A small, local business ourselves, Short Stack is all about purchasing from local businesses and farms. When we found out about Robert Pierce and his work using urban agriculture to combat injustices in the prison and re-entry systems and to foster sustainable practices in low-income communities, we became fans immediately. So many of our passions wrapped up in one organization — how amazing! I was lucky enough to chat with the man himself, Robert Pierce, about this incredible organization.
Tell me a bit about the history of Neighborhood Food Solutions.
I began my urban farming practice in 1984. It was mostly a way to provide good, healthy food for myself and my family. I became active in multiple local food projects and I’m now focused on developing a more just foundation for food in the multi-ethnic and low-income neighborhoods of South Madison. I wanted to ensure that safe, affordable, and healthy food was accessible to those communities, and so Neighborhood Food Solutions began.
What is the mission of Neighborhood Food Solutions?
NFS was founded upon two principles: (1) to engage community members in learning about the economic, social, health, and environmental impacts of food, and (2) to promote active participation from community members and help implement community development strategies that create food-related economic opportunities.
We have two programs under Neighborhood Food Solutions that carry out our mission. The Farming After Incarceration Release (FAIR) Initiative gives formerly incarcerated individuals a chance to get back on their feet socially and financially. These individuals are engaged in urban agriculture while participating in strengthening local food systems. Program for Entrepreneurial Agricultural Training (PEAT) that was developed in 2009 works with low income and at-risk youth about where food is going and who is getting it. Beyond simply teaching them how to farm, the program guides them on how to become their own employer, eat healthy, and grow their own food.
What is something about your organization that others should know about?
Often times, the crimes that certain people are ostracized for after being incarcerated are things that other people do regularly without consequence. When people are getting in and out of the prison system and other situations like that, the system at large is against them — even if they’ve done nothing really wrong in the scheme of things. If most people were put in that situation, they would fail. Not because they didn’t try, but because no matter how hard they tried, the system is set up against them so success is often not possible.
Neighborhood Food Solutions helps break the cycle. We help create a space to show people that things are not hopeless and teach them life skills that allow them to help themselves out of whatever situation they may have been in.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Being able to see people that can learn to work, and then express that they want to be a farmer on their own. It leads to many positives for the individual and the whole community, like production of local food, local purchasing, it adds to the economy… the list goes on.
What is on the horizon for Neighborhood Food Solutions?
We’re in the process of getting more land. Right now we don’t have much, but we’re working on getting more. Once we get that land, we’ll be able to take on more people in our programs, as well as allow more people to do volunteer work to make all of this happen.
How can people get involved?
Until we get that new land, the best way people can get involved with our organization specifically is to donate. Donate at: http://nfsinc.org/tax-deductible-gifts/
Come say hi at the Madison Farmer’s Market on August 9th! We’ll be there with Neighborhood Food Solutions, selling lots of local goods and produce!