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The Chesapeake Foodshed Network: an alliance for a resilient and just food system in the Chesapeake region.

A sustainable, resilient, inclusive and equitable food system that supports healthy communities, land, and waterways.

Photo of Christy Gabbard
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Chesapeake Foodshed Network a project of Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

The Chesapeake Foodshed Network is made up of nearly 2,000 network participants that includes farmers, fishers, food producers, food chain workers, food justice advocates, funders, academic experts, business owners, cooks, government leaders, and consumers who are committed to creating a sustainable, resilient, inclusive, and equitable Chesapeake regional food system

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Cockeysville, Maryland

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Chesapeake Bay watershed with an emphasis on 150-mile radius around the greater metropolitan Washington area.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

People of the Chesapeake Foodshed Network are the people that live, work, and play in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  I am one of these people.  The Chesapeake Bay watershed is a large and complex socio-ecological system with tensions between meeting the needs and demands of people living within its boundaries and the vitality of the Bay itself.  One of the most basic needs of the people is food, the production of which is also a major driver of inequities among historically marginalized people and of water pollution in the Bay. 

Just as dead zones are not local or isolated events, neither are denuded stream banks leading to nutrient run-off, a shortage of regulated butchering facilities, depleted fisheries, farmland conversion, people of color having limited access to land, farm and food workers being paid inadequately and having limited rights, high rates of hunger, and a spike in childhood obesity.  These are all outcomes of a globalized food system removed from the context of people and place. Framing the food system conversation around the watershed and using the term ‘foodshed’, provides a different way to encourage people to consider the interrelationships between agriculture, land use, health, and water quality.  Using the watershed boundary to define the numerous series of interconnected processes and people involved in taking food from production back to decomposition (soil to soil), simplifies the complexity of the globalized system, localizes and contextualizes the issues and solutions, and serves to create a ‘brand’ identity for local and regional flavors of the Bay.  It provides a scale large enough to see significant impact from change in the system.  By starting with a powerful common denominator of food that we eat, the ‘foodshed’ provides an angle to build alignment among those whose lives have been most impacted by the food system with those focused on improving health, environmental, and economic outcomes in the watershed.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to 18 million people.  Some have always called the watershed home and others have come from all across the globe.  One of the great assets of the watershed is the diversity among its people.  They have diverse socioeconomic, political, and cultural backgrounds and perspectives.  The live across the watershed’s numerous densely populated urban centers as well as its beautiful rural communities. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, the Chesapeake Bay watershed is the largest and, at one time, was the most productive estuary in the United States.  It includes parts of six states—Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia—and the entire District of Columbia, which is home to the United States capital.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed contains three distinct geologic regions: the Atlantic coastal plain, the Piedmont plateau and the Appalachian province meaning the watershed goes from the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachian mountains.  Approximately eight million acres of land in the Bay watershed are permanently protected from development. It provides critical habitat for land and water species some of which are endangered or species of concern.  The Bay nourishes the bodies that live in the watershed by filtering the water used for drinking and by supporting the crops and other food that come from its rich agricultural land and waters.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed faces a particularly complex situation because agriculture is both a critically important industry for the Bay states and the biggest single contributor of pollution into the Bay and its tributaries. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, “Eighty-six percent of watershed residents believe if people work together, water pollution can be fixed” and many of these people see the connection between water quality and the way our food is produced.  The watershed is geographically large but that size is connected by one ecologic unit – the watershed.  Because of the watershed’s size, there is great diversity among its people, geographies, and economies. This diversity is an asset that when tapped can spur innovation that can scale across the region for true systems change.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Our current food system is not serving the long-term health and prosperity of all people in the Chesapeake region. Our prevailing food industry concentrates wealth and power, normalizes and rewards environmental degradation (as we know all too well from the health of the Chesapeake Bay), maintains and exploits racialized poverty, and floods vulnerable urban and rural communities with fast food outlets while limiting access to fresh and healthy options. 

Currently, many organizations in our region are enacting innovative and essential food system interventions within a given sector or community. These individual organizations, working alone or in fragmented ways, will only achieve incremental change. They often lack the resources, capacity, and connections to develop the cross-sector partnerships and collaborations necessary to address root causes and scale impact for system-level change. This is both the challenge and the opportunity the Chesapeake Foodshed Network (CFN) is addressing.

