Euneika Rogers-Sipp for SCALE consulting team, April 2022
In this blog, the first of a series, I will highlight community-based organizations in Western New York that are creating and expanding innovative models of care - beginning new efforts and nurturing long-standing food sovereignty initiatives that are committed to improve health equity and support transformative system-level change.
The Food Future WNY Initiative is learning that forming the right partnerships with these community-based actors will address many of the underlying issues impacting our ability to effectively respond to local community needs for healthy food. Partnerships working at the intersection of farm enterprise, public health policy and racial justice aim to build a solid foundation for the future of food systems, thereby providing opportunities for mutual healing.
The Native Farm Bill Coalition meets at Gakwi:yo:h Farms in Cattaraugus County, April 12, 2022. Territories represented: Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, Seneca, Allegany, Seneca Cattaraugus, Tonawanda Band of Seneca, Tuscarora, Ganondagan, Cayuga, Onondaga, Akewesasne Mohawk, Kahnawake Mohawk, Eastern Band of Cherokee North Carolina. Photo by Mike Snyder.
An affirming, growing life force is generated by partnering with the Seneca people. Among the growing field of food system actors, who center Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI), in this potential accord is held in the greatest respect. As recently as 20 years ago, the Seneca experienced systematic destruction of their agricultural traditions, from how they butchered their animals to how they sowed, harvested, and distributed their crops. According to Mike Snyder, Director of the Seneca Nation Agriculture Department and Manager of Gakwi:yo:h Farms (good food in Seneca), a Seneca Nation farming enterprise, did not exist because in an ecosystem of traditional foods and medicinal practices farming was irrelevant in that iteration of Western New York’s food system culture.
Gakwi:yo:h Farms addresses food security and food sovereignty through community engagement and wellness by implementing a “Haudenosaunee” (pronounced Ho· de·no·sau·nee·ga) approach to agricultural practices. Commonly referred to as Iroquois of Six Nations, the goal is to produce healthy food, use quality food processing procedures and make these foods available to Seneca community members, from field to table. The foundation of the mission rests on the ability to positively impact the Seneca people, contribute to a conscious shift toward healthier eating habits, and change the way food is brought into homes.
As an agriculture initiative, Gakwi:yo:h Farms reconnects the philosophy of their Seneca ancestors and commits to promote the relationship between the people, their lands, and the foods they eat. Just as the Seneca people have always understood and respected the value of their traditional foods, they acknowledge the value placed on healthy food, especially white corn which is an inherent part of the Seneca culture. Gakwi:yo:h Farms is thriving, developed in the ways of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which is indigenous to the exact location it stands today.
Three phases of Community Food Sovereignty: Plans and Action in Place
The Access, Equity, and Food Sovereignty (AES) Work Group explores and embraces the transformative potential, opportunities, and wide-ranging benefits that food sovereignty and other justice-based frameworks offer. Frameworks that can benefit people living and working in rural and urban areas. We are inspired by the movement of Senecas to re-establish and control their traditional food systems while diversifying into markets, production modes, cultures, and environments. Although the Seneca are not completely food sovereign today, they are well on their way to a culturally-specific system rooted in their origins. Their self-sufficiency model facilitates direct links between indigenous farming practices and a community's social and economic development.
To learn more, get involved or find contact information please visit the WNY Regional Food System Initiative website.
Anthony Flaccavento, SCALE Consulting Team - March 16, 2022
We’ve just come through another cold spell here in southwest Virginia – not as bad as Buffalo, mind you! – so I’ve removed a few large pieces of plastic we’d been using to warm the soil for an early planting of broccoli. These sheets are ‘repurposed’: taken off of high tunnels that needed new plastic after several years. We farmers are a frugal bunch, reusing materials, fixing equipment, turning waste into compost or energy, repurposing just about everything we can. Most farmers do this far better than me.
But frugality alone can’t compensate for the steep rise in costs western New York farmers are facing for their most basic inputs: seeds, feed, fertilizers, equipment and fuel and transport. Fertilizer costs, which had already increased substantially in 2021, are projected to jump as much as 80% more in 2022, according to a study by Texas A & M University. And while prices for some farm commodities have also increased a bit, the reality is that most farmers find themselves “caught between monopolized sellers and buyers”, according to journalist Claire Kelloway. “They must pay ever higher prices to the giants who dominate the market for the supplies they need. At the same time, they must accept ever lower prices from the giant agribusinesses that buy the stuff they sell, like crops and livestock.” For western New York farmers who completed our survey, rising input costs was among their top concerns, along with increasing access to better paying markets.
