A Tale of Two Communities

VALOR’s most recent session took us to Northern Virginia and Washington DC. Urban ag at its finest-Endless Summer Harvest, Loudoun County Ag Economic Development, and Cultivate the City. National Policy with an array of ag representatives from Capitol Hill. Local food issues from the DC Urban Ag Department and the Anacostia Community Museum’s presentation on Food for the Community.

The Class V fellows had the pleasure of meeting with a group of Congressional members, staffers and special interest groups during our visit.  Transportation, infrastructure, and ag programs were all part of the discussions.  Of particular interest was the topic of broadband.  Several staffers lived in the upper Midwest.  They all had access to broadband based on decisions their utility providers made nearly 30 years ago relating to infrastructure.  The overwhelming majority of VALOR Fellows did not have broadband.  Some of these members were less than 70 miles from the capitol of the United States. We all left that session recognizing the impact of not taking deliberate action when it comes to providing basic needs for your constituents, especially those who do not have as strong of a voice in the community.

The disparity between the haves and have nots in the country was further highlighted by the Smithsonian’s recently opened Food for the People display at the Anacostia Community Museum. Two key points really stood out to me:

·        40% of all food is lost from production to consumption.

·        The US needs 42 million less acres to feed the US citizens. 

While you may need 42 million less acres to feed all US citizens, this doesn’t address the huge role of American agriculture in feeding the growing world population. What it also doesn’t address is the potential of redistributing some of that production to other commodities, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. The US has (and with a continued focus on leveraging its human, technology and natural resources) led the way providing food for citizens across the world.

So, you ask, why can’t more food produced within the US serve those food deserts that surround us? You don’t have to look far within any community to find those living in a food desert or have food insecurity to some degree.   A thought comes to mind– if your commodity producers diversified even a tiny bit, how would the food system look if you incentivized these producers to market their produce within the USDA definition of local food?  Better yet, what if the next Farm Bill took a step towards requiring more fresh food production in order to receive other ag program subsidies?

The Covid pandemic illustrated a growing sentiment amongst the VALOR fellows-we need more channels to feed our communities from nearby resources. Funding for the local processing and distribution facilities needs an greater emphasis to alleviate this 40% loss of food in our country. Higher income from the farmers who feed their own areas, higher standard of life for the citizens in their communities?  These goals are not divergent.

Stepping back from the micro level, the VALOR fellows also saw a macro view of the city and its role in the world from an evening tour of the capitol. The group’s stops included Capitol Hill, The Mall, Lincoln Memorial, Tidal Basin, MLK Memorial and more. Reflecting on the impact of those individuals and institutions provides a great appreciation for the sacrifices that shaped this great nation. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial provided a key takeaway for me. Over 80 years ago, FDR uttered these words during his 2nd inauguration:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

The VALOR fellows, through our many farm tours and interactions with industry professionals, have the opportunity to impact our food systems. There’s no shortage of challenges to provide food, fiber, and infrastructure for the country. How will VALOR members respond to those challenges to progress beyond the extremes within our own individual communities? Ask us-we recognize the challenges and would love to discuss them with you.

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