August 30, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Food Nonprofits Making a Difference

As the Good Food Movement has grown over the last decade so too have the number of organizations dedicated to helping more sustainable food find its way to as many people as possible. Though many individuals have worked to raise awareness, numerous victories have been made from collections of people volunteering their time and donations to fund food projects they hope will make a difference.

Though I wish this could be a thoroughly scientific best-of list, there are simply too many great non-profits around – national and local. (This is a great problem to have!) The purpose of this list is to share some great organizations that you might not have heard of. They appear in alphabetical order within categories.

Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments (and why you think we should have included them) and it may even get added to the list! Thank you to all those who have contributed suggestions both on and offline.


Center for a Livable Future- From Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health comes an academic center dedicated to research, education, and advocacy related to food systems and public health. Their underrated Livable Future Blog is a source of great analysis on popular food news as well as easy-to-miss stories about waterways, pollution, and more that cast a wide net over our entire food system. They’re also the scientific advisors to the Meatless Monday campaign. (Website)

The Center for Food Safety- This national public interest group works to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies while promoting sustainable agriculture. They provide consumer education through legal actions, policy reports, books, and grass roots campaigns and have successfully helped create the body of recent case law on food and agricultural issues. (www.CenterForFoodSafety.org)

Center for Science in the Public Interest- This Washington D.C.-based consumer advocacy organization has been fighting for better nutrition and food safety since 1971. They’ve helped create standards for nutrition labeling at chain restaurants, stop fast food restaurants from using animal fat in their fried foods, and were instrumental in creating the Food Safety Modernization Act. In 2011, they founded Food Day – an national event that promotes healthy, sustainable, affordable food and policies to support them. (www.cspinet.org)

Coalition of Immokalee Workers- Heavily publicized in Barry Estabrook’s 2011 book Tomatoland, this organization has been pivotal in securing better pay and treatment of workers in Florida’s tomato fields and beyond. Their Fair Food campaign caused many major fast food chains and retailers to agree to a direct payment to farm workers for their labor – a remarkable accomplishment considering how agriculture treats the majority of its immigrant-based workforce. Their phenomenal success in going directly for major economic players – fast food chains, supermarkets – shows that policy change isn’t the only way to make a difference in our food system. (ciw-online.org)

The Edible Schoolyard- Beginning with a 1-acre educational garden in a Berkeley, CA middle school, this program now has outposts in five additional locations nationwide. Their goal is to allow school gardens to become an interactive and delicious classroom for academic subjects while also teaching children about agriculture, community, and the value of protecting our land. (edibleschoolyard.org)

Farm Forward- Created in 2007 with the help of board member Jonathan Safran Foer’s bestselling book Eating Animals, Farm Forward is a non-profit advocacy and consulting group that focuses on transforming the way we farm animals. They offer free assistance for farmers who want to transition to a more sustainable and humane method of poultry production. Earlier in 2013 they launched Buying Poultry – a website and app that allows users to scan poultry products at the store and find out the type of farm they really came from. (www.FarmForward.com)

FoodCorps Putting the AmeriCorps program to work for a better, fairer food system, FoodCorps began in 2009 and sent the first round of service members into the field in 2011. Now sending younger adults into a third round of year-long posts, this program has placed candidates in limited-resources communities in fifteen states where they’ve created farm to school programs, helped with school gardens, school food, and incorporated nutrition education into the regular school day. (foodcorps.org)

Food First- This Institute for Food Development and Policy was founded by Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins in 1975. Their work is focuses on three areas: building better local food systems, forging food sovereignty with farmers, and democratizing the development of farms, land, and natural resources. To further these goals, they’ve authored numerous publications, provided research and analysis, as well as training, campaigning, and support for individuals and other organizations. (www.FoodFirst.org)

Food Tank- One of the newest members to the non-profit game, this think tank was founded earlier this year in the hope of uniting the disparate voices of the food movement into one vehicle for change. Their newsletter already boasts over 100,000 subscribers and they have their first event coming up at the end of September: Food Waste Free NYC! (FoodTank.org)

GRACE Communications Foundation- As the creators of the Eat Well Guide, Sustainable Table, The Meatrix, and many others this non-profit has done groundbreaking work in their strategies to increase public awareness about the relationships among food, water, and energy systems. (www.GraceLinks.org)

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition- This alliance of grassroots organizations advocates for federal policy reform in the areas of agricultural sustainability, food systems change, use of natural resources, and protection of rural communities. They provide direct representation to Washington D.C. on many commonly held positions of their smaller member organizations. (SustainableAgriculture.net)

The Land Institute- Founded by Wes Jackson, this research- and education-based organization hopes to develop a more natural agricultural system based on perennial polyculture systems like the prairie. Appropriately headquartered in Kansas, they’ve experimented with breeding annual crop plants like wheat or sunflower with their perennial relatives, destroying the need to replant each year. The particular method of pairing these plants will hopefully reduce the need for the same level of pesticides, fossil fuels, irrigation, and other tools of modern agriculture which degrade the quality of our soil. (www.landinstitute.org)

Slow Food As an international organization, this might be the largest food-based non-profit on this list. Founded in 1989 to promote good food through community and environmental work (and to slow the influx of a fast-food society), Slow Food has over 100,000 members in 1,500 chapters all over the world. They also founded Italy’s University of Gastronomic Sciences in 2005, the first program of its kind and undoubtedly one of few educational institutes started by a non-profit organization. (www.slowfood.com)