Is there a way out of this dilemma? Launched a little more than a year ago, the Western New York Food System Initiative is working to build a more equitable and resilient food system in the nine-county region, one where farmers can make a decent living, workers earn a livable wage and consumers – all of us – have access to healthy, affordable food produced nearby. Scores of people, from Rochester to Cattaraugus County, have come together to tackle this challenge, sharing innovative solutions that are emerging on farms and in local communities.
Many of these emerging solutions share a common characteristic: they create more direct connections between farmers and consumers. Ranging from mobile markets in Jamestown, Buffalo and Rochester to electronic marketplaces like Produce Peddlers and Farm Drop in Linwood, to food hubs and distributors like Headwater in Rochester, Eden Valley Growers in Erie County, or Brigiotta’s in Jamestown, efforts to build more locally-based supply chains are bearing fruit. Other enterprises, like Alliance Farm Butchery, are pooling the resources of multiple farmers to build meat processing infrastructure that is responsive to local farmers rather than distant agribusiness giants. And the Seneca Nation’s Gakwi:yo:h Farms and Blegacy Farm in Franklinville are both ‘incubating’ new farmers while rekindling the production of both healthy and culturally-rooted foods.
Fewer than one in a hundred Americans farm or are likely to take up farming. So, what can the other ninety nine of us do to support a better food system in Western New York? First, as my colleague, Michael Shuman pointed out in his February post, we can begin to shift some of our
savings and investment dollars to support these innovative local businesses. Two years ago, my wife and I invested in a local micro-dairy, Goshen Farmstead, that produces outstanding milk and yogurt, and which is paying its local investors an average return of about 5%. Though our investment was small, the gratification we’ve gotten from putting our money into a healthier food system is enormous. And the Jersey milk is fantastic!
And second, for many of us, we can invest in a stronger food system by choosing how and where we buy our groceries. Our ‘food dollars’ are a form of everyday investment. We can use them to help Walmart and Amazon increase their reach and power, or we can help build up the farms, markets and food businesses that are stewarding our land, strengthening local economies and rebuilding communities. Creating many more options for people to buy healthy local foods, including overcoming systemic challenges to food access, is central to the WNY food system initiative. Each of us can help make that happen, with every bite we take. And in the process, we will strengthen local farms, reduce food transport cost, and ensure that farmers get a larger share of the food dollars we spend.
Michael Shuman for SCALE - February 25, 2022
Do you have a promising food or farming business (FFB) that needs capital, and all you’ve heard from banks, state agencies, and loan programs is “no” time and again. Don’t despair—there is hope. With new laws in investment crowdfunding, you can now raise capital directly from your network of customers, friends, and fans. And with the expanding toolchest we are making available on this web site, you can do crowdfunding easily and inexpensively.
A little context: The nine counties that are part of our Western New York (WNY) Regional Food System Initiative have about 2.3 million residents. According to 2020 data from the ESRI Business Analyst, they collectively have $133 billion in financial wealth. About $15 billion sits in banks, and the rest is in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, pension funds, and insurance funds.
But here’s the rub: Even though locally owned businesses account for most of the jobs and output in the Western New York economy, they receive a tiny fraction of bank capital and almost none of residents’ long-term retirement savings. Local FFBs, which are mistakenly viewed as “lifestyle businesses,” get even less. Moving even a tiny fraction of these dollars from Wall Street into FFBs could enormously boost local income, wealth, and jobs.
In fact, a growing number of Americans are doing just that. Since investment crowdfunding was legalized in 2016, 1.3 million Americans have invested more than a billion dollars in nearly 5,000 companies. The average company has raised about $300,000 and the average investor has placed about $800 into chosen companies. More than 100,000 jobs have been created. And the disproportionate success stories have been companies run by BiPOC or women entrepreneurs—those most marginalized in the existing capital marketplace.
But this option remains relatively unknown and unused in Western New York. Very few companies here—and almost no FFBs—have taken advantage of investment crowdfunding. Together, we can to change this.
In the Resources section of this website, we have begun to list FFBs looking for capital. You won’t find any investment crowdfunding offerings—yet—but you will find bulk pre-purchasing opportunities, which are another way businesses can secure capital. For example, you’ll currently find the community supported agriculture (CSA) program of West Side Tilth Farm listed. If you write a check to the business for $515 now, you will get weekly boxes of fresh produce big enough to feed two to four people. The money then provides working capital for the farm ahead of the growing season.
