On The Road With Oran Hesterman—a leader in sustainable and fair food systems

ds_oran_hesterman.JPGI’ve had the great pleasure of meeting Oran B. Hesterman TWICE in the past month, and each time I’ve had lively, enlightening conversations with this leader in the fight for the “fundamental right to healthy, fresh and sustainably grown food” (his slogan for Fair Food Network (Grow The Good), which he founded).

He’s also the author of Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All—a book that has been on my desk for months; yes, it’s that good!

As a scientist with a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in agronomy, plant genetics, and business administration, he brings to the table the rigor of someone who seeks proven knowledge about very specific subjects, but at the same time can step back and look at systems—especially trends in the good food movement.

I first met him this month at a small gathering in Washington, D.C., of various wellness leaders. I asked him what it would take to build the relatively small but STRONG food movement and give it more impact.

 “Three things,” he said. “First, we need to build more bridges: Ways to take ideas from model to mainstream—bring them into practice.

“Second, we can move from what I call ‘silos to systems’—for example, try to make small farmers viable in a marketplace where they must charge more because mass food is cheap. But at the same time we have to help families afford food, so we must find solutions that work for both sides at the same time.

“And third,” he continued, “Let’s think, ‘From Them To Us.’ We won’t win fights by identifying enemies and picking fights that we can’t win. Instead, let’s pick partnerships to address this messy area in the middle.”

Sounds theoretical, but in reality he and Fair Food have launched several projects that show great promise. Take Fair Food Detroit, for example, an example of Hesterman’s desire to help lower-income families afford good food while sustaining the small farmer.

 The Double Up Food Bucks project in Southeast Michigan was just launched June 1, 2014. Here’s how it works, as explained on the Double Up website: “When you use a SNAP Bridge Card to shop at a participating location, the amount of money that you spend is matched with Double Up Food Bucks. Double Up Food Bucks can then be used to buy fruits and vegetables that have been grown in Michigan.  Maximum $20 per day.  You do not need to use your Double Up Food Bucks on the same day you get them.”

Take that, urban food deserts! This initiative should help farmers markets thrive even in the inner city.

I also saw Oran at the Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Forum in Denver, June 17-19. The picture of the two of us was taken here. SAFSF brought together corporate foundations, governments, community foundations, individual donors and family foundations—all of them involved with supporting new food enterprise through collaboration and community.

If you have ever, like me, wanted to join a group of other grant makers who want to dive into the world of making a difference in how we eat and where our food comes from, I recommend this forum. Their values go to the heart of the new food movement.

Thanks for the interesting talks, Oran. I learned a great deal from you, and I know our paths will cross again. In the meantime, dear Wellness Warriors, please consider reading Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All.


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