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Scaling the Good Food Supply Chain via a Mid-Atlantic Food Port

Creating a distributed network that increases the amount of regenerative, source-identified Good Food grown and eaten in the Mid-Atlantic.

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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

4P Foods

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.

Local Food Hub - small NGO, grower services and food access; The Piedmont Environmental Council - small NGO, rural economic development and conservation; Food Works Group - small company, food systems consultant; Blueprint Local - investment-based organization, impact investing; YMCA of Greater Washington - large NGO, food and nutrition education and assistance; Living Pastures Farm - farmer co-op or farmer business organization, grass-fed beef producer; DC Central Kitchen - large NGO, workforce development and food access

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?

Warrenton, Virginia

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?

The Mid-Atlantic, a region well-suited to a strong, sustainable, and self-sufficient food system where producers and consumers both thrive.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

4P Foods has been hard at work in the Mid-Atlantic since 2014, when we made our first deliveries of multi-farm CSA shares in the D.C. area. But founder Tom McDougall’s relationship to this place and its food system is much longer and deeply personal. Tom grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley, on a farm that was--heartbreakingly, and like so many others--eventually lost to urbanization and consolidation. His father’s lifelong career in grocery gave him an inside perspective on the massive consolidation of that industry, as well, and his own career eventually brought him to local food and food hubs. Given the Mid-Atlantic’s unique character as a place of both dense urban corridors and large agricultural stretches, with a range of growing seasons from north to south, he ultimately came to see a regional food system as the means to scale Good Food. 

We define Good Food as food that provides nourishment and enables people to thrive, is produced in a manner that is environmentally regenerative, comes from a supply chain in which no being was exploited, and is equitably accessible to all. Good Food is currently almost exclusively found at the local level, and unevenly distributed at that, but the world needs Good Food on a transformative, global scale. We believe that a Mid-Atlantic food port is the way to achieve that goal in our Place. 

Along with our partners, 4P is building the foundation of what we hope will grow into our Vision of this Mid-Atlantic food port. Collectively, we have connections to many thousands of buyers and consumers; hundreds of farmers and producers; and dozens of processors, aggregators, and distributors; and we believe that our envisioned food port will meet the needs of our region well. 4P Foods and Food Works Group conducted a Mid-Atlantic Food Port Feasibility Study in 2018, and the data from that study will be referenced throughout this proposal to demonstrate the state of the current regional food system and the goals of the People within it.

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.

We define the Mid-Atlantic loosely as New York; Pennsylvania; Maryland; Washington, D.C.; Virginia; West Virginia; and North Carolina. Given its scale (about half a million square kilometers) and patchwork of massive population centers (New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., among others), sprawling suburbia, and broad swaths of rural or uninhabited land, it contains a huge diversity of geography, culture, and industry. 

Stretching from the Adirondack Mountains in the north and west to the Outer Banks barrier islands in the south, the Mid-Atlantic comprises a range of landscapes, ecosystems, and climates. It contains nearly all of the Northeast megalopolis, a stretch of urban centers along the eastern seaboard from Boston to Washington, D.C. that houses nearly 17% of the US population on less than 2% of its land, with an economic output that would make it the 7th largest country in the world (CityLab).

Home to many Native American tribes before colonization, the Mid-Atlantic has hosted a diverse and ever-changing mix of immigrants from colonization to today. According to 2018 estimates from the US Census Bureau, about 16% of the Mid-Atlantic’s 59.73 million people are foreign-born, about half of whom are naturalized citizens. The four largest racial groups include non-Hispanic white (61%), Hispanic or Latino (18%), black or African American (13%), and Asian (5%). 

Though less than 2% of the Mid-Atlantic population works in agriculture (USCB), nearly a quarter of its land (36 million acres) is in production (USDA NASS). According to the American Farmland Trust, urban and suburban sprawl in the Mid-Atlantic are driving up land prices and contributing to some of the greatest farmland losses in the country, including 7% in the DC metro area between 2002 and 2007 alone (MWCOG). 

