Food Justice interview: Oran Hesterman of Fair Food Network

This fall, Repair the World is building a movement to Inspire Service, focusing on the critical issue of food justice in conjunction with Hunger Action Month.

Meanwhile, we’re spotlighting the work of awesome food justice-minded companies and organizations around the world. This week: Fair Food Network: an organization dedicated to building a more just and sustainable food system. We spoke with President and CEO, Oran Hesterman, not making sacrifices or compromises when it comes to helping food be sustainable and just for all.

Why is the work you do around food so important right now?
There are times when groups working on food issues seem to be camped out at one of two poles. On the one side are the epicureans or “foodies” who make the point that we need to pay the real cost for good food in order to support farmers. On the other side are the anti-hunger activists whose top priority is preserving calories for those most vulnerable. Make no mistake, the thinking behind both is commendable and necessary, but it should never be a question of whether we support hungry families or local farmers. We can and need to do both.

At Fair Food Network, we develop multi-win solutions that work across the food system to ensure that farmers earn a fair price for their products AND that families—especially those most underserved—have access to the most nutritious and delicious food possible.

Can you share a brief story that demonstrates Fair Food Network’s impact on food justice?
Our signature effort at Fair Food Network is a healthy food incentive program called Double Up Food Bucks. Double Up provides low-income Americans who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamp) benefits with a one-to-one match to purchase healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Let’s say you’re a Michigan family living in Detroit. For every dollar of SNAP benefits you spend at your local farmers market, you get an equal amount to purchase Michigan grown fruits and vegetables. This means you can bring home $40 of healthy food for just $20.

Since 2009, we’ve grown Double Up from a small pilot in five farmers markets in Detroit to a statewide success story in more than 150 sites, now also including at grocery stores in one of the first such pilots in the country. Today nearly 90% of Michigan shoppers live in a county where the program operates. Our strong track record in Michigan helped inspire the new $100 million Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants program in the 2014 Farm Bill. Because of matching fund requirements, with FINI there will be at least $200 million flowing to support programs such as Double Up Food Bucks across the county.

This March, Fair Food Network was honored to receive $5.1 million in FINI funding to expand Double Up Food Bucks in our home state of Michigan. The grant, the second largest in the first round of funding, will be matched with private funds for a total of nearly $10.4 million, which will allow us to grow the program at farmers markets, help markets adopt mobile technology and be open year-round, and increase program use in up to 50 grocery stores of all sizes.

In what ways do volunteers get involved with your work?
The success of Double Up Food Bucks is grounded in partnerships. We are currently growing our volunteer network and looking for help in bringing the program to life, particularly as it expands to more grocery stores. Volunteers are needed to greet shoppers and share how Double Up works at participating stores, give store tours or healthy food cooking demonstrations, connect with community partners, or help coordinate other volunteers.

What are the biggest challenges to your work?
There are many successful sustainable food models out there that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago. One of the biggest challenges we – along with many other groups – face right now is how to shepherd such programs from models into the mainstream. As we have seen with healthy food incentives, policy can be a powerful vehicle to help spread and scale innovations. It is up to us to continue proving the concept and keeping our elected officials engaged in and informed of our work so they can be champions of this work.

And on the flip side, what have you found most inspiring?
Double Up and similar incentive programs can be game-changers. SNAP accounts for the largest government expenditure in our food and agriculture system. Programs like Double Up leverage those federal dollars to meet families’ immediate food needs with fresh, healthy food. But it doesn’t stop there: if they maintain a connection to local agriculture, they can also support area farmers and keep money in the local economy, which in turn spurs economic activity and opportunity.

In this way, food stamps are not only a way to assist low-income families in the here and now, they are also a powerful tool for long-term healthcare savings and an engine for economic development and revitalization. Conventional wisdom says you need a carrot and a stick to change behavior. What we have shown with Double Up Food Bucks is that you just need a better tasting and more affordable carrot.

Learn more about Fair Food Network at their website. And hear what Carole Caplan, Director of Program Enhancement at Fair Food Network had to say about her passion for food justice and Judaism on Repair’s recent “What on Earth is Food Justice?” Webinar.

Repair Inspiration: The Food Stamp Cookbook

This fall, Repair the World is building a movement to Inspire Service, focusing on the critical issue of food justice in conjunction with Hunger Action Month.

It is no secret that eating well on a budget is challenging – particularly when that budget is dictated by SNAP Benefits (that’s the new term for food stamps). Recently, NPR ran a story about a woman named Leanne Brown who wrote a cookbook to help people cook nutritious, creative, and tasty meals while spending very little money. Check out an excerpt below and read the whole story on NPR’s site.

Cheap Eats: A Cookbook For Eating Well On A Food Stamp Budget
By: Molly Roberts
Read more

Food Justice Interview: Gidi Kroch of Leket Israel

This fall, Repair the World is building a movement to Inspire Service, focusing on the critical issue of food justice in conjunction with Hunger Action Month.

Meanwhile, we’re spotlighting the work of awesome food justice organizations around the world. First up: Leket Israel – the country’s National Food Bank and largest food rescue network. Leket’s mission is to lead the safe, effective, and efficient collection and distribution of surplus nutritious food in Israel, to those who need it. We spoke with Leket’s CEO, Gidi Kroch, about what makes their work so critical, what he finds most challenging, and what inspires him.

