Opening Salvo on Academically Supported Agriculture

Academically Supported Agriculture

 

The idea is to form a consortium of upstate private colleges to finance the creation of a for-profit enterprise to aggregate the buying and processing of local foods for their dining halls.  Each school would invest a modest sum say (from .03 to .06 cents per meal served) to “opt in”. Some of this funding might come from existing food service company marketing fees.

   

The project would begin with modest goals, then ramp them up as capacity builds.  Ideally, in the early stages at least ten schools would participate so there is strong pooled demand.

 

The concept links two great upstate enterprises – farms and institutions of higher learning and addresses keen need for suitable processing.  This could be a New York-only operation, but it might eventually include Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New York farms and schools too. This food shed is, in essence, the California of the Northeast.

 

At present, only a fraction of the demand for local/ sustainable foods is being met because of bottlenecks in processing and distribution, and “barriers to entry” to the kitchens for the dining halls.  There is considerable enthusiasm on the part of school administrations and student bodies at area schools to see more of the food served coming from local sources. If the schools actively invested in/owned/ insured the supply side, it would not be likely for the food service companies to refuse to buy. Currently, (unless the food service is self-operated) no single school has the appetite or resources to bring about radical change in food procurement. By joining forces to create a for-profit enterprise dedicated to this notion, they might just be able to do it. 

 

A Capital District based venture would be ideally located to lead this ASA (Academically Supported Agriculture) concept.  Food supplies in Vermont, Western Massachusetts, The Adirondacks, Mohawk Valley, Hudson Valley, NW Connecticut, on the Atlantic Coast, and at the edge of the Finger Lakes are within 200 miles. Schools in range are in metro New York, New Haven, & Boston as well in the regions listed. The Capital District alone has as many students as Greater Boston. This is a large and robust target market. Once demonstrated to be effective the model can be adapted for hospitals and public schools and government agencies.

 

This venture might work in several ways.

·         In the first case, consortium partners aggregate ordering with existing mid-sized farms within a 200 mile radius. Schools pool their needs and the consortium provides the farms with a “shopping list” of desired vegetables, fruits, beans, dairy and meat for the coming school year. The consortium agrees upon price. The consortium would (based on analysis) build, sub-lease or buy processing facilities so that the food is delivered to the food service operators in the state they require. Hero Beechnut would be the first processor to be approached. This would serve to give a new use to a venerable facility in Canajoharie. A conversation with Greenwave.org who piloted a project at  Vassar and NYU highlights that lack of adequate processing facilities of a sufficient size is a barrier to scaling up with value-added shelf- stable processed ingredients.  Think soups, salsas, tomato sauces, side dishes and pie fillings as possible value-added product offerings.   The consortium could eventually own and operate the distribution network (optimally using waste vegetable oil-powered trucks).  

·         Down the road as demand builds, the consortium could work with land trusts (such as Berkshire Taconic, Glynwood) to put fallow land back into farming with the help of immigrant farm families in a trademarked venture. New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (administered by Tufts University) works with skilled farmers from Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon, Lebanon, Colombia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Burundi, Vietnam and Puerto Rico to locate suitable farms, provide training  and launch successful enterprises.

·         Eventually another component might be fostering and being a client of upstate urban farming enterprises.  Growing Power is a beautiful example of this type of farm. Will Allen has just been awarded a MacArthur Genius Award for his work on farms within city limits in Milwaukee and Chicago.

 

Any way you slice it local farms would be supported, local economies strengthened, food quality and freshness improved, open space preserved and the carbon footprint reduced.  A disruptive innovation in the processing and distribution systems is needed to change the status quo. 

 

When you consider that a school like Middlebury serves upwards of 7,000 meals a day and imagine (Google maps will do this for you) how many independent boarding schools and private colleges there are in a 200 mile radius, you can see the volume could be substantial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Drop at a Time – New Resourceful Paradigms at 168 Elm Avenue

On Saturday, November 8th, my friend Melissa and I attended a presentation by Marcus de la Fleur at Berkshire Botanical Gardens in Stockbridge, MA.  Marcus is a landscape architect working outside Chicago, Illinois.  He took participants on a vitual tour of his residential scale pilot project in sustainability. A truly wondrous morning of discovery.  Have a look at his website – and implement at least one of his systems on your home lot. 

 

The general interest in sustainable – or green –  options is growing.  This includes the interest in water, one of our most important renewable resources. Water drives the health of our environment, but its functioning is often fundamentally misunderstood. This web page features the 168 Elm Ave. Pilot Project, which demonstrates sustainable rain water, stormwater, and runoff treatments at a residential scale. It offers resources that help fill the information gap by offering accessible, in-the-ground examples that demonstrate the feasibility of and confidence in sustainable landscape solutions.

Seven different treatments are incorporated into the pilot project: 1) the GREEN ROOF, 2) the RAIN BARRELS, 3) the POROUS PAVEMENT, 4) the RAIN GARDENS, 5) the GRAVEL GRASS, 6) the CISTERN, and 7) the BIOSWALE.

These treatments serve as milestones on a VIRTUAL TOUR AROUND THE HOUSE. The web page explains in detail the rationales of the applied sustainable practices, describes the benefits of each treatment, and describes how some of them were implemented. Also included is information on the project’s CLAY SOILS and their infiltration capacity, how much the RUNOFF QUANTITY was reduced, and thoughts towards the larger cumulative effect and the probable positive impact on the local waterway (in this case SALT CREEK).

Marcus de la fleur, January 2008

http://www.delafleur.com/168_Elm/index.htm

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MacArthur Genius – Will Allen

What is happening in the urban food deserts and rural towns is not so very different.  Read about Will Allen’s brilliant solutions.

2008 MacArthur Fellows
Will Allen

Will Allen is an urban farmer who is transforming the cultivation, production, and delivery of healthy foods to underserved, urban populations. In 1995, while assisting neighborhood children with a gardening project, Allen began developing the farming methods and educational programs that are now the hallmark of the non-profit organization Growing Power, which he directs and co-founded. Guiding all is his efforts is the recognition that the unhealthy diets of low-income, urban populations, and such related health problems as obesity and diabetes, largely are attributable to limited access to safe and affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. Rather than embracing the “back to the land” approach promoted by many within the sustainable agriculture movement, Allen’s holistic farming model incorporates both cultivating foodstuffs and designing food distribution networks in an urban setting

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