You are here

Stories & Inspiration

Sharing stories and inspiration about our food system work helps us to connect with one another, find greater empathy and compassion, and provides the motivation to continue on with our work. We invite you to share your stories and inspirations with us for consideration in our feature on this page! Check back for new stories and inspiration! Please share your story with us!

Healthy Community Leader Awardee Raheem Baraka

Raheem Baraka, 2016 Healthy Community Leader Awardee and BACH quoteRaheem Baraka is the founder and Executive Director of Baraka Community Wellness (BCW), an organization committed to reducing health disparities and healthcare costs for vulnerable communities. BCW provides wellness solutions for at-risk individuals and communities that engage, educate, and empower through developing and implementing programs that address the social and behavioral determinants of poor health outcomes with a focus on lifestyle and behavior, food access and education, and environmental contributors.

Raheem is a native Bostonian who has a deep passion for community health and helping to create solutions to solve disparities within communities of color and those that have been disenfranchised. He is one of 18 leaders participating in Food Solutions New England’s Network Leadership Institute and he has also been recognized for his work and dedication to community health and prevention initiatives by through multiple awards, including most recently the 2016 Boston Alliance for Community Health’s Community Leadership Award.

Q: Why do you do what you do?

A: I truly have a distain for disparity and inequity. Injustice and systemic challenges related to race and class are driving many problems in health care today. Work on upstream solutions that impact communities towards positive outcomes downstream is the smart, moral, and right thing to do.

Q: What are your most urgent concerns?

A: The new presidential administration! Will the Affordable Care Act stay intact? What will the future landscape of healthcare delivery and the models look like if there is a shift in access and support for several elements that are much needed within most communities of color? We have many initiatives underway under our Healthy Families Healthy Communities program that range from enhanced food access delivery to fitness and health coaching and all the way to a deeply comprehensive cooking education program in partnership with Brigham & Women’s Hospital. Our aim is to continually provide programs that are equitable, highly accessible, authentic, participant-centered, and outcome driven. 

Q: How can the Food Solutions New England network help you overcome those concerns?

A: We are much more powerful together. To be associated and aligned with organizations that have the forward thinking vision of creating a new narrative around what local food systems can be, while addressing local and urban economic sustainability, is of extreme value to me. Our organizational approach of looking at these overall issues of food sovereignty through a healthcare lens coupled with the "50 by 60" Vision inclusive of racial equity​ and food justice looks to surely help overcome the issues of preventable chronic diseases and the compounded challenges that affect the communities we deeply care about.

Q: What has been your experience with the Network Leadership Institute? 

A: Incredibly exciting. I love the energy, the camaraderie, the varied viewpoints, the creativity, the Backbone Team. I am very focused on logic, deliverables, and outcomes; I’m eager to put systems in place and make them operational – “go go go.” I’d love to see “50 by 60” come to fruition and even 50 by 40 would be great. There are a lot of moving parts – it’s a large territory with many stakeholders and we’re up against system that is happy with the status quo, hence there are challenges. But I am optimistic that the common good of this work can collectively disrupt all levels of the system from policy down to growers and urban markets.

Innovation Leads the Way to Food Access

Debbie talks to community about pop upDebbie Sims attended her first New England Food Summit This past June when the 6th annual Summit was held in Bridgeport, CT.  Debbie, and a group delegates known as “Trailblazers,” were invited through Food Solutions New England’s Ambassador Team. 

Debbie has been working for many years to bring a full service grocery store into her neighborhood in the East End of Bridgeport, which is considerd a food desert.  While she never gave up on the idea, she was discouraged until she attended the Food Summit.  In Marilyn Moore’s conversation with Debbie, she shared that the Summit inspired her, gave her hope and access to resources to build an equitable food system.  She had no idea that so many people in the New England states were working on food justice and she was excited by the collaborative work being done to address health equity.

Armed with support from her Summit contacts, Debbie moved forward on the project to bring healthy food options to her neighborhood.  Her work resulted in the East End NRZ’s Pop-Up Market & Café that is planning to improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables as well as providing job training for youth and community engagement; it is scheduled to open early in 2017 in space donated by Bridgeport Neighborhood Trust. Through collaboration with Greater Bridgeport O.I.C. and others the project received $10,000 seed money and were selected to participate in the HealthyCommunity50 Challenge (a partnership between the Aetna Foundation, the American Public Health Association, and the National Association of Counties) which could bring up to $500k to the project. The Food Solutions New England network provided Debbie with the seeds of determination and fortitude needed to sustain the efforts that are necessary to create healthy communities.

Marilyn Moore is a first term State Senator who represents the 22nd District in Connecticut and founder and CEO of the Witness Project of CT.  She began her journey with Food Solutions New England (FSNE) after learning about FSNE when she joined the CT Food System Alliance. She is the FSNE Connecticut Ambassador and was proud to bring the Summit to her hometown in Bridgeport.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Mary Chicoine Praus

This post was originally published on the American Planning Association Food Systems Planning Interest Group's website.

Mary PrausMary Chicoine Praus is a Land Use Planner at Franklin Regional Council of Governments in Greenfield, Massachusetts. The organization is the co-author of the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan and has undertaken various regional food system planning efforts.

This interview was conducted via email by Erica Campbell of the Vermont Farm to Plate Network, and member of the APA-FIG Leadership Team.

What is your current position (include your title and name of organization)? 

I am a Land Use Planner at the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, the regional planning agency for Franklin County. Our agency is located in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

How long have you held this position? 

Five and a half years

What do you enjoy about your work? 

I like being able to focus on several areas of interest, including farm and food system planning, green infrastructure and urban trees.

Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? 

I find it challenging to have many projects at one time and to have enough time to devote to them all, especially those as complex and intricate as our food system.

What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work? 