Why is the work you do around food so important in Israel right now?
There is a lot of food waste all around the world, including Israel. At the same time, Israel is in line with the world’s largest agricultural production, even with its limited space. In addition, like other western countries, unfortunately, the need is growing and the gap is widening. Our government is not doing its part to financially support the food insecure. All of this contributes to the criticalness of Leket Israel’s work in food rescue and redistribution to those in need across the country.

Can you share a story that demonstrates Leket’s impact?
In addition to Leket Israel rescuing more than 30 million pounds of produce and perishables that would have been destroyed annually, we advocate for the nonprofits we serve and many others providing food to the poor. A recent example of this was our appeal to the Ministry of Health regarding a bill they were planning on passing that would have negatively affected the work the nonprofits were doing.

We were successful, and the Ministry of Health granted a four year extension which allows NPOs the ability to continue their work feeding those in need. Another important step that Leket is taking is to encourage resistant food donors who currently do not donate their surplus food by drafting and promoting the passing of Israel’s first Food Donation Act. Modeled after the U.S. Good Samaritan Law, this would protect all donors’ food donations given in good faith. We hope that this will pass in Israel in the immediate future as we believe it will not only minimize waste but will greatly enhance the amount of food currently being rescued.

In what ways do volunteers get involved?
Leket Israel enlists over 60,000 volunteers each year. They lend a hand in a range of projects such as volunteering with Project Leket (gleaning in the fields), picking fruits and vegetables for distribution to Leket’s nonprofit partner agencies, and sorting food at Leket Israel’s main logistics center in Ra’anana. There, the volunteers sort produce from the large agricultural bins and repackage them into smaller crates in preparation for delivery to the NPOs. Volunteers are also an integral part of Leket to Table, Leket Israel’s meal rescue program. Volunteers go out during the day and at night to collect excess meals from corporate cafeterias, restaurants, event halls.

What are your biggest challenges? And what inspires you most?
One of the biggest challenges we face is that there is just so much more surplus food out there, and we can not get to all of it – knowing that fresh, nutritious food is going waste instead of feeding someone who is food insecure. On the other hand, it has been truly inspiring to witness the willingness of Israeli farmers to donate their produce to Leket. The farmers, in many cases, are struggling themselves but this does not prevent them from giving their excess fruits and vegetables to help others.

Find out more about Leket Israel’s work around food justice on their website.

August 2015 Social Good Roundup!

In addition to our monthly Newsletter, we are also bringing you a monthly round-up of our favorite programs from our partners and from across the web. The opportunities below are separated by long term (6+ months), short term (6 months or less) and ongoing service, social good, and travel opportunities.

Be sure to check back monthly for updates and new finds!

Commit…To Service!     (Long-Term Programs)

You Want To Go To There.      (Short-Term and Travel Opportunities)

Be Social. Do Good.    (Social Good Jobs, Events and Campaigns)

Repair Inspiration: Libraries Launch Summer Meal Programs

Public schools have long provided free or reduced price lunch (and in some cases breakfast) programs for students in need. While not a perfect system, these meals make a big difference in making sure all students have access to enough food during the school day. That’s great for the 9 months a year when class is in – but what about the summer? Now, public libraries across the country have started to fill in the gap during the warmer months, providing well-rounded meals to kids that come from low-income families.

Recently, the Huffington Post published an inspiring story highlighting 5 of these lunch libraries. Check out the excerpt below, and read the whole story on the Huffington Post’s website.

Eat Up! 5 Public Libraries’ Successful Summer Lunch Programs
By: Jordan Lloyd Bookey

Last summer, Nina Lindsay was walking through the Oakland Public Library (OPL) where she works when she saw what she describes as “the best kind of trash.” On the floor was a peach pit sucked bone dry. It had been served for lunch earlier that day, and for Nina the image of that pit serves as a reminder of the importance of the library’s summer meals program.

This is not just happening in Oakland. Libraries around the country are starting similar initiatives. During the school year, 22 million kids receive a free or reduced price lunch at school according to Lucy Melcher, the Associate Director of Advocacy for Share Our Strength; but during the summer months, those numbers drop dramatically. Only 1 in 6 of those kids gets that meal when school is out. These programs are designed to change that.

“The biggest challenge we hear from organizations operating the summer meals program is that it doesn’t provide enough options to reach kids in hard to reach areas,” Lucy told me. Libraries can reach eligible children who are not getting their summer meals. “Libraries were a hidden gem. They are a natural place in the community where kids are already congregating during the summer. They have great spaces to provide meals in a fun environment for kids. Libraries are also trusted places in their communities and have the ability to do outreach through schools and other community organizations about the summer meals program.”

Hearing about these amazing programs got me excited and I wanted to hear more. So I spoke with five public libraries about their summer meal sites. It was inspiring to learn what they were doing, how these programs were growing–and especially to hear the feedback from children and families who have benefited. Here are a few of the things they told me:

Finish reading the story on the Huffington Post.