The CFN holds the belief that by 2050 a vibrant and sustainable food system that honors all people, land, and waterways is possible within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  A food system that is socially, economically and ecologically just and regenerative; builds and nurtures community; and offers a vision of the future for our region that we can all embrace, commit to, and move toward with pride. The challenge in achieving this vision is that it requires significant shifts to dismantle systemic inequities and barriers in the prevailing food system and to transform the way we connect, lead, collaborate, and invest. Brandy Brooks, at the Chesapeake Food Summit, stated, “If we don’t center restoration and reparation in what we do in this region, we will not build a just and sustainable food system.” Challenges we face now and will continue to face in 2050 include:  Making visible and building capacity for those most impacted in the watershed.  Building connections among rural, urban, and suburban communities across the watershed.  Driving resources to those most impacted to test their solutions and scale their impact.  Supporting mechanisms that integrate technology, inspiring communications and education to shift the food system to one where the community voice is heard and empowered.  Enabling consumers to prioritize values-based food production for improved health, environmental and economic outcomes.

The power to address these challenges is in the people.  What the Chesapeake region needs is a diverse, strong, and agile network that lifts up community voice, builds community power to define and support these connections and this paradigm shift.  This is the work of the Chesapeake Foodshed Network.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Chesapeake Foodshed Network is responding to a genuine hunger for a new way forward to reach a vision for sustainable, resilient, inclusive and equitable food system. CFN is building on progressive thinking and advancing innovative approaches for how we connect and partner with one another, invest in our local communities, manage natural resources, grow food and farm businesses that reflect our values, and implement equitable processes for truly democratic self-governance. A cross-sectoral and regional approach is essential because the health, vitality and sustainability of the Chesapeake Foodshed deeply impact the social, health, economic, cultural, and environmental sectors.

In 2050, the Chesapeake Foodshed Network envisions a sustainable, resilient, inclusive and equitable food system that supports healthy communities land and waterways. CFN’s vision requires us to 1) build capacity and leadership for community ownership, true democracy, and values-based food system innovations; 2) build connections and collaborations; 3) building support for an innovation and development fund to enable organizations and businesses to develop and innovate more rapidly with lower risk; and 4) scale the impact by broadcasting successes and lessons learned.

The importance of building connections to people and knowledge cannot be overstated as it forms the foundation of a network. Engaging in intentional network “bridging” between otherwise fragmented geographies, communities, sectors and organizations contributes to systemic intelligence, resilience and adaptive capacity. Technology has made it easier than ever to link people, build knowledge, and gain rapid momentum for innovative ideas and approaches. CFN will facilitate this by: Investing in technology and sharing state-of-the-art tools, training, and resources to increase sharing and co-creation in knowledge, governance, and resources, spur innovation, lift up voices, and mobilize advocacy. Producing innovative and inspiring communications using video, audio, art, and music to amplify Network stories and voices. Co-hosting gatherings that are not siloed but include decision makers, youth leaders, businesses, and community members both within the food system and with the environmental, health and climate change sectors.

Currently, regenerative food and farm businesses struggle financially for reasons including climate variability, market regulation, inadequate access to appropriate capital and financing mechanisms. In 2050, CFN will pair public and private partners to create a new paradigm for spurring capital investment. The fund will act as a participatory grantmaking organization that aligns resources and initiatives with values-driven food and farm businesses, to explicitly focus on those historically excluded from financial resources. CFN will showcase these practices and connect them to others across the region.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

In 2050, No one will go to bed hungry. Every household will have access to and know how to prepare healthy and culturally appropriate foods. The food eaten will not only nourish the body it will have been grown in the way the replenishes the land and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Farming will be seen as a viable option where youth see farming and food production as a viable business option that keeps the family farm in production and contributes to a healthy environment for the broader community. In 2050, the connection between rural and urban communities will be valued and nourished. By 2050, all people in all communities will believe in the power of their voice and will have easy access to technology to amplify their voices to be heard and connected with others to help advocate for change. People will be able to make food purchases knowing the values by which the food was produced. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

