Coal plants may be public enemy No. 1 for climate activism these days, but there is a growing concern over the nasty carbon footprint behind the way we get our food. The Kendall Foundation is a New England funder exclusively backing work to fix our food systems.
There are other funders, Packard for example, that have been working on reducing the impacts agriculture has on climate, but for the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, improving how we get our food has been the sole focus since 2011.
The liberal, mostly environmental funder, based in Boston, has had a climate change program since 1999, marked by the launch of nonprofit Clean Air-Cool Planet, but in 2009, it decided to take a step back and reevaluate its approach. The result was the New England Food System Program.
Kendall remains heavily driven by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the region, but also cites high obesity and other chronic health issues as societal problems that can be addressed by making our food more local and sustainable. In particular, it cites the fact that the agricultural sector is the second highest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, and that as we begin to feel the pain of climate change, our agriculture becomes more vulnerable.
This vicious cycle of climate and food production is a big concern among activists, but it's also prompting a response from Big Ag itself, along with federal and state governments. And some climate researchers have warned that eating burgers may be a worse culprit than driving an SUV.
Kendall’s goal for tackling the issue (although somewhat in flux) is to source the majority of the food New Englanders eat in the region by the year 2060. It does so through a mix of multi-state grants, but also by backing case studies in key locations like Greater Boston and the state of Rhode Island.
(We'd be remiss if we didn't flag the debate as to whether locally sourcing food really does reduce greenhouse gas emissions.)
It's been making up to $3.5 million in annual grants, under the new focus, to a mix of government departments, university initiatives, and highly local projects to get more fresh food into neighborhoods, and to support local small farmers.