The region produces an enormous variety of plant and animal foods from both land and sea, including regional gems like Virginia peanuts or Chesapeake Bay blue crabs. Agricultural production is dominated by commodity crops (primarily soybeans, corn, and wheat), plus hay and livestock. Mirroring the rest of the country, the number of very small producers (<10 acres) has been increasing in recent years, but so has the number of very large farms (>2,000 acres), indicating that mid-size farms are being lost to consolidation (USDA NASS). Small-scale farmers in some areas have the opportunity to sell into large urban markets, but accessing those markets can be inefficient or even impossible and can leave rural areas without access to the food grown in their own communities. 

Issues of food access play out not only along urban-rural lines, but also within urban communities, where food apartheid in places like Washington, D.C. means that some neighborhoods are inundated with corner stores and fast food but lack a full-service grocery store. 

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.

The Mid-Atlantic food system faces challenges from farm to table and beyond, and many of those challenges will intensify over the next thirty years. A volatile, changing climate poses an ever-increasing threat to farmers. While milder winters may provide some benefit by extending the growing season, more extreme weather will pose far greater risks, not only to individual farms but also to the resilience of the regional food system overall. Another threat to farm viability is the many barriers (from food safety certifications to distribution) on the path to getting food from a small farm to a buyer who is willing to pay a fair price for it. American agricultural policy generally encourages farmers to “get big or get out,” which has detrimental effects on rural communities, biodiversity, and diets. 

Maintaining farmland in the face of large and growing urban centers will be increasingly challenging. Soaring land prices make it difficult for farmers to stay on their land or for new farmers to acquire land, a reality made even worse by the aging out of the current farmer population. When small- to midsize farms started disappearing over the last several decades, the support businesses and infrastructure they relied on followed suit, meaning that farmers today might be limited by the ability to have their animals processed or find storage for their heritage wheat, for example. They may have to travel many miles to do so, which either eats into their profits or drives up their prices. The former diminishes farm viability, the latter food accessibility. 

The primary outputs of the Mid-Atlantic food system mirror the primary ingredients of the processed food industry: corn, soy, and wheat. These crops are typically so processed and refined by the time they are eaten, they can hardly be called plants. While the processed foods that are making America sicker than ever dominate the landscape, the minimally processed foods that most experts can agree we should grow and eat more of are often both difficult for farmers to make a living off of and for buyers to access. 

Limited food access stems from geographic, financial, and cultural barriers. Whether urban or rural, many areas have insufficient or unevenly distributed food retailers, at least of the Good Food variety. When these retailers do exist, the cost of Good Food can be prohibitive, and even if not, many people struggle to find the time and knowledge (i.e. cooking) required to eat it. 

Another barrier to a thriving Good Food system is having a regional supply chain robust enough to connect small farmers with markets at appropriate scales and price points. Food hubs do a lot of good in this regard, but they tend to face a common set of struggles: seasonal sales slumps; insufficient scale to make profitable investments in processing, storage, or distribution; and lack of volume at certain times of year and excess volume at others. Food hubs acting in isolation lead to inefficiencies for the hubs and higher prices for their buyers, making it difficult for hubs to stay in business or buyers to meaningfully increase  their local procurement. 

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

Our Vision is of a Mid-Atlantic food port that addresses the challenges listed above by removing the barriers that keep the Good Food system small, while maintaining the values that make it Good. The food port will grow out of a network of food hubs and other supply chain actors, creating a larger, distributed network that bridges the gaps in the current Good Food supply chain through scale, technology (production planning, inventory management, logistics, routing), and physical infrastructure (aggregation, storage, processing, distribution).

Just as industrial agriculture has contributed significantly to climate change and environmental degradation, regenerative agriculture has an important part to play in reversing them. Regenerative agriculture will fundamentally change the impact that farming has on the environment, changing it from a carbon source to a carbon sink and halting or reversing negative impacts on air, water, and ecosystem quality. The food port will create a transparent supply chain that identifies and values food not only for what it is, but also who grew it, where, and how, so that farmers have a viable alternative to the industrial monoculture system. With efficient access to markets and the ability to sell to buyers who care about the provenance and production of their food, regenerative, diversified farming—rooted in healthy soils and ecosystems—will become the norm. 

