Overview

NESAWG: A Network for Regional Food System Development

The mission of the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) is to unite farm and food system practitioners and allies to build a sustainable, just and economically vibrant region in the Northeastern United States.  Our main audience is the practitioners in the trenches, working on farm and food issues from any angle.  They include farmers, professors, health care practitioners, engineers, advocates, scientists... nearly every profession has something to offer to build a better food system.

Since our beginnings in 1992, we have grown to over 500 participating organizations and thousands of individuals.  We mobilize organizations and individuals to collaborate and develop smart strategies to work toward common goals.  Our behind-the-scenes work strengthens and coordinates the activities of hundreds of other organizations by building synergy among them and aligning resources to achieve systemic change at all levels.

Our activities are based on a systems approach, recognizing the interdependence of government, market, and civic arenas for social change. Working at local, state, regional, and national levels, our efforts help organizations redirect public policy, foster market-based innovation, and generate an informed and active citizenry.

History

When a handful of people founded NESAWG in 1992, it was one of the first multi-sector food system networks in the country.  A multi-sector approach to sustainability means involving not only the public, non-profit and market-place sectors, but also involving all parts of the food system along the supply chain or value chain:  production, processing, marketing, distribution, consumption and post-consumption.

Everything we do centers around our core values to promote a farm and food system that honors the three pillars of sustainability: environment, economic and social.  We strive to build a food and farm system that is ecologically resilient, economically vibrant for local and regional economies, and socially just -- for all.

The 12-State Network

The 12 Northeastern states include Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia.  It also includes Washington D.C., and we sometimes have participation from Virginians.  The original 12 states definition comes from the USDA, although, for network purposes, it is not a strict boundary.

 

NESAWG's provides leadership in the Northeast by fostering:

  • Peer learning.  We bring people together to share best practices and learn from one another (e.g.: sharing food hub best practices across the region).
     
  • Advocacy, e.g., working with our partners to develop a Northeast regional, united voice for the federal farm bill, highlighting issues that are critical and unique to our region.
     
  • Leadership development, including regional mentor-mentee matchmaking.
     
  • Resources and Training, including ground-breaking publications and communication tools.   Among the many resources we've provided in the past are studies, thought pieces and publications like NE Farms to Food. This publication was a critical resource for activists and advocates, helping to clarify and visualize the state of agriculture in the Northeast region; Land Grant Stakeholder Accountability, a project that brings attention to the Stakeholder rule for landgrant universities, and the different ways in which they define stakeholders and utilize stakeholder input in order to develop agriculture research and extension priorites; and It Takes a Region: Exploring Regional Approaches to Food System Development.  This publication sparked the discussion on the benefits of exploring food systems change beyond the micro-level, to support local systems and also  incorporate them into broader regional approaches to food systems change.
     
  • Collaborations, connecting people across the region and across sectors, to identify gaps and partner on innovative projects.  Our current projects include the "Food Knowledge Ecosystem" project, "Enhancing Food Security for the Northeast" and the Northeast Policy Infrastructure project, with over fifteen institutional partners from across the region.

NESAWG is an unincorporated association governed by Articles of Association and guided by a Steering Committee. Our staff positions are part-time and filled by dedicated, experienced food system professionals.  Donations to NESAWG are tax-deductible through our fiscal sponsor, Just Food, a 501 (c) (3) organization.

 

NESAWG:  The Northeast region's food and farm network.