Jesse Rye is the Co-Executive Director of Food Systems Enterprise at Farm Fresh Rhode Island, an organization committed to growing a local food system that values the environment, health, and quality of life of Rhode Island farmers and eaters. Part incubator, part activator, Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s programs grow the local food system by building capacity in three areas: producers, markets, and eaters. Prior to joining Farm Fresh Rhode Island, Jesse worked in arts and cultural policy on the local, state, and national level. These collective experiences have given him a perspective on how innovative people and organizations serving social causes build stronger communities.
Why do you what you do?
There are many fulfilling aspects to my job. I think that is the result of working for an organization that is striving to improve multiple aspects of the local food system. I am proud that Food System Enterprise at Farm Fresh, which includes programs like Market Mobile and Veggie Box, is helping to improve farm viability. I am also proud that I work for an organization that has such a strong food access focus. I believe everyone deserves access to fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables.
On a personal level, I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan. That community is experiencing some extremely negative environmental ramifications from the increase of concentrated animal feed operations. This expansion of the operations has been decades in the making, but the water and air pollution that is taking place today is a direct result of the deregulation of environmental and agricultural policies at the state level. This reinforces to me the necessity of informed and data driven policy decisions that is not beholden to special interests or influential industries. I believe that the food system work that is taking place in New England, Food Solutions New England (FSNE) in particular, is setting a positive example for the rest of the country. We are demonstrating that farming and environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive endeavors.
What are your most urgent concerns or upcoming action opportunities?
Farm Fresh Rhode Island found a lot of inspiration in the 50 by 60 plan. Our staff and board decided to adopt the plan as a guiding vision for the work of our organization. We want to connect more Rhode Island growers with eaters throughout the region and vice versa. We want RI farmers to have the capacity to grow more here, but we are also bound by geographic realities as the smallest state in the country. Forming genuine regional connections is very important for Rhode Island. With the vision in hand, we are motivated by what we can do now to make those connections now.
How can the FSNE Network help you overcome or address those concerns or help you with action?
The FSNE network has already helped a great deal by articulating a realistic and resilient vision for the future of food in New England. We use that framework when we talk to policy makers about why food systems work is important, both now and for future generations. It is a challenge to learn how to talk about the plan as something relevant to folks who might be thinking only about the next 2 to 4 years. It’s hard to think about 2060 when all you are concerned about is the next election cycle. It would be very helpful to hear how others are articulating the benefits of adopting the plan to policy makers or the results of forward thinking individuals, communities, organizations and institutions. I know there are many great examples to be shared as a network.