Farm Credit Affiliation
Farm Credit East
James Harrison is the executive director of The Food Project (TFP), a non-profit that engages young people in sustainable agriculture, creates improved access to fresh, locally grown food for communities, and increases market opportunities for farmers.
TFP has graduated more than 1,200 young people from programs teaching about sustainable agriculture, food systems and social change. James engages young people in fieldwork on farms while simultaneously teaching them about the economic and political history of farming, food systems and social justice. Young people are given great responsibility for leading farm volunteers and managing farmers markets in low-income communities.
“The opportunity to work with people of different ages, economic statuses, races, and ethnic backgrounds to create new opportunities through food and farming is my life’s work,” says James. “What inspires me most is bringing together diverse groups of youth and adults in our communities to help support the economic development of rural and urban economies through food.”
James is dedicated to developing a new generation of leaders through sustainable agriculture and to creating win-win food distribution systems that support both farmers and low-income communities. He was integral in creating new farms in Lynn, Beverly, and Wenham while serving as a mentor and role model to teens. Many alumni of TFP’s programs have gone on to study agriculture and work on sustainable farms throughout the country. TFP has inspired similar efforts in other cities and provides regular training for these programs.
“All people deserve access to the fresh fruits and vegetables needed to support good health and wellbeing. At the same time, local farms need new customers in order to expand their businesses,” says James. “Building relationships, new models and new markets that work for both low-income communities and local farms is the best way to improve access to healthy food in what the USDA terms “food deserts,” while at the same time creating economic opportunities for farms.”
James and TFP have been leaders in creating innovative programs for affordable access and new markets for local produce. They piloted Bounty Bucks, which provides farmers markets with EBT terminals and a dollar-for-dollar matching incentive for SNAP purchases. These efforts demonstrated the value of better access to fresh produce by SNAP recipients and the USDA is now providing $100 million to fund similar programs.
James is currently piloting programs to create new markets in low-income areas with corporate-sponsored CSA shares and a healthy corner store initiative. These efforts will continue to engage youth and adults from diverse backgrounds to access better nutrition and develop stronger markets for local farmers.
“Our country experienced a radical demographic shift last century from an agrarian society to an urban one. Important ties to the land and to farmers were cut, contributing to the declining health of our people, the devastation of our rural economies, and a significant decrease in food security,” says James. “We must reconnect urban centers to agriculture through urban and peri-urban farms, agricultural education, and increased public awareness of agriculture. This will lead to the types of decisions and investments in agriculture that will provide healthy food for all of our citizens while better supporting our rural agricultural economies.”
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