THE FOOD PARK INFRASTRUCTURE FOR UPGRADING THE FOOD SYSTEM IN AMERICA

Eduardo D. Bacolod

An independent international development consultant based in New York City. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of the Philippines Los Baños in the Philippines. He studied at the  Centre for Development Studies, University of Wales, University College Swansea (now Swansea University) in the United Kingdom, as a British Chevening Scholar for the degree of Master of Science in Social Development Planning and Management. His latest publication is entitled Business Models for Collective Governance. He prepared the national agriculture sector policy agenda of Fiji for the FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture of Fiji.

  • This paper introduces the food park infrastructure in support of upgrading the food system in America. The food park, in essence, is a business model that can be plugged-in into the existing food system.  According to Wageningen University and Research (WUR), “it encompasses all the aspects of the food supply chain that facilitates the integration of various agribusiness value chain components,  with spatial integration of different agro-production chains, processing units,  and non-agro functions. It provides vital scope for economic transformation and employment generation including domestic and international tourism.”
  • The food park is a  structure designed with integrative mechanisms. In line with the open letter for the incoming Biden-Harris administration,  which asks to look at five key points in the U.S. food system,  the food park can contribute to addressing certain key points outlined in the open letter. In particular, it is capable of providing the structure for establishing the “backbone processes to enable a holistic approach;” and for “food to heal and connect,” the food park can serve as a common operational structure for the best interest of the American people. The open letter has been signed by 120  representatives of non-profit organizations engaged in charity and development works, coalitions of stakeholders in the food system,  private research institutions, and university-based academic research centers that are concerned with improving the food system in America
  • My patient journey in introducing the food park business model in America, which has covered a  period of a decade,  is narrated in this article. My engagement started with an opportunity from YES Bank of India in December 2008 asking me to promote the model. I browsed the food system in the U.S.  and looked at the viability of the food park how it could attract investment. Then in July 2014, I explored the Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund under the White House Rural Council. Recently, after the mainstream media reported a broken food system in America at the onset of the 2020 global pandemic, I again thought of the food park for purposes of upgrading the food system. I eventually decided to submit the food park project for New York to the Grow New York Competition. Finally,  the holding of the international food park investment conference, which I also proposed in July 2014, is being retrieved to be timely and relevant to the advancement of the food park infrastructure for upgrading the food system in America.
  • The  U.S. Department of Agriculture in the incoming administration shall give top priority to the upgrading of the U.S. food system. The food park, once plugged-in into the existing system, can induce the reset of the food system. The result is an invigorated agriculture, a vital engine of the American rural economy. The food park can create mechanisms that are going to “seize the opportunity for food to heal and connect” a politically divided nation.

Collective Understanding of the Food System

In the last ten years, I have been waiting for the stakeholders in  America’s food system would realize that it has certain inevitable flaws as the system becomes older.  This massive and complex food production and supply ecosystem, the desired model of many nations for many years,  seemingly requires timely transformation. The system, which has been naturally and progressively molded by historic and pioneering hard work, technological innovations and efficiency,  business profitability, and global humanitarian commitment,  is being challenged today.

On the other hand, the social, economic, employment, immigration,  international trade, environmental,  health, food safety,  and nutrition concerns in the food system are gaining more attention lately. The most recent outcome is the recognition that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragile structure of the food system for facing any major disaster.  However, there is an important consideration that is going to trigger the launch of the needed reset for improving it; this is the collective understanding by concerned parties in America that the system needs upgrading. In fact, there are sectors who consider it is broken, ultimately mirroring the reports of the mainstream media just a few weeks after the global pandemic lockdown started in the U.S.  

As a matter of fact, there is already a  common voice that expresses the need to fix what they see as a broken system.  In the process, the common voice is also demonstrating the spirit of multi-sectoral collaborative enterprise,  which is vital for the U.S. food system for adjusting to the global trends in technological innovations.

Upgrading the U.S. Food System

Before the pandemic exposed the alarming realities of the U.S. food system, its components look like pieces of well-oiled machinery structured together. The support infrastructures for the social, business, technological, and physical components that maintain its stability  appear to have only negligible infirmities.