This Vision will also help small- to mid-scale farms remain on the land in the face of urban sprawl and farm consolidation. As regional food production and procurement become ingrained in the economy and everyday life, maintaining farmland will become a higher cultural and political priority. Growers and support businesses will thrive in tandem, and rural communities will experience a revival as productive hubs. 

A food port as envisioned will also better serve communities that have been left behind by the current food system. Whereas low-income and rural communities are often unable to attract mainstream food retailers, this new decentralized (but highly interconnected) Good Food system will leverage a variety of paths to market, from retailers of all sizes to CSA models to farmers markets, to meet the needs of communities. Scaling Good Food to reach institutional purchasers will also increase food access by bringing Good Food to the places where people eat on a day-to-day basis, like schools, workplaces, and hospitals.

The food port will address the barriers that buyers face to purchasing more Good Food. Better technology will lower or eliminate the transaction costs that tend to come with buying local, making the procurement process as easy as ordering from a large distributor. By more efficiently using existing infrastructure and building out additional infrastructure as needed, buyers will be able to get the food they need—whether it be whole or processed, fresh or frozen—when they need it, without having to source from outside 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.

Our Vision is of a thriving Mid-Atlantic Good Food economy based around food that is regeneratively produced and sustainably consumed within the region, contributing to the economic, environmental, cultural, and public health of the Place and People. 

There will be a diverse and growing population of small- to mid-scale farmers and producers connecting to the right-size processors, aggregators, distributors, and buyers they need to thrive. Farming will be highly valued as a career and use of land, causing farmland loss to slow or even stop. By increasing the number of farmers, diversifying who farms, keeping more food dollars within the region, and sending more of each dollar back to the farmer, rural communities will be economically and culturally revived. Monoculture will cover less (if any) of the landscape, and regenerative growing practices will be widespread, improving the health of the region’s water, soil, and ecosystems and mitigating climate change.

As Good Food becomes the norm, it will be a connector of rural and urban communities and everything in between. For consumers, there will be many convenient ways to buy regionally and regeneratively produced food, whether online or in person, at a farmers market or grocery store. For institutions, retailers, and foodservice, sourcing Good Food will be easy and commonplace. No longer constrained by cumbersome processes or insufficient volume, they will be able to count on the food port for the variety, quality, and reliability they need, at prices that can compete with (or more realistically, complement) those of traditional broadliners. By making Good Food as widespread and easily accessible as processed food, People’s diets and public health will significantly improve.

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

Home to a robust food port network by 2050, the Mid-Atlantic will have a responsive and resilient regional food system that serves both urban and rural communities and shifts billions of food dollars from the opaque and industrial food supply chain to producers of Good Food. The food port we envision will recognize, elevate, and serve the People and Places where food is produced and consumed because it is ultimately created and driven by them. A Good Food supply chain of unprecedented scale, the food port will provide tens of thousands of farmers and producers with the ability to connect to many millions of consumers. The relationships and incentives of this new system will have the potential to transform communities into economically and environmentally sustainable Places that nourish the People within them.

What actually is the food port? What will it consist of? 

The food port will be made up of a distributed network of supply chain actors, all the way from producers to buyers, connected by technology and infrastructure. A distributed network has no central decisionmakers, so all of the nodes in the network have the ability to access the data within the network and act independently. A technology platform will underlay and enable the food port system, connecting existing assets (such as food hubs, processors, co-packers, etc) and increasing efficiency all along the supply chain. 

The Mid-Atlantic food port will grow out of the enormous diversity of farmers and foods and communities in the region. The food port will grow stronger as more nodes (farmers, food hubs, local food policy councils, institutional buyers, etc) join the network and more connections develop between the nodes. A distributed network of this kind is the right model to create a regional Good Food system because it is created and driven by the individual nodes and not centrally controlled. 

The wealth of data running through the technology platform will enable effective production planning and inventory and logistics management for producers and buyers, yet its decentralized model will allow it to remain flexible, resilient, and responsive to producers, communities, and buyers, large and small. By transparently connecting farmers and buyers, the food port will allow producers to access an enormous range of markets and buyers with varying sourcing goals, from hyper-local to certified organic. We anticipate that buyers will still be sensitive to price, but by 2050 it will be a lesser factor, as values and quality become more important in the sourcing process. 

