Food was the talk of the town in the State House and across RI
Tuesday, May 10th, 2016 was a great day for food systems folks in RI! It kicked off with Ag Day at the State House. Starting at 11:30am, the rotunda was packed with displays from food producers and other food system stakeholders. It wouldn’t be Ag Day without delicious samples from our local growers and processors, and they did not disappoint! By the afternoon, the State House was abuzz as Ag Day patrons looked forward to learning about the 2016 LASA grantees as part of the afternoon speaking event. At 2pm, a hush gathered around the hall as DEM Director Janet Coit opened up the ceremonies for the speaking portion of the program and introduced the speakers throughout the event. She spoke of the tremendous strength of our local food system in Rhode Island, and the great strides we have made. She spoke of important points of progress – including the Governor’s recent submission of a budget article to provide sustained funding of LASA, grants that provide seed funding for local ag and seafood. She also noted that Rhode Island ranks second nationally in percentage of farms owned by young farmers. This rank stands out even more when considered with the fact that Rhode Island is the only New England state that has actually seen growth in the number of young operators in the past 15 years.
Governor Raimondo noted our Rhode Island pride for our thriving local food scene which is an increasingly important part of our economy and our food tourism industry. She named Sue Anderbois as Chief Food Strategist, a newly created role that includes responsibility for developing our first ever statewide food plan. Hearing our Governor speak so enthusiastically about Rhode Island food, the thought must have crossed most attendees minds that we are incredibly fortunate to have a Governor who is committed to making the food system a priority.
First Gentleman Andy Moffit spoke about the importance of food as one common ground that binds everyone. He lauded the LASA program and its unique ability to bring private and public sectors together to support leaders who want to take their businesses and organizations to the next level. He also congratulated Sue Anderbois on the new position that will help Rhode Islanders connect the dots around food systems change in a much more meaningful way.
Senator Susan Sosnowski spoke about the work being done to steadily increase the prominence of agriculture and seafood industries in Rhode Island, and noted some of the incredible progress that has been made here in the past few decades. She noted that we have seen results of Rhode Island’s collaborative approach to these industries in aspects such as the increasing number of farms in our state and government initiatives such as the Grow Green Jobs RI Action Plan.
Neil Steinberg, CEO of Rhode Island Foundation echoed the First Gentleman’s sentiment that food is our great common denominator, and remarked that the statistics and updates we heard throughout the afternoon should be points of pride.
Courtney Bourns, Program Officer at the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, spoke of the Foundation’s inspiration, the New England Food Vision (50 by 60), as a bold and ambitious goal – just the thing they like to support. The Kendall Foundation’s support of LASA is motivated in part by their interest in philanthropic support in places where it would allow people to work together for results that would be better than if they were working on their own. She acknowledged Rhode Island’s unique, “can do” spirit about effecting change, and the important moment in time as we are poised to move forward on a new state food plan.
Bob DiPietro, Founder of RI Mushroom Co and LASA 2014 recipient, spoke to his own experience of the great benefits that accompany LASA grants. He noted that RI Mushroom Co received a LASA grant at a crucial juncture in the company’s growth. They were small and new and were not eligible for a bank loan, and the grant had a tremendous impact on their growth, allowing them to put a down payment on two new greenhouses and helping them triple their production volume.
The words and thoughts shared both by the speakers and the audience highlighted the great potential and consequence of programs like LASA. We are incredibly grateful to be part of this important component strengthening Rhode Island’s food system. Congratulations again to the 2016 LASA awardees!