coalition could no longer meet in person, the importance of its holistic approach of addressing the needs in the food system showed itself to be a prescient undertaking.
“Now we are looking at issues in a different way,” Salem said. “We can see all the problems right in front of us. We can’t ignore social inequalities within the food system.”
With communication now more complicated and recent changes in leadership, the Coalition has reorganized, in an effort to democratize the structure and bring more leaders to bear. Among those new leaders is HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson who sees the crucial intersections of the endeavor with the work HVADC does.
“The work of the HVFSC is going to have a major impact on the Hudson Valley for years and years to come. Using a holistic, systems-minded approach to addressing the issues facing the food system is a responsible way to address the fundamental problems we face,” said Johnson. “I’m honored to be a part of this work and I think the Coalition offers HVADC a fresh opportunity to deploy our knowledge and resources to effect real change.”
But what will the tangible fruits of this mental labor look like? Salem said language, guidance and policy proposals created by the Coalition outlining regional goals can, and should, eventually be adopted into grant applications, business plans, governmental and institutional planning documents and for use in leveraging beneficial legislative power.
The pandemic has slightly impeded the Coalition’s progress but a new method to online meetings, a recent stakeholder survey - to reevaluate where people stand on key issues, and a new approach to the structure of working groups, will no doubt get the mission of the Coalition back on track.
“We give people an opportunity to take themselves out of their workday and think about the bigger picture,” said Salem. “We had people coming together to answer big questions. Now people are focusing, rightfully, on immediate needs, but now is also when we can see the problems we face and is the time to think big."