It is April 2050 and the population of the Chesapeake Bay watershed has exceeded 20 million people. In 2020, in the face of soil degradation, climate change, shifting energy needs and sources, and water-related issues, the people of the watershed made substantial strides and durable improvements towards a more regenerative regional food system, from seed back to soil. They sought to make unprecedented changes in agriculture, food production and distribution and helped prevent a cataclysmic increase in Earth’s temperature by shifting agriculture-based greenhouse gas emissions from 14% to 5%, and all signs indicate levels will be at 0% by 2060.  People in the Chesapeake region acted boldly and collectively to contribute significant solutions towards regenerative and resilient practices that prioritized values-based food production and lifted all boats.  In 2020, the people recognized that driving system-level change in the Chesapeake Foodshed system was their heroic contribution to their children and their children’s children and beyond. They focused on amplifying community voices to support a more sustainable agricultural sector that values human health, reduced carbon outputs & sequestration, water quality, soil and animal health, and justice for workers. This became an engine for more relationship building across communities and a more equitable distribution of wealth and economic power among rural, suburban and urban communities. In 2050, the Chesapeake Bay watershed is a living, breathing, agile model for community and wealth building, environmental justice and social justice and the Chesapeake Foodshed Network was a catalyst for that change.

The groundwork for the vision described in this proposal started with the Chesapeake Foodshed Network’s inception in 2014. By adopting more equitable governance practices such as shared leadership and consent-based decision-making into CFN’s organizational structure, modeling that structure, and broadly sharing it with others in the region, they disrupted the typical top down model of leadership and begin to move the needle on “business as usual” power dynamics so that those most impacted became part of decisions that impact them. These nontraditional forms of governance, leadership, and communication are learned behaviors that take support and practice, and through CFN’s training and support by 2050 they were successfully used to open doors between and among sectors that were previously siloed.

In 2020, cooperative participatory funding was not broadly understood or tested, but by 2050 the CFN shepherded support for community-led investment which shifted power dynamics and empowered communities, stimulating wealth creation within historically marginalized communities. Through innovative communication practices that utilize the arts, technology, and storytelling, the CFN helped to scale the innovative practices which significantly accelerated broad application of models throughout the network and region, producing bigger, broader, faster and more equitable change that is now ubiquitous in 2050.

By using technology to connect community, nonprofit, for profit, government, and institutional leaders in the Chesapeake region, the CFN helped increase efficiencies and strengthen a regional food economy that promotes environmental sustainability. Additionally, through the development of mechanisms to build capacity, funnel resources, shift power, and strengthen connections, the CFN created more and stronger relationships that shifted power dynamics in lasting ways, reconfiguring the landscape for not only environmental advocacy, but for advocacy around economic empowerment and food justice.

With bold thinking, strategic planning and aligned purposes, CFN created opportunities to work collectively across the watershed, as well as within individual jurisdictions, to advocate for policies, practices, rules, regulations, and laws that serve our food and farm businesses well, respect our neighbors, the Bay and all the inhabitants of the watershed. The alignment of work across the human-made boundaries within our natural watershed substantially strengthened our ability as a regional community to make meaningful and durable change.  The regional and watershed scale, though somewhat large, was important for driving and scaling needed change. 

CFN identified cooperative and participatory giving and lending models as a best practice for building community wealth and power. It enabled a broad and democratic representation of regional food system stakeholders to invest in their own futures and support community based social enterprise in all its forms.

The network helped connect resources to regenerative food systems businesses and organizations which built resiliency among businesses and organizations while contributing to the region’s environmental and economic resilience. The network also focused on youth leadership and development, to disrupt what they perceived as “traditional” ways of working as they moved into positions of leadership and empowerment within the food system. Between 2020 and 2050, CFN helped seed ideas that normalized environmental preservation and regeneration, broke cycles of racialized poverty, included small actors of all kinds in claiming their food sovereignty, and fostered collaboration among community and nonprofit organizations, like Waterkeeper’s Chesapeake and Leaders in Energy, that seek to make measurable change. Through this type of movement building, CFN shifted mental models and shepherded the work and the field of food systems reform in the future, toward the realization of the 2050 heroic vision of a sustainable, resilient, inclusive, and equitable regional food system in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email


