Food councils throughout Northern Virginia agree that food system resiliency and sustainability are priorities for reducing hunger and increasing the quality of foods available for everyone.
As we all experienced, the national food supply chain fell apart in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, leaving grocery store shelves empty and people of all economic statuses searching for where to get their groceries, meanwhile farmers had food they were throwing away. As a result, donations of fresh produce and healthy foods significantly decreased leaving food pantries empty while food insecurity increased.
Agriculture is Virginia’s largest private industry, with a $70 billion annual economic impact. Yet, our region is reliant on food shipped from across the country and the world, leaving farmers struggling to make a living, and families unable to access the healthy food they need. There is a lack of coordination with agricultural products that are available for consumption, sale, and donation throughout the region with markets for their products. Our goal is to create a healthy, resilient food system that procures bulk donations of food for food insecure families, supports local agriculture, eliminates food waste in all forms, supports education around food, and advocates for stakeholders in our food system that have identified gaps and barriers to efficient food production and distribution.
In addition to what our Food Rescue Programs are rescuing from donors we also work to procure bulk deliveries of items. These items can be purchased or donated but we receive them in a central location and then split the donation making sure each food distributor gets only what they need, further reducing the potential for waste. The focus of our bulk delivery purchases is to support local agriculture and businesses, feeding that money back into our community.
Our region is saturated with agriculture whether that is in the form of household gardens, community gardens, small family farms, or large farms. Supporting local agriculture means we are strengthening our local food supply chain, ensuring that no matter the circumstances whether there is a global pandemic or not, our community will have access to food. We have partnerships with local farmers, community gardens, and farmers markets to receive donations of fresh produce as well as purchase food from them when funding allows.
Eliminating Food Waste
It is estimated that 56% of food waste ends up in a landfill*. Meaning 20% of the weight of landfills in the US is from food, which when it decomposes releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas. Our goal is to keep food from going to the landfill through a variety of means. (*Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2018 Fact Sheet, Assessing Trends in Materials Generation and Management in the United States, December 2020, page 4.)
- Food Rescue. This is the food accessibility component of our work, lots more information can be found on the food access page.
- Food Scraps for Farmers. If food is no longer good for human consumption, our next best option is to get that food to farmers to feed their livestock. We have begun this program in Prince William County getting food waste from restaurants, grocery stores, and food pantries to local farmers. Taking food waste and creating new forms of food.
- Composting. We are partnering with composting companies in the region to redirect household or business waste to compost. Saving food from the landfill and creating “black gold” or nutrient rich soils that capture carbon instead of releasing it in the form of greenhouse gases.
This is at the core of food resiliency. We will collaborate with existing organizations and experts in the food education space focused on healthy eating and cooking, smart shopping, gardening, and all forms of agriculture.
As we work with the stakeholders involved in our food system, we will see needs arise across a variety of sectors. We will work with our networks to advocate for and support filling these needs as they come, meaning this is an ever-expanding portion of our work.