“Faith and food are inextricably linked in human experience and belief. This includes the act of eating as well as the natural cycles of planting and harvest. One reason is the obvious importance of nourishment to life.  Food is so essential that the activities involved in obtaining, preparing, and enjoying it are closely related to basic human concerns: happiness and sadness, want and plenty, life and death — even God. It is not surprising that food has deep symbolic as well as physical meanings and that food rituals and food taboos appear in many religions.”  

-Elliot Wright, Information Officer of the General Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Church.

Many of the most healthful traditions of food cultivation, distribution, preparation and consumption, developed and shared over centuries, seem to have eroded over a relatively short amount of time in the last few decades.  Corporate profit motive, media and convenience have created a new dependence on processed and fast foods and a departure from the culture of preparing fresh, whole foods, as well as the practice of sharing food (or breaking bread) with family around a communal table.  The consequences of these market and cultural shifts are palpable, and they are most apparent in our traditionally underserved and low-income communities.  Obesity and diet-related chronic disease have reached epidemic proportions nationally but are most pronounced in neighborhoods where access to good food is limited.

The decline in access to good food, coupled with the loss of food preparation practices and culture, have formed an iterative, downward heath spiral for our communities.  Recent efforts to expand access alone are proving insufficient in reversing these health trends.  If we are to restore health in our communities, we must focus on changing the course of our culture and practice around food.  In the way that faith formed many of our original cultural norms around food, there exists an opportunity for today’s communities of faith to lead us on a path to better physical health and wellbeing.

In Philadelphia, the Common Market is launching its "Farm to Faith" program that works with faith-based partners to bring good food directly to communities.  Our vision is to work with leaders and communities of worship to connect back to our roots of communal food solutions—the act of many families working as a unit to solve group food needs.  In a distribution model that resembles community-supported agriculture (CSA), our Farm to Faith program creates a more sustainable balance of benefit between urban consuming communities and rural food-producing ones.  Think of the relationship as “community and agriculture supporting each other.”  

The Common Market was founded to expand access to good food in vulnerable communities while improving the sustainability of family farms in our region.  The idea and decision to work with the faith community came out of our experience ofprimarily serving the institutional food market—schools, universities, hospitals and eldercare.  While we have grown to impact the consumption of good food in institutions, we struggled to envision how to reach households in underserved, low income and minority communities. Philadelphia communities lack adequate retail establishments to achieve food security in all neighborhoods, but every community has an abundance of religious institutions.  So in places where the supermarket is gone and the corner store just won’t do, we seek to nourish bodies where folks come to save their souls.

We began by looking at what makes for a good partner in the work that we do.  The following are the strongest indicators that we can form a successful partnership:

Strong leadership: More than any other factor, we have had success working in places that have a visionary leader who believes in the values of sustainable local food and who is determined to provide it to her or his constituents.

Facility: Sites that have the capacity to properly store and distribute significant quantities of food facilitate smooth programming.

Volunteers: Places that have a strong culture of volunteerism and a commitment to community are often better suited to managing the logistics of our programs.

Food Culture: Traditions of bringing people together around food.

Health Focus: Increasing focus on the health and well being of people.

As we considered viable options for alternative ways to get good food to the people in communities that need it the most, institutions of faith most often meet the above criteria and hold the strongest potential for impacting community food access.  We see food access as an opportunity to restore connections between communities, improve health and as a means for rebuilding culture and values.  

By linking communities of faith with fresh and sustainable farm food in neighborhoods in need, we can improve the physical and mental health of many while improving the economic health of farms and surrounding rural communities. We are excited to partner with a diversity of communities, cultures and denominations to implement this vision and impact the health and well being of our region’s communities.