Another example: When COVID hit, my wife and I decided to support our favorite restaurant, Busboys and Poets, with a $1,000 check. We told the restauranteur to use it to keep employees in place and just give us gift cards. The proprietor was so pleased, he gave us $1,200 of gift cards—and we got a 20% rate of return off our investment. Our gesture—and the many similar ones it inspired—help keep this and other restaurants in business.
If you run a FFB in Western New York and are interested in this option, we direct you to Credibles, a partner site that puts together bulk pre-purchasing deals. If you want to raise money for your business through donations, perhaps using GoFundMe or Kickstarter, we can list that on our project web site. Or if you want to get a loan or equity investment into your business, we can help connect you with one of nearly 100 federally licensed “portals,” and then we’ll list that offering on our site.
Over time, we hope to make this site a go-to place, not just for businesses looking for capital, but for anyone in the region interested in investing Western New York FFBs. We think there are millions of local dollars each year that can and should start flowing into a healthier, more just, more self-reliant local food system.
If you don’t run a business and just want to invest in FFBs, we can help too. Over time, we will help you find local investment clubs. Or courses on local investing. Or tools for tapping your pension funds. We’ve already posted extensive FAQs that can help you get started.
Please let everyone in the region—businesses and investors alike--know we’re here. If you’re interested in investing, please come visit every couple of weeks (and maybe more often than that) to see what’s available. The power to transform the region’s food system and economy ultimately lies in our wallets.
Nathanial Mich, Univ. at Buffalo Food Lab - February 18, 2022
The Community-Centered Health, Equitable, Ecological, and Regional Food System Mapping (CHEER) project seeks to make spatial data regarding the regional food system of Western New York more accessible to the public and a wide range of stakeholders through the creation and management of an online GIS mapping dashboard. This project builds on, expands, and formalizes the Buffalo food system mapping done by the Seeding Resilience project in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Food Lab members research, collate, and map data that pertain to the nine domains of the food system in Western New York, as well as summative data about the regional food system and emergency food system. The nine domains are 1) food production, 2) aggregation and wholesale, 3) food processing, 4) food retail, 5) food service, 6) institutional food procurement, 7) transportation and logistics, 8) management of wasted food and food loss, and 9) acquisition, preparation, & eating.
The CHEER mapping dashboard is participatory and interactive: community members can submit their “food system stories” to the dashboard, ensuring that the maps reflect Western New Yorkers’ lived experience of the food system. Furthermore, computer science researchers in the Food Lab are developing machine-learning programs that can identify fruits and vegetables in photos of produce displays. This will allow the dashboard to create a real-time image of the available foods in a community based on user-submitted photos.
The CHEER project supports Food Future Western New York, a regional food system assessment and planning initiative (part of Build Back Better WNY) for the nine counties of Western New York: Allegany, Cattaragus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans, and Wyoming. As part of the CHEER project, Food Lab researchers are conducting a social network analysis to understand how the regional planning process built and strengthened personal and professional networks within the Western New York food system.
Product: A publicly-accessible website composed of interactive maps and visualizations of the nine-county regional food system of Western New York, that illustrates several domains:
The website will also present profiles of organizations working to build a stronger local or regional food system throughout the mapping area, and short research-based essays on the features, challenges, and opportunities of each domain. Users will be able to submit their own “food system stories,” such as information about their business, relevant images, or personal narratives.
A soft opening of the website is expected in early spring of 2022.
Purpose: To collect spatial food system data in one location, make it publicly accessible and actionable for stakeholders and the broader community, and support the work of Food Future WNY and its Working Groups. As part of a regional, nine-county, community-led effort, the UB Food Lab is building a regional-scale mapping system using inclusive planning processes where stakeholders in a region's food system co-design the portals that map and monitor problems.
Team: UB Food Lab: Samina Raja (Director, PI), Nathaniel Mich (Coordinator), Eric Hughes (GIS Specialist), Oliver Kennedy (Co-I). Supported by a data advisory group composed of stakeholders from the FFWNY process.
The Food Lab is also conducting a social network analysis as part of the FFWNY planning process, to understand how FFWNY strengthens professional and community networks in the regional food system. Emmanuel Frimpong-Boamah (Co-PI), and Zachary Korosh (researcher).
