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January 23, 2013 / Christian Clansky

Understanding local agriculture is the key to an equitable food system

Last week, Crystal Townsend, president of the Healthcare Initiative Foundation, attended the Farming At Metro’s Edge Conference. The conference was co-sponsored by The Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers’ D.C. Regional Convergence Partnership* and gathered together over 240 farmers, foundations, consumers, environmentalists, government agencies and other interested parties to discuss the current state of agriculture in Frederick and Montgomery counties. Below, Crystal shares some of the lessons learned and discusses how a group of WRAG members are taking action.

by Crystal Townsend
President, Healthcare Initiative Foundation

Farmers in the area face a multitude of challenges: continued residential development; limited marketing opportunities and connectivity with local consumers; increased local and state regulations; and decreased technical assistance and capital investment supports to incorporate innovative farming techniques. As a result, the number of farms and agriculture activities are in decline.

To ensure the continued viability of agriculture in Frederick and Montgomery counties, a concerted effort must be made to understand agriculture as it exists today, to anticipate the challenges it will face tomorrow, and to encourage its continued growth in the metropolitan area.

The Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers’ D.C. Regional Convergence Partnership, a group comprised of cross-sector funders, is committed to advancing a more equitable regional food system examining:

1) land/food/agricultural production;
2) food processing and distribution;
3) marketing, consumer choices, and access; and
4) consumption and public health.

The farmer and agricultural communities are essential partners for this work. Examining how to more fully integrate agriculture production and stewardship into the Greater Washington region will require private, public, and nonprofit collaborations to creatively address innovations in land use planning, creation of an equitable food system, infrastructure needs, expanding institutional markets, farm transitions, and environmental issues.

*The Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers’ D.C. Regional Convergence Partnership was one of the conference sponsors representing contributions from: The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation; The Community Foundation for Montgomery County; Consumer Health Foundation; Corina Higginson Trust c/o Accokeek Foundation; Healthcare Initiative Foundation; and Kaiser Permanente.

If you are a funder who is interested in joining the effort and learning more about the Convergence Partnership, please contact Mardell Moffett, associate director at the Cafritz Foundation.

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