Small Planet Institute- Founded by writer Frances Moore Lappé and her daughter Anna in 2001, this institute hopes to show “democracy as a rewarding way of life: a culture in which citizens infuse the values of inclusion, fairness and mutual accountability into all dimensions of public life.” While this sometimes means trying to change the way we think about our Small Planet, it’s often been a matter of changing the way we eat. In promoting the adoption of a plant based diet long before “flexitarianism,” this organization has done countless hours of outreach through talks, books, film, and other media to make us rethink how our diet affects our environment. The Small Planet Fund, an offshoot of the SPI, is a grant-giving organization that promotes citizen-led solutions to hunger, poverty, and environmental issues worldwide. (smallplanet.org)

Wholesome Wave- This national program has 60 partner organizations in 28 states working to improve access and affordability of fresh, local produce. They currently have three main projects: Double Value Coupon Program (which provides incentives for consumers to use federal benefits at farmers markets), Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (prescriptions for overweight or obese children provided by community health providers that can be redeemed at participating farmers markets), and Healthy Food Commerce Investments (giving business and financial assistance to mission-driven food distributors and businesses). (www.wholesomewave.org)



The HEAL Project – Based in Half Moon Bay, CA, The Health, Environment, Agriculture, and Learning project provides a garden- and classroom-based science curriculum  to students in the Cabrillo Unified School District. Since 2006, their weekly summer school garden classes, sponsored gardening clubs, and noontime sports have reached over 3,200 students.(www.TheHEALProject.org)


Center for Rural Affairs- Organized in 1973, this Nebraska-based organization focuses on advocacy for rural communities, social and economic justice, and environmental stewardship rather than any particular agricultural philosophy. They also advocate for beginning-farmers, wind energy and USDA conservation programs. (www.cfra.org)

(Montana, Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota), as well as Iowa, Missouri and Kansas. CFRA is a leader among national organizations working on rural environmental issues, rural entrepreneurship, beginning-farmer programs, wind energy transmission, and USDA conservation programs. It conducts education, demonstration and service programs to reach farmers/ranchers, small business owners, community leaders and other rural residents.

Detroit Food Academy- This extracurricular program uses experiential learning and real-world applications to engage and educate young students in the Detroit area. They partner with local high schools, educators, and food entrepreneurs to deliver a year-round curriculum culminating in the design and launch of students’ own triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) food business. (DetroitFoodAcademy.com)

Growing Power – If you’re involved in food justice or urban agriculture, you’ve probably heard of farmer Will Allen. Since he purchased Milwaukee’s last functioning farm in 1993, he’s turned the land into an educational facility where members of the community and outside professionals can learn more about sustainable food production. They provide hands-on training, demonstrations, technical assistance, and outreach for those interested in alternative forms of agriculture. (www.growingpower.org)


Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund – One of the oldest non-profits on this list, the Federation started as Civil Rights organization helping African Americans to retain and develop farmland in the South. Today they work to help all family farmers – particularly those of low income levels- through the creation of cooperatives, credit unions, and public policy work. (www.federationsoutherncoop.com)

Florida Organic Growers – Started in 1987, just two years before the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 which required the USDA to develop national standards for organic products, this organization was heavily involved in creating many of the original organics guidelines. Today they provide education and certification for many farmers in Florida and continue to be active in policy decisions for organics and agriculture. (www.foginfo.org)


Brooklyn Food Coalition- A grassroots organization, the BFC is made of neighborhood groups and working committees that work on projects to promote sustainable food and food justice in all of Brooklyn’s communities. Though food movement supporters are commonly criticized for being too homogenous, the BFC focuses on building an inclusive, multi-racial and multi-cultural alliance of members. Their goal is to focus on food policy that comes from the community on out. (BrooklynFoodCoalition.org)

Food Systems Network NYC- FSNYC is a membership-based organization in the New York City area. They are involved with promoting local food policy through their input in the NYC Mayoral Candidate Forum in July, a recent radio series on Heritage Radio Network, and more. As part of their community-engagement, they host monthly open networking meetings for those interested and/or working in food policy. (FoodSystemsNYC.org)

The Food Trust– This organization has been working for 20 years to provide access to affordable, nutritious food in the Philadelphia area. Once known as the Farmer’s Market Trust, they began by creating a small farmer’s market in the Tasker Homes public housing development of South Philadelphia. For one day a week, this market was the community’s only source of fresh produce. Today they do work to increase fresh produce to corner stores, bring supermarkets to communities that need them, and improve the health of school food. (TheFoodTrust.org)

Just Food – Since 1995, this New York organization has been a pioneered ways to better distribute healthy, farm-fresh food to food pantries, neighborhood groups, and individuals. They’re also the organizers of the Just Food Conference, an annual event that brings together some of the best minds of the food movement for two days of talks, workshops, and more. (www.justfood.org)

Hot Bread Kitchen- Based in East Harlem, Hot Bread Kitchen offers training to get foreign-born and low-income people a start in the specialty food industry. To help pay for their programs, they sell multi-ethnic breads made with mostly local and organic ingredients. (HotBreadKitchen.org)

Wellness in the Schools – Led by volunteer chef Bill Telepan, this organization commonly known as WITS is seeking to reform school food through hands on education. The three branches of their program, Cook for Kids, Green for KIds, and Coach for Kids, try to promote better eating, health, and environmental awareness in as many New York City public schools as possible. Since 2005, their program has spread to over twenty-five schools, reaching tens of thousands of children. (wellnessintheschools.org)

-Tove K. Danovich