For instance, the research and development support predominantly anchored to the land grant universities still receives government and private funding, grants, and contracts, still attracting the best agricultural and food researchers in America and from the rest of the world. Food promotions through television shows, farmers’ markets,  and state fairs still demonstrate the abundance of food in America. The chains of supermarkets in the suburbs and rural areas, the small food stores in inner cities,  and the main streets of small cities and towns look very vibrant too.  Furthermore, the availability of imported foods that cater to the demand of ethnic communities, many of these products become available on the shelves of the mainstream supermarket,  is continuously improving as food importation is more open. The availability and affordability of food after production and processing is mainly due to transport infrastructure that is massive all over the country, brought by the interstate highway system.  Therefore, to a large extent, the food system is a symbol of efficiency until the pandemic exposed the connections that are broken.

America’s ecosystem of food production and supply looks firm and nothing is required to be fixed significantly.  However, if we are going to look at the components of the food system severally,  there are signs of stagnation and lack of dynamism. For instance, over reliance on an efficient interstate highway system supports the production of crops that require a long haul, where in fact, food can be grown in the state. After production, the processing and distribution chain is already at the hand of large private companies, some already owned by foreign interest, and family-owned farms that used to be the backbone of U.S. agriculture are slowly dying.

What is the need to fix if there is nothing broken? A system has a certain life span though. The food system’s obsolescence is imminent but it will not be by wear and tear. The food system will soon become inferior relative to the advancement in technologies and new business models that will be developed in other countries if no serious reformation in the food system takes place. In effect, the richest country in the world may be lagging behind.

Although the U.S. food system looks prosperous, there are concerns that have been raised. These concerns that have always invested with the attention of the liberal side of the political spectrum include health and welfare issues on the consumption of nutritious food; the impact of the heavy application of farm chemicals and genetically modified crops to human health, and biodiversity;  the profitability of small farms;  the wage and housing status of farmers and farmworkers; and the welfare of seasonal farm workers. I am certain that there are many studies that have already identified the flaws of the system in the context of these concerns. It is safe to say also that there are very limited holistic recommendations for addressing the flaws.  While most of them are university research undertakings,  they are just kept for academic discussion purposes. It is about time to translate these studies into operational terms that can be felt and seen.

The food system is still built on a “too big to fail” philosophy. Its components are big and independently profitable. The mutual entrepreneurship relationships built between and among these components are largely tied by business profitability. Perhaps, unknown to many Americans,  the food system is an extractive enterprise because the smaller stakeholders, the farmers and farm workers on the one hand, and the consumers on the other end, do not get the share of the benefits equitably in terms of income and employment and food affordability.

Introducing the Food Park Infrastructure

The food park is an appropriate model based on its own technical merits and appropriateness for the time. My  own experience as a planning facilitator has already taught me not to devote so much time to identifying problems anymore during planning and consultation exercises. So much time spent on problem identification and analysis is like pulling me down towards the negative side. Rather, I experienced that more time for solutions creates a good atmosphere for creativity and imagination.

In America, perhaps there is also too much planning and policy analysis.  Instead of relying on these practices to initiate a good and essential project,  I prefer to rely on available information, technologies, business models,  and opportunities available or much better if I have easy access.  I would rather immediately put into play a business model in immediately addressing the flaws of the food system in America, like a computer with hardware and a fully charged battery, and just make the necessary adjustments with a compatible operating system and application software. It would be more prudent to rely on existing business models and make the necessary adjustments. Time is of the essence because of the global pandemic and the worsening urban and rural divide in the country,  wherein improving the food system is vital.

Apparently, the Netherlands and  India are the global leaders today in the building of food park infrastructure. By initially using the Dutch food park model and later adjusted to have their own,  India alone has already built 20 food parks out of the 37 they planned,  in a span of just ten years. They are planning to put up 50 food parks in total, and the main reason why the building of the infrastructure is slow is only due to the unavailability of the sites. There is a very small average landholding in India and it is difficult to consolidate land appropriate for the facility considering that the site must be strategic.

