Coalition Creates Links to Feed & Be Fed
January 30, 2021
At the start of the pandemic in mid-March 2020, when no one knew what the next day, let alone the next month or year, would bring, a group of local food system organizations convened by 4P Foods and the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture knew two things for sure: we were not going to go through whatever came next alone, and we were not going to go down without a fight. We banded together with a common vision to “Feed and Be Fed,” thus launching an informal coalition that would eventually become the Mid-Atlantic Food Resilience & Access Coalition (MAFRAC).
MAFRAC assembled a core Operations Team (several of them graduates of Arcadia’s Veteran Farmer Training Program) to create the structure to connect those who have food with those who need it, creating links for the greater good of our community. The coalition quickly expanded to include stakeholders all along the local food and hunger relief supply chain, from farmers to food pantries to chefs, who rallied together to activate the local food system to feed local communities and keep food businesses operating.Getting ready to distribute squash and milk in Alexandria, VA (photo courtesy of MAFRAC)
To date, MAFRAC has provided over $750,000 in grant funding to 79 nonprofits, small businesses, faith-based organizations, and others working to get locally grown or produced food into their food relief efforts. In the case of the aptly named Community Cooks, started by the Warrenton Wellness Kitchen in VA, this meant buying ingredients from nearby farmers that local restaurants turned into homestyle, nourishing meals that volunteers from a local childcare center handed out to community members in need at four sites throughout the county. In the case of Radical Roots Farm in Keezletown, VA, this meant providing a weekly CSA for 100 families in need at their local school over the summer.
MAFRAC has also become a hub for those new to the intersection of local food, food equity, and hunger relief. When Leila Bournes of Bourne2Fly Fitness, an independent gym in NE DC, wanted to find ways to support her local community members, many of whom were out of work and lacking access to fresh food, she connected with MAFRAC and was inspired into action. With the help of a MAFRAC Local Food Grant and connections made through the MAFRAC stakeholder network, Bourne2Fly Fitness (B2FF) was able to source from local farmers and give away bags of fresh produce to neighbors in need. B2FF now hosts regular distributions to hand out food, along with cleaning products and other hygiene items.Packing produce bags at Bourne2Fly Fitness in DC (photo courtesy of MAFRAC)
MAFRAC & 4P FOODS
4P Foods Founder and CEO, Tom McDougall, led the creation and formation of MAFRAC, and the 4P Team continues to be intimately involved in MAFRAC, even as the coalition and our role within it evolves. MAFRAC’s operational activities require two of the things that the 4P team is very good at—orchestrating complex logistics, and moving food from point A to point B, and the 4P Operations Team always looks forward to putting their skills, coolers, and trucks to good use for the MAFRAC network.
When a Virginia farmer had thousands of pounds of apples with no buyer due to disruption in his usual markets, MAFRAC coordinated turning them into applesauce (WAMU) that 4P Foods packed into food resilience boxes for the DC Government in place of a mass-produced, syrup-laden alternative. When a local poultry cooperative generously donated thousands of pounds of bone-in turkey breasts leading up to Thanksgiving, MAFRAC coordinated with 4P Foods to pick them up and deliver them to nine different organizations across the DMV (now affectionately referred to as “Operation Turkey Drop” [Twitter]). And then when DC Central Kitchen received a donation of over 20,000 lbs of whole turkeys after Thanksgiving, which was more than they could use for their own operations or store in their freezers, MAFRAC initiated “Turkey Drop 2” (Twitter) and activated the stakeholder network to get all the turkeys to good homes within just a few days.Food Distribution at KPCI City of Light Church in Silver Spring, MD (photo courtesy of MAFRAC)
MAFRAC has, in many ways, taken on a life of its own (intentionally!). It has become a participatory grant-making organization, an operational backbone for moving resources around the region, a communications hub, and a capacity-building resource network. All of this, while simultaneously stepping in to join the chorus of voices calling for reparations and systems change to address the racial wealth gap and caste system we have here in America, which manifests so strongly in the food system.
For nearly a year now, the refrain of MAFRAC’s weekly Friday afternoon stakeholder calls has been, “What do you have? What do you need?” and the spirit of generosity and vulnerability encapsulated in those two questions animates the coalition now more than ever. In MAFRAC’s Stakeholder network, cooperation and ingenuity combine with generosity to bring incredible things to fruition.
“Our hope is that after the pandemic, people won’t forget what is happening right now—and will stay involved to change the system,” 4P Founder, Tom McDougall says in National Geographic (July 2020).