Join the conversation:

Photo of Bill Brandon

I see you have not added anything to yhour submission since DEC. 5. I am impressed with you organization, but your vision seems too general to me. Also, I see no reference to you as a project on the Future Harvest web page. I know Eric Bendfeldt who is on the Future Harvest board and have attended events like the virginia farm to table conference. Part of the IDEO format is to encourage dialogue and collaboration. Our submission is in general covering the same area as you want to work in. Collaboration can take several forms - anything from ideas to people networks. Having grown up among farmers, I feel like I understand them and understand their conservation motivations bssed on observation. Their year to year decesion making format, however. precludes more impactful long range thinking. One farmer in our area that is moving to change this thought pattern is Chip Bowling who is working at high national levels to help farmers and agriculture to do their part to address climate change. Our proposal is strongly directed in that direction, but is weak in out farmer outreach. We would like to collaborate with you on our submission which you can see here. I am going to list you as an inspiration which you can do at the bottom of your submittal. Please add our submittal as an inspiration to you. Thanks and I look forward to hearing more from you.

Photo of Christy Gabbard

Hi Bill,
I believe we met at the VA Farm to Table meeting. Thank you for messaging me here. Future Harvest is the fiscal sponsor for the Chesapeake Foodshed Network. Given the proposal format, it was difficult for me to clearly separate Future Harvest and the Chesapeake Foodshed Network. CFN's website is: Check us out there. Yes, I agree, the CFN's vision is very general. I was trying to reuse the material we already had so I could make the early submission date. It was a hasty submission that I am now revisiting and revising. Our current submission will change to be more focused on shared gifting, which is participatory grantmaking process that shifts power and decisionmaking to the people most impacted. I will list you as an inspiration and am glad to talk about ways we might partner.
I just tried to list you as an inspiration but it does not seem to auto-populate. That is, it wants me to paste in my submission. Any suggestions?

Photo of Bill Brandon

Good to hear form you. I am very bad with names and faces, but I was suspicious that you were at the Farm to Table Conference. To list us go to the bottom of your "edit contribution' page where is says inspired by right after the 'create team' area. Put in our name - with a little help from our friends - and search. It will bring us up as an inspiration. Them click publish.

About collaborating, I have already added one thin submission that was a part of our total submission to our 'Team'. I got a note from staff complementing me on embracing the spirit of collaboration. They apparently read these posts. What I suggest is that I list your organization as part of our team and say that you are also submitting. You can do that with us if we can do that with you. The previous submission I added was dropping away and may not finish the proposal. It was a real good contact as we both are looking at similar things but not overlapping much. Regardless of how the prize works out we will be working together. The same might be true with you, although we have somewhat different perspectives on some things, but are in agreement on principles. My suspicion is that the staff might try to broker some collaborations that are not forth coming.

Please respond with a yes or no to this offer. Good luck with your effort. Give me a call or e-mail if you like.
Warm regards,
Bill Brandon
703 489 0995

PS. I am vice president of Leaders in Energy so have both a small business interest, but also devoted to finding solutions to the overall problems we all face.

Photo of Bill Brandon

Christi - As we rush down to the final hours for the submission, i am trying to wrap up some loose ends.
There are several contributions from our general area. Almost all could collaberate in some way. There is a running point system in your profile that appears to be part of the eventual scoring. These points are accumulated by being listed as an inspiration and the little heart (love) option. Presently, we are number 2 in points at 205. You indicated that you would list us as 'inspired by'. but you were having some problems.
If you would be so kind as to try again to list us as an inspiration. In the 'edit contribution' mode (click at the top of your submission) go to the very bottom. just before the 'save and publish' button you will see the 'inspired by box. Fill in our name "With a little help from our friends" and it should bring us up. click add as inspiration and save. That should get us listed. Also, I don't know how this whole judging will go, but would like to keep in touch with you. Can you email lme a so I can have your email. Thanks. I am somewhat optimistic that we will make in past the first cut. You help with the points generated may just push us over the line.

Best regards, Bill Brandon