When the YES Bank of India communicated with me in December 2008, the first food park in India was just under construction. In the Netherlands, Unilever built the Foods Innovation Centre in the university town of Wageningen, right on the campus of WUR, in June 2019. Will the US follow suit with humility by departing from the notion that it has always the best in the world and it has a similar infrastructure that could match the innovations in India and the Netherlands? How can the U.S. be so proud when the COVID-19 pandemic taught us a lesson that even the country considered to be with the best health care infrastructure suffered the highest number of casualties because of high disregard of a systems approach to fight the pandemic. The most important lesson that we learned in fighting the pandemic should be taken into account in upgrading the food system in America. This lesson is about the importance of collective enterprise.

The Food Park Infrastructure Business Model

According to Wageningen University and Research (WUR), the food park is spread ideally on about 1,000 to 2,000 acres of land. It encompasses all the aspects of the food supply chain that facilitates the integration of various agribusiness value chain components; with spatial integration of different agro-production chains, processing units,  and non-agro functions. It provides vital scope for economic transformation and employment generation including domestic and international tourism.

The food park can rejuvenate the soul and the heart of America’s food system. While it is the model desired by the rest of the world for a long time, I presume it has reached the age that it has to adjust to the present trend. As the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the flaws in the U.S. food system,  it needs new business models for structural and operational reforms, more importantly by embracing the spirit of community development.

Objectives of the Food Park

Based on the WUR food park model, the objectives of the said infrastructure for America are:

  • To establish a rural infrastructure in the target state
  • To increase food production on the state level, thus reducing import from other states and countries
  • To produce safe and high-quality food
  • To create more employment opportunities
  • To develop a model of sustainable agriculture, including energy efficiency and use of renewable energy
  • To establish coherence between the urban and rural areas
  • To serve as a trade and processing center for domestic and international agriculture products
  • To set standards for food quality and certification
  • To create a demonstration, research, and education venue for modern and sustainable agriculture
  • To serve for the purpose of tourism and leisure, and; to show to the world a  food infrastructure business model in America.

Components

The food park is like a personal computer. Based on the WUR model, it has  three main components, which  are the Central Processing Unit (CPU) where its operating systems are installed, the hardware component, and the orgware/software component.

  • Central Processing Unit

According to the WUR food park model, “the integration in production and processing is controlled by the CPU, which is the heart of a mixed food park. The CPU, in return, enables sustainable innovations in agricultural activities.  Two  aspects of the CPU are addressed:  First is the  main focus is on technological design of the CPU, and the second is the CPU Management.”

The CPU gives particular emphasis on waste management aimed at environmental compliance and converting wastes productively. Based on the WUR model,  “The CPU  combines and processes biomass waste flows to valuable materials and energy. As a result, waste from one activity can be used as valuable input for another process. This process results in a reduction of the input needed for the activities of the food  and a reduction of the amount of waste (ecological burden). Thus, the CPU contributes to closing cyclic loops in the food park.”

Furthermore, “the energy produced in the CPU can be used for heating, cooling, and dehumidification. Through the application of climate-controlled closed systems, infection pressures can be minimized, so that use of chemicals can be minimized. Furthermore, product quality and production yields can be increased. All these ecological functions and characteristics of the CPU contribute to significant cost reduction and in the case of quality control to higher returns.”

The WUR food park model describes the components as follows:

  • Hardware

The hardware responds to the question “What you can hold?” This component includes contextual relationships, infrastructure, demonstration facilities, trade facilities, production facilities, industrial ecology facilities, energy management, landscape and nature, and recreation and leisure facilities.

  • Software and Orgware

The orgware responds to the  question “What you can organize?” It covers implementation and operation, acquisition of entrepreneurs, business planning, investment in infrastructure, consortium building, stakeholder network, external relations, development policy, procedures and protocols licenses and permits, park management, and risk management.

On the other hand, the software responds to the question “What you can feel and think?” The component includes knowledge management, team development, management of emotions, communication, marketing, quality management, human resource management, education, capacity building, and events.

