by Hannah Provost & Jessica Levy
Many people and organizations in the Lehigh Valley are chipping away at the unsustainable industrialized food system that undermines our health, the climate, and a sustainable future. Their efforts are improving food education, expanding access, supporting local farmers, and more.
Fresh, sustainably-grown local food means food that is better for your health, reduces deadly pollution, and contributes to healthier soil, air, and water. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizer harm the planet and undermine the health of those who eat it. Local foods require far less fuel to transport them to your table. And as more people eat local food, it helps farmers survive in a system that often supports industrial agriculture over smaller, more-sustainable farms. At the same time, it builds community connections and keeps money circulating within our local economy instead of being sent off to corporate food monopolies. Plus, fresher food just tastes better!
In a world where so many people are isolated from each other, fearing for our health or the destruction of our world, a community built on foods grown next door seems like an essential step to community sustainability. Following are a few examples of the kinds of initiatives that are already underway.
The Kellyn Foundation, created in 2008, has a mission to help children develop nutritious eating habits so they can grow into healthy adults. To achieve this, Kellyn works with 39 schools in nine school districts to teach children about the importance of maintaining a healthy diet. Their “Garden as a Classroom” program incorporates science and math to give students a holistic, experiential lesson in how food is grown.
The Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council is working on a Farm to School program that will partner schools with local farms. While a few schools have provided local foods at times, this initiative will bring more local food to schools and make it part of the educational process.
The Seed Farm, which recently became part of CACLV’s Second Harvest Food Bank, provides new farmers with training to start their own farming business with support from Seed Farm staff. Beginning farmers have access to two acres of land and can rent farm equipment and storage space as needed.
Other initiatives focus on opening the door to active participation in the process of growing with community and backyard gardening — a great fit with the rich history of home gardening in the Depression era and Victory Gardens from WWII — Southside Bethlehem alleys and yards overflowed with food grown by immigrant communities.
The Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem [CADC-B] worked with local organizers and master gardeners to create a garden at the Lynnfield Community Center, giving kids space to play and learn about growing their own food.
Northampton Community College’s ‘East 40’ farm provides space for community and club gardeners to connect with the soil and also produces food for students at the College.
The Esperanza Garden on the South Bethlehem Greenway is dedicated to community and permaculture gardening and has provided an opportunity for students from local schools to learn about growing food. At the end of one season, they prepared the food they grew and served a community meal.
Access for All
Making sure everyone has access to fresh, sustainably-grown food is an essential part of building healthy communities, and many local initiatives were created with this in mind:
The Kellyn Foundation’s Mobile Market brings healthy food directly to areas that do not have good access. They work with a number of local farms to supply sustainably-grown products for the Mobile Market. In the winter, this changes to a system where people can order online but still pick up in their neighborhoods.
For a number of years, the Easton Hunger Coalition organized volunteer ‘gleaning’ teams to go to local farms and orchards to gather the surprising quantity of food left behind when the main harvest is complete. In addition, they conducted a monthly public conversation on many different aspects of food, access, and other aspects of sustainability. (The EHC has announced that it will not be continuing, but hopes to see partner organizations pick up these important activities!)
New Bethany Ministries runs a soup kitchen and food pantry to expand food access to less fortunate people in our community — and several local farmers have contributed fresh food directly. There are similar programs in other Lehigh Valley cities.
Farm & Business Initiatives
Liz Wagner founded Crooked Row Farm to steward the land and grow food organically. Over time, she has incorporated foods from several other farms into her farm stand and CSA.
Dan Hunter started Hunter Hill CSA to provide sustainably-grown vegetables while preserving the land. This year, Dan and Katy Hunter are organized a winter CSA featuring a variety of locally-grown products from a number of separate farms.
Steve and Nicole Shelly shifted from farming to establish a retail market, Radish Republic, in Allentown. They source about 25% of their products from local sources.
Bethlehem Food Co-Op – According to president Kelly Allen, the co-op is committed to bringing healthy food to all shoppers and will source local, sustainably-grown food whenever possible.
An innovative program at St. Luke’s helps employees get fresh, local food without paying for a full CSA subscription in advance. They arrange for each individual campus to partner with local farms, and employees pay for the CSA through a small payroll deduction. CSAs deliver to each St. Luke’s campus for distribution, instead of having individual CSA members having to drive to a pickup point.
The actions listed above are a few among the growing number of initiatives in the Lehigh Valley. This collaboration among farmers, educators, and activists helps make healthy local food more accessible to everyone in the community.
Many farmers and other community members envision a food system that supports and nourishes health and sustainability instead of degrading our climate and health and are working to build that more sustainable food system.
Hannah is a grad student in English at Lehigh University and is
a regular contributor to The SouthSider, which focuses on SouthSide
Bethlehem’s community and culture. After she completes her M.A.,
Hannah hopes to continue teaching about environmental i
magination and anti-racist practices in the outdoors industry.
Jessie is a grad student in Lehigh’s Environmental Policy Design program and
is completing an Alliance internship on the food system in the Lehigh Valley.