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TALKING WITH: Visionary Food & Farm Booster, John Becker

johnbeckerYesterday morning we were thrilled to chat with the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia‘s John Becker, the visionary whose organization is poised to connect farmers to food banks in innovative, ground-breaking ways.

Of course we’re a little biased—in addition to championing his support of farmers and addressing the need for good, real food in underserved communities, Georgia Organics is also working with the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia on our farm to school pilot program in Habersham County. (We also talked to Teri Hamlin, the multi-talented educator who’s helming that program. That post’s coming tomorrow!)

When John first started with the Food Bank, he was curious about the dearth of produce. “The people we serve want processed food,” he heard. But when he talked to the people coming to the Food Bank, he heard a different tale: “Processed food is all we can get,” they told him.

So he dug into some food system realness: distribution was a thorny undertaking for local farmers, and refrigeration is expensive. Enter the Food Bank’s Mobile Pantry:

In conjunction with our partner agencies, we provide a healthy mixture of fresh/frozen and dry/shelf stable food. The Food Bank provides a truckload of food, a delivery driver, gas, refrigeration, and transportation of food for approximately 20-25 Mobile Pantries a month. Partner agencies provide the location and manpower and publicize the food distribution.

 

…This program eliminates the need for storage space for our partner agencies as well as provides refrigerated storage space they do not have.

The Mobile Pantry was the Food Bank’s first network effort, and Becker points to it as an example of allocating resources in an increasingly global context. Food resources quite logically tend to go to the highest bidder, which is partially why so many large-scale farms don’t provide food for their local communities, Becker told us.

The Food Bank wants to support local farms because all communities should have access to good, healthy food. (Becker is also a fisherman, which is one reason why he champions organic agriculture specifically—it means his beloved streams run cleaner, and the mountains surrounding them lose less soil.)

Local farmers are essential to the economic health of rural communities because, while manufacturing jobs are exportable to other countries, “you can’t pick up and move a farm,” Becker says. The challenge is that the average small to mid-size farm needs help with things like distribution, storage, and capital outlay.

So the Food Bank is working on opening a facility in Clayton that will have an IQF (individual quick freezing) line, as well as 1,200 q. ft. of frozen storage. This processing center would serve as a food hub for northeast Georgia and, Becker hopes, will bolster the bottom line for farmers whose bumper green bean crop could bring in profits if only they could be frozen until spring.

If local farms succeed, food independence succeeds, which is why the Food Bank is working to make inroads with the north Georgia agricultural community.

“There’s got to be ways that we can work together to improve these farmers’ incomes so that they can do what they love and provide a product that is really good and healthy for our kids so we can start tackling some of these health issues,” Becker said.

Becker’s efforts to bolster rural farm economies aim to benefit farmers and those who need the assistance of food banks. He is a tremendous ally, especially when it comes to getting good food to all.

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