Multiple Levels of Connection

Based on the WUR food park model,  the food park levels of connection if the infrastructure  will be established in New York State are as follows.

  • On the world level, internationally there are links with all parts of the agricultural chain of the world, in production, processing,  and trade;   and in relationships with knowledge centers including Cornell University and, State University of New York system, and other universities
  • On the  national level within the US,   there are linkages to the rest of the US. New York has always to  strive to be an example for the rest of the country, in this case in the development of the New York International Food Park
  • On the regional level within the East Coast of the US with the adjoining states in New England and Pennsylvania and adjoining Canada  in close relation to its metropolis particularly New York City, there  is the link to New York State
  • On the regional/local level within New York State the agricultural and recreational developments
  • On  the local level, the international food park  has strong interrelations with the New York State counties

Planning Approach

  • From Control-Oriented Planning to Development Policy

The WUR food park model describes its focus on development policy. “The type of planning needed is development-oriented, not control-oriented because implementation depends in the first place on entrepreneurs willing to invest in productive activities.”

The model also gets away from the traditional ‘blueprint’ land-use planning. According to WUR the ‘blueprint’ approach seldom offers sufficient freedom for entrepreneurs to make investments attractive.

  • Business Planning A Continuous Process

WUR describes that business planning is a continuous process as follows:

“A probably even more important deliverable of the master planning phase is the multi-actor network of entrepreneurs and governmental and knowledge organizations that as a whole must continue to attract businesses and develop the services and facilities needed by these companies. This development phase must become an ongoing process. Even when businesses are already in operation, new businesses need to be attracted and selected and the network and infrastructure within which these businesses operate need to be adapted and developed.”

  • Community Development Focus of The Food Park

The community-focused is vital in response to the perceived weakness that the recent development strategies in the U.S. are lacking  in community development focus.  On this basis, farming communities  serve as the major production units of the food park. The park also addresses concerns such as job training, business skill development, urban greening, farmland preservation, and community revitalization. The food park may be functionally linked to such resources that may include supermarkets, restaurants, food stores, farmers’ markets, gardens, transportation, community-based food, processing ventures, and urban farms. The food park  also focuses on self-reliance and empowerment. In line with the development of local agriculture, the international food park creates better links between farmers and consumers, helping to strengthen consumer knowledge and concern about their food source. The food park also focuses on the food system, by focusing on collaboration among many partners involved in farming, processing, distributing, marketing, and consuming food products.

Collective Project Ownership and Accountability

The food park is going to embark on experimenting with project ownership and accountability models. Its general ownership is formed based on a mix of government, private sector, and community participation. The mutually harmonious relationships established among these important sectors and stakeholders provide the needed strength for the stability of the food park.  More importantly, it attracts the best technologies and business models in the world, a symbolism that America must stand for and assume the top leadership in global agricultural development.

The Relevance of Food Park to the Five Key Points Outlined in the Open Letter for  the Biden-Harris Administration

While looking for updates on the priorities of the  Biden-Harris transition team, my search directed me to a press release on the Rockefeller Foundation website. The press release is an open letter that has been signed by more than 120 non-profit development organizations and university-based and private research institutions, including the Rockefeller Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, Winrock International, and Environmental Defense Fund. University-based research institutions include the Duke University World Food Policy Center, the Johns Hopkins Center for Livable Future,  the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School, and the Department of Nutrition of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The open letter conveys to the incoming Biden-Harris administration that the voices of the signatories are united asking for reform in the U.S. food system. They are reminding the incoming administration about the significance of the food system in getting out of the pandemic.

“At a time when our nation faces simultaneous health, economic, and hunger crises, we united our voices to convey five key points around the U.S. food system,” is the premise of the open letter.  The key points outlined in the open letter are:

  • Recognize that the food system is critical to the administration’s goal of a more equitable,  resilient, and healthy recovery from COVID-19
  • Seize the opportunity for food to heal and connect
  • Elevate and invest in the contributions of those previously left out
  • Appoint systems leaders and establish the backbone processes to enable a holistic approach
  • Identify and act on the quick wins.  