The food port will build upon the existing, nascent Good Food systems across the Mid-Atlantic and take them from a niche, often privileged level to a universally accessible, regional level by 2050. Connected via technology, independent supply chain actors will be able to access and share information and find services/buyers/markets that meet their needs. When needs are not met, asset mapping within the technology platform will bring infrastructure and other gaps to light. This system enables supply and demand to grow in tandem and enables individual systems to flourish locally while also interconnecting with other systems, creating a larger regional network that can function across both levels. 

How would the food port serve the People and Place now, and how will it do so in 2050?

In today’s 2020 world, producers, distributors, and buyers know that they need better technology to function more effectively independently and across different levels of the value chain, and the food port will allow them to do so. Farmers in the region overwhelmingly (73%) identified selling more volume within the region as their number business goal, and over half (52.3%) of them cited connection to buyers as one of their main obstacles to success (see attached charts of survey responses from feasibility study). On the consumer side, there is growing awareness of the negative impacts of the industrial agriculture and food systems, but there are considerable knowledge and access barriers that make alternative systems difficult to support. 

In contrast, by 2050, transparency that now seems radical will be the norm. All food has a story behind it, but now that story will be knowable by anyone who buys or eats it. From how and where it was grown and by whom to when it was harvested and where it has been since then, data that is now inaccessible will be available, allowing for true values-based purchasing. Equitably accessible data will benefit all parties in the long run. Consumers will buy food that comes from the kind of food system they want to support, and buyers will do the same, with the added benefit that they will have a better understanding of what their customers want and actually be able to procure it at scale. For farmers, this level of transparency will mean that they can be paid for the true cost of producing their food regeneratively and fairly. There is tension between producers getting paid a fair price and consumers affording Good Food, but in the case of community-based Good Food systems, a rising tide will hopefully lift all boats. The regional economy will flourish as more food dollars stay local, and that wealth will circulate throughout communities.

A Good Food system based in regenerative farming will vastly change the Mid-Atlantic environment, landscape, agriculture, and people’s attitudes toward them. Farmland will serve the dual purposes of food production and carbon sequestration, and for both of those reasons will be highly valued. Farming will be a respected and viable career for people from all walks of life, and collective cultural knowledge of food and farming will increase as agriculture becomes less consolidated and more widely and deeply intertwined the People and this Place. 

As a result of this greater knowledge, as well as vastly improved Good Food availability, diets will naturally improve. People will have constant access to regionally, regeneratively produced, minimally processed food, no matter where they live, work, study, or shop. Fresh, whole foods will no longer be a marker of privilege, but will be available to all, including vulnerable populations like schoolchildren, prisoners, and people in nursing homes. As a result, incidence of diet-related diseases will plummet. 

Agricultural policy will shift to support this new regional food system, and because of its scale, these changes can happen at local, state, and national levels. Some possible policy changes include a higher federal reimbursement rate for school meals including regionally produced food, making CSAs eligible for SNAP or EBT easier to use online, expanding produce prescription programs through Medicare and Medicaid, and reforming crop insurance to support small fruit and vegetable growers. 

A Good Food Transformation

On a concrete level, the Mid-Atlantic food port as envisioned will represent a radical transformation of how food is grown, processed, purchased, and consumed in the region, all of which changes will grow out of and in turn affect communities, technology, policy, and economics. These changes will have tangible, measurable, and critically necessary impacts: Agriculture will become a carbon sink. Farmland loss will cease. The number and kinds of farms and farmers will increase. Wealth will flow to small- and mid-scale farmers and their communities. Good Food businesses will flourish. All people will be able to choose and access Good Food and will be healthier for it.

But on a more intangible level, it will shift the value and role of food and farming in Mid-Atlantic society. Food will connect urban and rural, farmers and eaters, People and Place. Farming will be recognized as a professional path that is desirable and deserving of esteem and respect. Good Food will be a right, not a privilege. We, along with our partners, have every hope and intention of making this Vision a reality.

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Attachments (1)


Mid-Atlantic Food Port Feasibility Study Report


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