I’ve focused on several areas: statewide comprehensive food system planning, regional farm and food planning for Franklin County with a focus on land and food access, and community food assessments for individual towns. We’ve completed the Franklin County Farm and Food System Project, focused on increased food access and food production, and co-authored the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan.

In the work that you perform, where does addressing food systems issues fit in? How has this changed over time

Food system planning per se was not a stated focus of our agency five years ago. Now we are regularly working on food system related projects at several scales. Even if the primary goal of a planning project is not related to the food system, my colleagues and I are often thinking about the food system when we are working on open space plans, master plans, or transportation planning. I think there is more focus on social equity and food access, and more awareness of the need for access to affordable farmland, which permeates many areas of planning at the FRCOG.

Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? 

Although my official title is Land Use Planner, I do also think of myself as a food system planner.

What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? 

I think funding is one of the biggest hurdles both for our organization and for many organizations and businesses in our region. After successfully obtaining funding for a couple of significant food system projects at the FRCOG, it has become more difficult to find funding. It has also become more competitive over time, especially for food system planning projects.

Do you have any advice for someone entering the food systems planning field? 

Ground your planning work in the real world – and do your homework to understand what work has already been done before hand. Be respectful of farmers and food processors – value their time and their real world experience. Don’t ask farmers and food processors to participate in your project unless there is real value to them for doing so.

What makes you successful in your work? What skills do you use the most in your food systems planning related work? 

I think being respectful of those already doing the work in the food system helps me to be more effective. The day-to-day skills I use the most are conducting research, analysis, and GIS mapping, creating graphics and infographics, and doing outreach to farmers and others in the food system community.

Sharing our stories: Emily Horton

Emily Horton at Good Food Bus launchHow are you working for healthy food for all and thriving communities in New England?

I grew up on an organic farm in mid-coast Maine.  In the mid-90’s, as family farms in my community were shutting down, including our own, I realized how important it was for society to recognize the benefits small-scale farming had on the community, the environment, and the economy. I studied agriculture as an undergraduate and traveled globally to compare industrial and sustainable farming practices. I obtained my Masters in Public Health with a focus on child malnutrition and sustainable agriculture solutions in Haiti. 

After college, I went back to my roots and began working at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) under Russell Libby’s leadership. Since MOFGA, I've taught nutrition education to low-income Mainers, served on community food councils, farm to school work-groups, and have been selected as a Maine delegate to the New England Food Summit in 2014 and 2015. I currently work as an agriculture and food policy staffer for Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine’s first district.

What successes and challenges do you see in your work to achieving the Vision of “50 by 60” with racial equity and social justice, healthy food for all, sustainable farming and fishing, and thriving communities?

One of the successes - and challenges - is that we are all in this together and come to the table with our own perspectives. Whether you're a farmer, fishermen, legislator, or work for a nonprofit, everyone's voice brings valuable perspective to building a sustainable food system. Sometimes the conversations get messy or sidetracked, but the end result is a collaborative effort reflecting all communities and their needs. Regionally I think we are on a great path. 

Are you using the Vision in your work?

Absolutely. The New England Food Vision is a tangible document that helps me tell the story of regional partnerships in New England and Maine. And this is especially important when working with groups outside of these efforts.


Emily Horton at the launch of the first ever mobile farmers market in Maine, the Good Food Bus. 

Ten Questions with Niaz Dorry

This originally appeared on Food Tank's website April 16, 2016.

Food Tank had the chance to speak with Niaz Dorry, the Coordinating Director of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, who will be speaking at this year's Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C.Niaz Dorry (L) with CT Senator Marilyn Moore & the 2016 New England Food Summit

Food Tank: What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?

Niaz Dorry (ND): It was the omission of seafood from food system conversations that really sparked my involvement. Considering it’s the only thing we eat with the word “food” in it and that our rationale for killing marine animals is to feed people, I found it puzzling that neither the food world nor the fishing world considered seafood worthy of inclusion in food system discussions. It has become increasingly important to me to since we are seeing the strategies that undermined our land-based food system spreading to the sea. We have a unique opportunity to stop the bad stuff while applying some of the good lessons and solutions from land food to sea food. 

FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?

ND: Redefining “efficiency.” High volume, low value, single species animal or crop production have defined success for too long. Shifting our thinking toward low volume, high value production systems focused on the diversity that nature provides is a huge opportunity that can yield so much ecological, social, and economic value. 

FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about? 

ND: Since I work on fisheries issues, the innovations around values-based fishing operations are really exciting to me. We’re rethinking what value means to us, away from money and towards one's judgment of what is important in life. This is huge and is leading to a major sea change.

FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you? 

ND: There are way too many of them to pick one. 

FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?

ND: That we have the potential to live harmoniously with each other on this planet where no one has to struggle for basic needs such as food. I can visualize it, and as a visual thinker, if I can see it, I know it is possible.

FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn't have to deal with? 

ND: Our ancestors didn’t have to deal with what I call “unidentified food objects”—things that are a shadow of what they are supposed to be, void of nutrients, connections, and values, and are branded as “food” when they don’t really deserve that title.  

FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system? 

ND: Equity and integrity in the entire food chain. 

FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference? 

ND: Try to eat in season (yes, even fish have seasons), and eat food that still looks like what it’s supposed to be. 

FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?

ND: Farmers, fishermen, food workers, and others who work in our entire food chain should not be struggling to feed themselves and/or their own families.

FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?

ND: Fair prices for community-based fishermen and family farmers, and fair wages for all food workers. Too many of our fishermen and farmers are working in the red. The current narrative around subsidies makes it sound like they are reaping wealth off tax payers’ backs when in reality, our current food system is straining their backs. Many of them can barely make ends meet. They deserve to be paid their cost of production, and all those whose hands touch our food deserve lives with dignity.