“We look forward to working with you to realize the transformative potential of our food system. The moment is now” is the concluding sentence of the open letter.

The open letter shows a wide range of concerns for upgrading the U.S.  food system. The fourth key point pertains to integration and building the backbone of the food system. The open letter then explains that there is a  “need to see and understand the entire food system and actively seek to collaborate and integrate the different disciplines and sectors to create a holistic strategy for food.”

Furthermore, they express their willingness to cooperate with the Biden-Harris administration for fixing the broken U.S. food system. The open letter would imply that they are recommending for the transition team to immediately look at the broken food system. Aside from being unified, the 120 signatories demonstrate the diversity that is going to provide strength in the reformative endeavors. Finally, what I have been waiting for in the last ten years has come to reality, that a collective effort to reforming the US food system is taking off.

The food park model that I am proposing is highly aligned and to some extent complementary, with the five key points outlined in the open letter. For instance, for food to heal and connect, it cannot be done without building the infrastructure that can serve as the nerve center of the system. This infrastructure then integrates the various sectors and disciplines. In other words, like a personal computer, it must have a new hardware component that replaces the outdated one. Then a new operating system upgrades the efficiency of the system that becomes compatible with more modern application programs.

It is easy to make this computer an example because the WUR food park model is also built like a personal computer. The food park serves as the hardware component of the system, aside from being the nerve center of its operation. There is a food park for a specific service area, which could be a state or small states to be served together. The food park then functions as a network of computers working for a unified food system serving America and the rest of the world. Furthermore, the system builds and maintains economic and social connections between the government and the various sectors of the U.S. society, and among different sectors. The connection is easily established because there is a tangible operational structure.  

In the case of healing the urban and rural divide as one of the key points implied in the letter, direct intervention may not be necessary, but the food park infrastructure can create the self-actuating mechanism to bring harmony to the system. In the process, it brings together the rural and urban population of America through food.  With the food park as the new hardware of the U.S. food system, and with the newly installed operating system and user-friendly software that they can easily navigate, there is a mutual trust between the rural communities and the urban communities.

A Patient Journey in Introducing the Food Park Business Model

My work to introduce the food park infrastructure in the U.S.  actually started as early as January 2009. In late December 2008, YES Bank of India, which had a partnership with WUR,  asked me if I could introduce the food park infrastructure model to the Philippines. I was referred to YES Bank by their Dutch partner who learned of my proposal to establish food park infrastructure in the Philippines and we circulated an agro-industrial park model for foreign investment to potential donor institutions around the year 2005. The Dutch Government was one of our primary target donors and we sent the Dutch Embassy in Manila a copy of our proposal.  After replying to the food park promoter from India, I also asked the YES Bank of India how we could bring investment to the US, including the expertise of the Dutch. However, I was asked to look for an investor that would bankroll the pre-feasibility studies first. I was able to establish communication with the Alterra Group of WUR, who would prepare the pre-feasibility studies. I read about the food system in the U.S. and it looks like the government institutions and the private sector who are stakeholders in the system would be difficult to convince.

My interest in the food park continued. In the agricultural sector policy agenda for Fiji that I prepared for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, I saw also the food park infrastructure would be the best solution for Fiji. However, it is really difficult to introduce infrastructure innovation. The tendency is always to look for projects that will have immediate results. The food park infrastructure with rural transformation centers as its components is not their priority.  

Exploring the  Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund Under the White House Rural Council

In July 2014, then-President Obama launched the  U.S. Rural  Infrastructure Opportunity Fund under the White House Rural Council chaired by then-Secretary Tom Vilsack of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The purpose of the fund is to have a new source of capital for rural infrastructure projects.   I thought it would be an appropriate time to again proceed with the process of introducing the establishment of international food park infrastructure in the U.S, which would start in the State of New York.  

