The day after my last post on the new Growing Communities initiative, I received an email from Mitch Gruber, FoodLink's Community Food Access Coordinator, contacted me. He had a few issues with what I said and after reading his comments, I realized that while I was trying to be brief and readable, I could have explained my views on Growing Communities a bit better.
With Mitch's permission, here is his unedited email to me:
I read your blog about our Curbside Market, and I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify the purpose of that program and how it fits into our mission at Foodlink.
· Please take a look at our mission (foodlinkny.org), and notice that we actually agree with some of your criticism. We aim to “improve health and promote economic development,” and also want to see food dollars stay within the community in which they were spent. This is why we are debuting our Healthy Corner Store Initiative along with our Curbside Market. In order to foster businesses that include healthy foods, it is necessary to show that the demand for such products exist. The Curbside Market will help us document this demand.
· Your concerns about the money leaving the neighborhood is just, but it is a bit more complex than you state. We are not generating profits from this program and using them to please shareholders; rather, we are selling healthy foods at wholesale costs and reinvesting all of the sales back into the program so that it can be self-sustaining.
o We are building capacity to help strengthen neighborhood stores, and using any revenue to reinvest in programs.
· This program is sustainable. This was a one-time infusion of capital by Citizens Bank so that we could purchase and retrofit the vehicle. At this point, we are running the program on our own. This is precisely the reason why 64% of Foodlink’s revenue is earned—this is practically unheard of for a Non-Profit. We are not in constant need of outside funding to maintain programs, and this means that the individuals and institutions that we serve can rely on the stability of our services.
o We are not banking on the contributions of corporate sponsors and will operate the program as long as it is desired.
· Our schedule only includes sites that have requested the presence of the Curbside Market. We have had conversations with the Rochester Housing Authority Resident Councils, and other neighborhood representatives, to help us choose our sites.
o “Paternalistic” is the wrong word to call the Curbside Market.
· “Underserved” is a descriptive term, and it crosses racial and ethnic barriers. We are referring literally to neighborhoods and individuals that do not have access to healthy foods. These underserved neighborhoods exist in rural and urban areas, and adversely affect people of all races and ethnicities.
o We are not using “code” to describe the issues; we are being transparent.
In an ideal world—the very world that you begin to describe in your blog—we won’t need the services of the Curbside Market. We look forward to that day. In the meantime, we are taking creative approaches to address the stratification of food access and healthy diets. I think that goal deserves better than an article entitled “underserved neighborhoods get served.”
In addition, we host a number of other programs aimed at eliminating the root causes of hunger—not just the symptoms. These include community gardens, education programs, and workforce development initiatives. We would be happy to give you and your colleagues a tour of our facilities and tell you more about our operation.
While I thought I was clear, in my original post, I'll reiterate, I have complete respect for FoodLink, their mission and what they do. Before declaring my intention to run, I had coffee with Executive Director, Tom Ferraro, to pick his brain about issues of food and hunger in the City. And I know that money that comes in will go to the operations and furthering programs for FoodLink. And from my conversation with Tom, I know that once in office, members of Green Rochester will work to help non-profits like FoodLink in achieving their goals.
So I guess the easiest thing to do is to address each point Mitch made:
We are building capacity to help strengthen neighborhood stores, and using any revenue to reinvest in programs.
Again, I never meant to imply that FoodLink would not be using money paid for its food toward its programs, but the money still leaves the neighborhood - to a good cause that eventually may positively impact the same community? It looks that way, but Green Rochester is looking to make the economic impact of commerce in the neighborhood directly impact the neighborhood. Again, it's a situation of good, better, best. Growing Communities is better. We feel what we're going to do is best.
We are not banking on the contributions of corporate sponsors and will operate the program as long as it is desired.
I was asking a question. I'm glad to hear that there is a plan to make this sustainable. Mitch himself, says that such a thing is "practically unheard" of in the non-profit world. I'm also in the non-profit world, and I agree.
“Paternalistic” is the wrong word to call the Curbside Market.
The Growing Communities project is less paternalistic than traditional projects, but there are aspects of it that is nonetheless. It is the general nature of most non-profit activity.
We are not using “code” to describe the issues; we are being transparent.
I'm sorry, but the word I highlighted, "underserved" is code. It doesn't mean FoodLink has malicious intent or is not being transparent. It is the jargon of the non-profit world. My comments were more pointed to the history of groups and individuals who work to do good.
All of the candidates on the Green Rochester slate have the same goal as FoodLink - to make FoodLink obsolete. That's the goal of any worthwhile non-profit...to eliminate the need for themselves. And we look forward to working with FoodLink toward achieving that goal.