For faith-based communities looking to be God’s stewards, the Baltimore Food and Faith Project may be a natural extension of their values, says program founder Angela Smith. Working with Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future, Smith created this project to address food consumption, production and distribution issues through a moral and religious lens.
NFM: What does the Baltimore Food and Faith Project do?
Angela Smith: Our primary work is educational outreach, which is often driven by what religious congregations want to know. Sometimes groups want to hear about food-system sustainability issues, while others who lack access to quality food may be interested in community food security. We also have a garden grant program through which we’ve given about 40 grants to congregations and religious schools to start sustainable vegetable gardens. People use the gardens in a number of ways, from growing food for themselves to using them to teach stewardship.
NFM: Can you name some of your successes?
AS: Gardens are certainly our most popular initiatives. Basically we’ve gotten to the point where we’re big enough now that I can’t handle it all by myself anymore. We really want communities to take ownership of these initiatives and we act as a resource for them. So last March we began training community ambassadors for our program who go out and take control of the projects and just run with it. They still use us a resource, but they are creating partnerships that I really have nothing to do with and spreading the ideas that we created. I think our biggest success is that we don’t have to be involved in every single initiative to improve our food systems.
NFM: Do you encounter stereotypes against making healthier food choices?
AS: Sure. People will say, “That food is great, but it’s too expensive.” I usually bring up the externalities related to organic. I try to show people why eating organic now can save their health in the long run. I’ve found, though, that whatever type of congregation I’m working with, they all would prefer to buy organic food. To break the stereotypes of cost and inaccessibility, organic options must be available, but this often isn’t the case in urban Baltimore.
NFM: How can natural products retailers better reach these communities?
AS: Because we’re an interfaith organization, we often speak in generalities. Retailers could consider themselves the same. At the end of the day, we all want peace, justice, to breathe clean air and our kids to be healthy. One thing that’s particularly powerful for members of faith communities is hearing a story about a product. If a customer could see that the coffee she purchases helps support a farmer in Ecuador and send his kids to school, she would really understand the impact of her decision to buy that product.
NFM: Could you see this program in other states?
AS: That’s the million-dollar question. If there were a real need and demand for it, sure, but it still needs to be driven by and large by people. Right now, I’m really excited for our first food audit. It’s a survey that helps congregations assess how sustainable and just their food policies and practices are. It also has a planning guide that encourages creating an action plan to make changes. In the future, I could see more measurable action stemming from this program.