I already saw the problem of the widening urban and rural divide in America and therefore, there must a business infrastructure that the US rural population can see that focuses on agriculture,  the main economic engine of rural America. Furthermore, I was thinking that the infrastructure must open a clear connection between rural America on the one hand, and the cities and the suburbs on the other hand. Furthermore, rural America must understand its connection to the rest of the world through exporting food. Feeding the hungry in many parts of the world has been rural America’s contribution to global peace and development, which must be recognized by every American.

I sent the proposal to the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, the US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the Capitol Peak Asset Management (CPAM), the firm engaged in managing the US Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund, and the CoBank, the fund’s anchor bank. CPAM replied but they are looking for a more detailed business plan. CoBank also replied and they advised me to communicate with CPAM. However, I was asked to have a more detailed plan at a pre-feasibility studies level, which would require bringing experts from the Netherlands.

I then asked the New York Department of Agriculture and Market for a research grant. I was informed that they already awarded the grant for the year.

I paused and once more decided to await a time with patience for another opportunity, which I believe would still come. What I was wishing then would be for concerned American’s to recognize that the nation’s food system needs upgrading. I was wishing also that the  American people would technically understand that the most appropriate solution is the building of tangible infrastructure with built-in integrative mechanisms for the food system. However, it was already the last two years of the Obama administration at that time. Without any tangible infrastructure for upgrading the food system that would benefit rural America, I was worried the urban-and rural divide would further widen.  President Obama’s vision of  “strong rural communities that are keys to stronger America” would not be easily felt.  It would be easy for any demagogue to explore this divide, and two years later, Donald Trump would be elected President of the U.S.

The Grow New York Competition: Developing the Food Park Infrastructure for New York State

Then,  I saw another opportunity. Just right after the pandemic, the Grow New York managed by Cornell University announced that they are accepting project entries for 2020. Grow New York is a business competition focused on enduring food and agriculture innovation cluster in the Grow-NY region. The broken food system immediately saw by the mainstream media was my real driving force to participate. I believe that the food park infrastructure, which will have a model in New York State, would be greatly in accordance with fixing the broken food system of the U.S.

In my New York Food Park Project that I submitted, I was asked to identify the existing users of the food park business model. I showed the food park models operating in the Netherlands and India. Out of the 37 facilities that India planned, 18 are operational. As a model ‘Mega Food Park’ and the first of its kind in India, “the Srini Mega Food Park in Andhra Pradesh provides state-of-the-art food processing infrastructure designed as per global standards and develops a veritable market place with common facilities on the lines of a software park or a textile park.”

I outlined the succeeding actions, which would require further feasibility studies to determine the best food park business model for  New York State. The existing land, water, and technological, resources in the service area of the food park should be examined for planning purposes. The entry also outlined the process of promoting the plan to various locators within the U.S.  and internationally.  The cooperation of different farmer groups locally and the states in the U.S. the infrastructure targets to serve was also emphasized. A framework for multi-sectoral cooperation would be crafted for various activities in line with the planning, establishment, and operations of the food park infrastructure.

I also showed that the food park offers opportunities for research collaboration among research institutions,  particularly the research universities in New York and the Northeastern states of the US. Furthermore, aligning the New York international food park as a business model with unique significance according to US international development assistance interests is also highlighted in my description of the project.

For the employment to be generated, the food park infrastructure system is capable of directly generating employment inside the park. These are engineers, technologists, financial services jobs, sanitation workers, factory workers, and other support staff. Meatpackers, greenhouse technicians and workers, vegetable oil processors, workers in auction markets for vegetables, fruits, herbs, and ornamental plants, farm machinery fabricators, and other non-food enterprise jobs are generated inside the food park. Indirect jobs in the agricultural production cluster include farmers, farmworkers, truck drivers, and support staff. Direct jobs in the product distribution sector, which include truck drivers, marketing representatives, financial support staff, and quality control officers.

Unfortunately, my New York International Food Park entry did not pass the submission stage of the competition.

New Hope in the Agriculture Agenda of  the Biden-Harris Administration

I was really hoping that the broken U.S. food system exposed by the pandemic would attract the progressive sector of nonprofit organizations and food and agriculture research institutions. I was not expecting though that the private sector engaged in agriculture production, processing, and distribution would take the lead. Nevertheless,  I expected that some of them would be actively calling for reform too. The Biden-Harris administration is receptive to new ideas and opportunities, I presume.

