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Building Local Food Connections

By Emily Wheeler

“Building local food connections”—this is what restoring a vibrant local food system in Concord is all about. So says the newly published community food system assessment for Concord, prepared by graduate students at the Conway School’s program in Sustainable Landscape Planning and Design.

Commissioned last fall by a group of community volunteers, the Concord Food System Assessment is beautifully produced and a trove of data, stories, and resources. It interweaves community input (thanks to all who gave it!), local case studies, and food systems research to offer six primary recommendations for bolstering Concord’s local and regional food systems:

¥Establish a local food council.
¥Implement farm-to-institution programs.
¥Promote a town-wide gardening movement.
¥Revitalize animal husbandry in Concord.
¥Match farmers and growers with suitable land in Concord.
¥Permanently protect farmland for agricultural use.

The steering committee of the Concord Food System Assessment project has agreed to act as an interim food council to organize a preliminary discussion among local stakeholders about how they’d like to act on the report’s recommendations. The council will be distributing copies of the report to stakeholders—farmers, educators, policy-makers, planners, food distributors, environmental activists, health professionals—as well as libraries, Town departments, and other locations where the public can read it. (Find out where, or read the report online, at

“Building local food connections” means re-joining all of the elements of the food system. Any food system is a complex network that food products flow through—from land to production, distribution, processing and storage, preparation and consumption, and food waste recovery. Decisions about any one of these elements affect the others, though his interrelatedness is not always obvious.

With food the common denominator in several issues of concern to Concordians—poor health due to diet-related illnesses, diminishing farmland, ongoing suburban development, global political and economic instability, and climate change—the report finds that Concord is already exploring alternatives to today’s industrially scaled, globally sourced food system. The report features such “Local leaders” as the Concord’s private farms and food businesses, Town, state, and federal partnerships with farmers and gardeners, and the public school system’s local food sourcing initiatives. The report also identifies nearby examples of regional food processing and distribution operations. Drawing on all of these assets to create an integrated, smaller scale, and locally and regionally based system is surely possible.

Not so long ago, the report notes, New England had all of the pieces of a robust, sustainable, regional food system: farmland, diversified food production, distribution networks among nearby towns and markets; processing facilities like canneries, grist mills, slaughterhouses, and dairy barns; root cellars and food storage dug-outs; household skills like gardening, cheese-making, fermenting, pickling, canning, and drying; food waste recovery for animal feed and fertilizer for pastures and cropland.

It’s easy to identify what parts of this system no longer exist. Thanks to the Concord Community Food System Assessment, we can also see how to rebuild our local food connections, protect the community’s social and ecological health, and improve local resilience going forward.

As consumers, we are all stakeholders in the current food system. There’s something for us all in this report. Engage with it and fellow stakeholders at the next Sustainable Concord Coffee, June 19th, 7:30-9AM, at the Harvey Wheeler Community Center.

Emily Wheeler is a member of the Interim Concord Food Council and the ConcordCAN (Concord Climate Action Network) steering group.