Local organizations, farmers to plant seeds for food sustainability initiative
- Meals on Wheels of the Greater Lehigh Valley is among organizations to meet with local farmers to develop sustainable food infrastructure in region
- Representatives of the groups will ask farmers to add their food requests to their crops
- Meetings are expected to occur in November
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — The current strategy to combat food insecurity throughout the Lehigh Valley seems to be as simple as it may be effective.
Assemble local organizations such as Meals on Wheels of the Greater Lehigh Valley, Kellyn Foundation, Lehigh Valley Health Network, Bethlehem Area School District, Penn State Extension, Rodale Institute, Bethlehem Food CoOp and Second Harvest Food Bank.
Next, have representatives of those entities meet with local farmers to develop a strong local and sustainable food infrastructure that will provide balanced, nutritious food to the region’s ever-growing population.
“Representatives of these organizations will sit down with 10 to 15 local farmers to see if we can start this next year,” Eric J. Ruth, chief executive office and co-founder of Kellyn Foundation, a nonprofit based in Tatamy that addresses food access and hunger in the Lehigh Valley, said Monday.
“If the entities ask the farmers to grow more so they can buy from them, it can succeed. It’s a pretty simple concept.”Eric J. Ruth, CEO and co-founder, Kellyn Foundation
“They’ll tell the farmers they’re all buyers. For example, they’ll tell the farmers, ‘We’d like to buy sweet potatoes from you. Can you grow enough to supply us? Whatever you grow that we ask for, we’ll buy.'
“We’ll start setting times to talk to the farmers in November after the growing season,” Ruth said.
State Agriculture Secretary Russell C. Redding will be keynote speaker at an event at Paxinosa Elementary School in Easton at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The secretary will speak to his desire to create a statewide plan that mirrors that of the one in the Lehigh Valley.
Agricultural land for crops, pastures, orchards, tree farms and vineyards covers roughly 22% of the Lehigh Valley’s 726 square miles.
According to data from the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission website, the greatest challenge facing the local food economy is the loss of farmland, but farmers and municipalities have worked hard to prevent that.
While Pennsylvania leads the nation with more than 530,000 acres of preserved farmland as of July 1, 2020, the Lehigh Valley has done its part, with 554 farms preserved, totaling almost 42,000 acres. Lehigh and Northampton counties have partnership programs that allow municipal funding to be added to county funding, making them eligible to receive more funding from Pennsylvania’s Farmland Preservation Program.
'A pretty simple concept'
Many of the institutions involved in the local initiative do not currently buy from local farmers, Ruth said, because the demand is greater than the supply. The inaugural initiative can change that, he said.
“We can’t grow the infrastructure unless supply meets demand,” he said. “If the entities ask the farmers to grow more so they can buy from them, it can succeed. It’s a pretty simple concept.”
“We’re just stepping up what we do and make it a Lehigh Valley approach, We all think this is important. We want a good food hub in the Lehigh Valley.”Ruth
Meals on Wheels of the Greater Lehigh Valley announced its participation in a media release Monday.
“Meals on Wheels is extremely excited to join this wonderful initiative,” Chief Executive Officer Erik McGaughey said. “It is imperative that we all join to support our farmers, develop a food infrastructure and provide healthy food to our Lehigh Valley population.”
Ruth said the initiative will follow the lead of Kellyn Foundation, which buys produce from local farmers.
“We’re just stepping up what we do and make it a Lehigh Valley approach,” he said. “We all think this is important. We want a good food hub in the Lehigh Valley.”
Ruth previously noted that for the initiative to be successful, a community effort would be required.
“This would include farmers, manufacturers, processors, distribution, institutional buyers, neighborhoods and individual consumers, along with the support of governmental, nonprofit and for-profit entities,” he said.