Dear NESAWG Community,

I hope that you are all staying healthy and safe as our new reality unfolds. We have all seen how COVID-19 has laid bare our country’s deep economic chasms and impacted the food system in a myriad of ways, with frontline communities facing the brunt. Emergency food suppliers are overwhelmed with demand, food chain workers (including farmworkers, grocery store clerks, and restaurants cooks) are on the frontlines, often without protective gear, health insurance or paid time off, and laid-off workers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, are struggling now more than ever to pay for (or even find) groceries and medicines. These injustices come amidst a longstanding inequitable context where healthcare and healthy food are treated as luxuries instead of basic human rights.

And yet, farm and food change agents like yourselves are rising to the occasion in inspiring and actionable ways. Across our region, I am hearing of people forming emergency food supply networks mobilizing hundreds of volunteers, urban farms opening up their greenhouse to neighbors needing space for their seedlings, and community gardening groups pushing out resources and supplies to limited income gardeners. In the midst of the heavy news coming in every day, these stories remind me that even when things feel impossible, the vision of an equitable food system we’re all working towards is still there. 

At NESAWG, we are shifting our programs and operations to adapt to the crisis while supporting our network of food systems practitioners and advocates. Here’s what we’re working on so far:

We are convening cross-network conversations to support your policy and food systems needs in this unprecedented time. We have a lot to learn from each other, and as convenors of a regional food systems network, we want to support you. Currently we're convening a conversation focused on coordinating around state-level policy initiatives in response to the pandemic, as well as how to engage with state departments of agriculture on these issues. If you'd like to join either of those conversations, please get in touch with our Policy Manager, Nicole Sugerman.

We are also convening a conversation with other event planners to discuss how the pandemic will impact conference planning and to share resources on how to adapt and discuss. If you'd like to join that conversation, email me.

If you have a particular issue or need that you would like to discuss with other regional stakeholders, reach out to me. We are here to help facilitate and foster space for people to have conversations and share ideas and support our networks in strategizing together, whether that’s connecting to other partners, facilitating conversations, or amplifying an important action.

We are collecting, documenting and sharing stories of mutual aid, organizing, and support  in the food system during this time. What have you been doing to help others in your community eat, access or produce food, or fight for justice in the food system? We want to share inspiring and actionable ideas that you can bring to your own community. Learn more about this story-sharing effort and get in touch if you have a story to share. 

We compiled a list of resources on our website, and we’re sharing COVID19 policy actions and updates through our policy email list. If you have a resource you’d like to share, email Hoshea Rogovin. If you want us to amplify an action, email Nicole. If you want to receive our policy action emails, subscribe here.

We are planning our next It Takes a Region Conference program around how we can reflect, learn, and move forward together to address the systemic problems exposed by COVID-19. The pandemic is a grim reminder that our food system, and so much other critical infrastructure, is fragile, and other crises, climate change in particular, can wreak significant harm on them. At the same time, when we collaborate in community, we show remarkable resilience and innovation. We hope you will join us and build a sustainable and just food system for the future. Our conference is currently scheduled for Nov 19-21, 2020, in Providence, RI, but we are looking at options for moving it online or postponing it. We’ll keep you posted on our listserv and newsletter, Voices from the Field. Go here to subscribe to both. 

I hope you are able to find hope amidst the worry and uncertainty of these times.

In gratitude for the work you do,


Photo: A volunteer for the Kingston Emergency Food Collaborative in Kingston, NY, packing meals to distribute to people in need during the COVID-19 crisis. Credit: The Daily Freeman