Negroni Week News

Fundraising Spotlight: Slow Food USA

September 10, 2020

Slow Food was founded in the 1980s by Italian Carlo Petrini under the belief that food should benefit eaters, producers, and the planet. Today, the grassroots organization operates in more than 160 countries, with Slow Food USA overseeing approximately 100 chapters spread throughout the nation, working on changing the food system in order to support “good, clean, and fair food for all.” As the coronavirus pandemic impacted the community-based food systems Slow Food USA supports, the organization launched its National Resilience Fund to provide direct financial assistance to like-minded local initiatives. Here, we talk with Slow Food USA director of communications Giselle Kennedy Lord about the fund’s objectives.

Imbibe: What are the most urgent issues COVID-19 has exposed within our food system that the National Resilience Fund aims to combat?
Giselle Kennedy Lord: This is a good question because you’re using the word “exposed,” which is accurate—all the issues we’re seeing are things that were already there, but the sudden change in distribution channels, buying power of restaurants, and access to food for individuals were brought into stark focus with the beginning of the pandemic. Those are three really big things we’d like to see change. This was the hope before the pandemic, but even more so now that we’ve seen people shift into a greater reliance on a local food system because imports and exports are affected. We also have people producing food who no longer have access to the market, which is essentially the hospitality industry. What we saw as a result was a lot of people who really needed food and couldn’t get to it, and a lot of farmers had a lot of food but nowhere to sell it to. I think that’s largely what the National Resilience Fund is about, especially in the first round: how important and reliable local food production is. I say “local” as a relative term, but referring to small family farms and producers producing primarily for communities versus for export or larger distribution. When those larger systems start to fail or become shaky, you still have the folks in your community who are growing vegetables for the market and raising animals as livestock, then selling direct to consumer or to restaurants and local food hubs instead of moving their products really far away. Local communities can rely on that food and those systems instead of relying on bigger, broken systems

Where are the funds being distributed, and what services and support do they provide?
The National Resilience Fund consists of three rounds. For the first round, we said to our local chapters all over the country, go out and learn what your community needs, then link up with people who are doing that work and apply for these grants. Anyone can apply for the grant, but it has to be done in tandem with a local chapter. So, we didn’t dictate what the grants should be used for, instead we answered to what communities needed. It was really important for us to encourage chapters not to create something, but to instead find out what’s happening, what’s needed, and to support those projects. In the first round, the biggest common denominator in the projects that received grants was a focus on food distribution and connecting people who needed food with the food that was available. We funded 23 projects with micro grants essentially, so they’re for specific things. One farm received a grant for a mobile cold storage, which elongates the period of time the farm can harvest and distribute. We had one Indigenous chef cooking meals for the elderly in his community; they cooked the meals and then delivered them to elderly folks, who are a higher risk group.

We’re currently in the process of announcing recipients for round two. We are at a moment in this nation of a social and racial justice reckoning, and Slow Food is here for it. We are working hard at centering equity, inclusion, and justice in the work of Slow Food USA. So, for this round of funding, in solidarity with the movement we will grant a minimum of 50 percent of the second round of funding to projects by BIPOC-led organizations or initiatives. The third round, with the help and partnership of Negroni Week and Imbibe, will go to hospitality. The hospitality industry is changing every day, and I think people in hospitality are getting incredibly creative and showing some serious resilience. We are hoping that round of funding can support some really important places where people gather, eat, cook, and provide food for communities.

Do you anticipate any elements of the fund will become a permanent part of Slow Food USA’s operations?
Absolutely, and we’ve essentially been building the National Resilience Fund into our projections and plans for the next year. I think one element of the National Resilience Fund we hope will be permanent are the relationships that were fostered between local chapters and other community organizations. That’s a big thing, especially moving into the future, for Slow Food USA: We don’t need to reinvent every little wheel, rather there’s a lot of power in a local chapter being able to support and bolster awareness of organizations, entities, and community groups that are already doing food justice work, food access work, or other important work in relationship to community and public health, essentially. We just want to listen to what’s already being done and find a way to support that. Those partnerships and those relationships are what will get us closer to social justice and more equitable communities, working together to increase the health of any community, whether it’s a city or a small town.

How does Slow Food see food systems emerging as stronger after the pandemic?
That’s the positive and hopeful part of it. Suddenly, we are very aware of issues of access, “we” being communities or members of a community. The way we’re emerging stronger is with a little more community mindedness when it comes to local food systems. My hope is that it becomes stronger because people are investing their money into producers and products that are bolstering community and environmental health. We are also urging policy-makers to see these vibrant local food systems and prioritize communities in their policies, especially when it comes to supporting BIPOC communities and businesses. As those businesses grow, then other things grow: more jobs, more access to products because if there’s a bigger market prices can come down, and it can be an actual livelihood for people. I hope local food systems are coming out of this really strong and as the primary source for any community.

Click here to donate to the Slow Food Resilience Fund.

Story by Emma Mannheimer