Partner Input: Working groups and food system businesses and organizations are encouraged to submit information such as: contact/website, specific products and services, and relationships with other food system organizations once the website has launched. Information about specific businesses that is available through government sources is usually limited to name, location, and business type. Community and partner input will enrich this data and make the portal even more useful.
John Fisk for SCALE - February 3, 2022
Since the 1970s we have been eating our meals away from home more and more. Although food eaten at restaurants account for a large portion of this, many of us also find our way to cafeterias at a variety of institutions such as K-12 schools, higher education institutions, hospitals or other facilities with food service. So much so that many now believe that shifting food procurement practices of public and private institutions to include locally and equitably produced food can bring economic, public health, and environmental benefitsto communities (see for example Policy Link, Equitable Development Toolkit – Local Food Procurement 2015).
The movement to increase local food purchasing in K-12 public schools provides a good example how this shift can result in desired impacts. According to the National Farm to School Network kids eat more and a greater variety of fruits and vegetables through farm to school meals and then subsequently by asking for changes at home. Farmers benefit from an increase in income from farm to school sales, by having of a long-term revenue stream they can build out from, and from market diversification and growth opportunities that stem from success with schools. Communities win through increased public health and positive linkages between schools and communities particularly in low-income communities and communities of color. Communities also realize economic impacts. The 2020 study The Benefits of Farm to School, reported finding that each job created by school districts purchasing local foods led to and another 0.27 – 2.35 jobs, and it was found that each dollar invested stimulates $0.60-$2.16 of additional local activity.
Buffalo Public School (BPS) district’s efforts to source local and equitably raised food has emerged as a nationally recognized program. During the 2019-2020 school year, BPS F2S spent over $2 million, or just over 41% of its lunch expenditures, on produce, dairy, beef, juice, and other NY raised foods. But K-12 schools are just one type of institution, there are also colleges and universities, hospitals and other health care facilities, and corrections facilities. In NYS there are over 270 public and private colleges and universities. The SUNY system alone comprises 64 campuses and serves over 500,000 students and faculty with annual food purchasing budgets of approximately $150,000,000 (see On the Plate at SUNY: Growing Health, Farms and Jobs with Local Food). This same study calculated that if SUNY spent 25% of its food buy on fresh and minimally processed NY grown foods, it would create $54 million in economic output for the state.
Headwater products being picked and packed by Headwaters Fulfillment Team at the Headwater Food Hub in Ontario
Thirteen SUNY campuses, along with dozens of other institutions of higher education, health care and correctional facilities are in located in the nine counties of Western NY that are the focus on the WNY Regional Food System Initiative. Together they represent a major opportunity to redirect the power of procurement toward support for a regional food system that offers opportunity for small and large farms alike, that models racial and other forms of equity in the food system, and supports regional good food values chains that are essential to growing, processing and distributing the quantity and quality of food required by institutional food service.
Fortunately, we have the seeds of these good food value chains in the WNY region. Distributors and food hubs like Brigiotta's Farmland Produce, Eden Valley Growers and Headwater Food Hub among others work closely with local and regional farmers to coordinate supply, open markets, aggregate and distribute products. Headwater has been particularly focused on institutional food service and is committed to sourcing strategies that support a healthful, fair, humane, ecological, inclusive, transparent and resilient food system. Through a hands-on approach, they have worked closely with the University of Rochester and St John Fisher College among others to better understand how to meet the unique needs of university food service while still ensuring viable opportunity for farmers and support for the values of a good food system. Now with additional resources and shifts in procurement policy at the state level linked to pandemic recovery, Headwaters is exploring opportunities with correctional facilities.
There are challenges for local, regional and equitable food suppliers to meet the needs of institutional food service such as price, quantity, seasonality, vendor approval, and more. At the same time pressures to modify procurement policies are growing. For example, the recently proposed S.7534/A.8580 that would revise NYS food procurement policy to encourage public institutions to direct their buying power toward businesses that represent core values, including environmental sustainability, racial equity, fair labor practices and pricing for farmers, local economic benefit, nutrition, and animal welfare. The proposed legislation is informed by The Good Food Purchasing Program, a national program that has partnered with cities across the country to help shift the power of procurement to support good food values.
The WNY Regional Food System Initiative, through its Markets and Buyers Working Group is identifying strategies and working with WNY partners to facilitate greater purchasing of local, fair and healthy foods by institutions across the region. To learn more, get involved or find contact information please visit the WNY Regional Food System Initiative website.