Bucks County Foodshed Alliance: Follow-up

I’ll admit it. I’m still a bit of a novice when it comes to sustainable agriculture and concepts like “foodshed.” But I’m learning, and Bucks County is a great school.

I’ve also never been one to take a hard stand. Oh, I have my opinions, but I also see a lot of gray area as well. I can appreciate others’ passions, but I appreciate collaboration and cooperation. They seem to achieve more in the long run. But perhaps both kinds of people are necessary – those that take a position, and those that bring opposing sides together – and the changes brought about when both sides listen to one another. [See the tidbit on Russ Parsons’ article on this in the LA Times.]

I attended the Bucks County Foodshed Alliance Annual Meeting this past Wednesday evening and was amazed. The room was filled to capacity with a diverse group of people – farmers, caterers, gardeners, concerned parents, coffee roasters and other food producers, retailers, and ordinary citizens. Dogma was not present, I was pleased to note. It was instead a group of people who care about Bucks County and want to increase our ability to produce quality food to feed our local population. If you want good-tasting, nutritious food that hasn’t traveled thousands of miles to get here, this is the organization to support. If you want to support a local economy that has the opportunity and resources to do this, join the Foodshed Alliance (dues are only $20/year).

The Foodshed Alliance was formed only 3 1/2 years ago. I say “only” because what they have achieved in that short time, and their goals, are impressive. Their vision, in short, is to build a local, sustainable food supply in Bucks County. They manage both the Wrightstown and Lower Makefield Farmers’ Markets, run community education programs, and support sustainable agricultural enterprises, among other projects.

Executive director Robin Hoy summarized the year for us. Here are some of the highlights from Robin’s report:

2009 was a very challenging year for growing food because of the exceptionally wet weather as well as because of the struggling economy. Despite that, the Foodshed Alliance’s work has been tremendously successful and we’ve seen continued rapid growth this year.

  • Shopper attendance at the Wrightstown Farmers’ Market increased 20% this year
  • The Wrightstown Market attracted eight new vendors…and vendors have increased and diversified their offerings (e.g., more products, different kinds of vegetables, etc.)
  • The number of farmers’ markets in the county selling Bucks County grown and produced products has quadrupled since we held our first Harvest Festival in 2006
  • Local farm stands are reopening and many are booming.
  • More than 400 people attended the Alliance’s monthly programs and farm tours, and two new programs for school age children and preschoolers were very well received
  • Partnering with Bucks Slow Food, the market held an “eat-in” at the farmers’ market in September to advocate for legislation supporting healthier school lunches. This was our best attended market of the season, almost doubling average attendance, and speaking to the depth of concern that people have about healthy food for our families.
  • Working with a grant from the Sierra Club, the Alliance is supporting new sustainable agricultural enterprises and apprenticeships, including plans to encourage more local production of winter produce, grains and dried beans.

Plans for 2010 include: increasing social media outreach (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.); improving the Web site, and information available on it (e.g., listing of local food producers, classified section for farmers); and reassessing the organization’s goals and objectives and “how we might most effectively continue building the local food system.”

The Alliance also holds meetings on the first Wednesday of each month with interesting speakers and programs. To learn more, see the Alliance’s Web site and sign up for email newsletters.

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