The selection of Tom Vilsack will bring him back to the post of Agriculture Secretary, which he occupied for 8 years during the Obama administration. If he is going to focus on continuing   President Obama’s vision of “strong rural communities that are keys to stronger America,” the U.S. food system can be also easily aligned with the old vision.  Tom Vilsack should also look first at the realities exposed by the pandemic,  with the impact that straddles every sector of the American population. Hunger in America increased during the pandemic and preparedness for this worst scenario should be the primary concern and accountability of the USDA. Improving the food system is part of the solution. The disaster also creates opportunities. I am sure there will be enough funding available for the food park infrastructure in the strategic rural areas of America.

The International Food Park Conference in America

The time is now for all the stakeholders in the food system to talk and share their contributions. The notion of working together is about actions, less on broad policies that are not well communicated,  particularly to the rural communities. What we need are tangible projects in the form of infrastructure with a lasting legacy to show government sincerity in rural America is real. The first key point of the open letter to the transition team is to recognize that the food system is critical to the administration’s goal of a more equitable,  resilient, and healthy recovery from COVID-19, hence there is a need to upgrade the entire food system.” I suggest, however, to hold immediately the investment conference specifically for the establishment of the food park infrastructure because these are structures that are tangible.

In July 2014, while promoting the food park project, I also proposed the holding of the Food Park Summit. I believe that the investment summit is very important to start the process. With this number of signatories supporting the improvement of the U.S. food system still growing, perhaps organizing the stakeholders for the conference is going to attract serious stakeholders.

The objectives of the conference, as I envisioned in July 2014 are:

  • To adopt and implement strategic action in line with applying the international food park infrastructure as one of the key strategies in U.S. rural development
  • To align the latest developments in food park infrastructure from the research and development initiatives and results in the Netherlands and India by the Wageningen University and  Research in the context of U.S. rural development
  • To promote the Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund as a funding facility for US rural development, which will eventually create a sub-fund specifically for food park development in the U.S.
  • To adopt a National Strategic Framework for multi-stakeholder collaboration using private and public sector partnership in food park development in the U.S.
  • To initiate the negotiation for funding contracts among public sector and private sector participants in food park infrastructure development across the U.S. initially through the Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund, and later through the specific fund for food parks
  • To publish a magazine and a website that will promote the food park infrastructure among various stakeholders.

At the end of the conference, concrete actions for rural development, with the food park as the anchor project, will be translated for policy recommendations and project funding purposes. The food park infrastructure could be aligned with the COVID-19 Stimulus Package

Concluding Note

The  U.S. Department of Agriculture in the incoming administration shall give top priority to the  upgrading of the U.S. food system. The food park, once plugged-in into the existing system, can induce the reset of the food system in America. The result is an invigorated agriculture, a vital engine of the American rural economy. The food park can create mechanisms that are going to “seize the opportunity for food to heal and connect” a politically divided nation.

Reference:

  1. Alterra Wageningen University and Research Centre, Master Plan, Greenport Shanghai Agropark,  Commissioned by TransForum and Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation, October 2007
  2. Better Policy for Farms, Food, and The Environment. http://www.farmland.org/ March 2009
  3. Dunlea Mark, McCarthy Sheila, Pasquantonio, Susannah,  A Community Food Security Agenda for New York A Report by the Hunger Action Network of New York State, May 2005 www.hungeractionnys.org
  4. http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/Cabinet-approves-12-mega-food-parks/2013/08/08/article1724874.ece
  5. http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2014/07/0158.xml&contentidonly=true
  6. Open Letter to the Transition Team on the U.S. Food System11.24.20 https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/news/open-letter-to-the-transition-team-on-the-u-s-food-system/
  7. YES Bank of India and Wageningen University. Chennai Food Park Model, Project Management Office,  Ground Floor- Nehru Centre; Discovery of India Building, Mumbai, India. February 2009.
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