An exciting opportunity to expand access to locally-grown food is on the table, that is, through Aquidneck Community Table (ACT), a known leader in the local food marketplace. A generous challenge grant from an anonymous donor stipulates that every gift made before August 15, 2020, will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $25,000. 

ACT is inviting the help and support of community members to join in as market-goers, gardeners, volunteers, and now as donors. By giving before the deadline, the community will receive double the benefits, particularly as economic hardships created by Covid-19 are predicted to deepen into autumn.

As the RI Food Policy Council recently reported, “According to Feeding America…food insecurity in Rhode Island is projected to increase by 45% in 2020. This means that more than 175,000 Rhode Islanders, including 27% of children in the state, will lack access to enough food.”

ACT hasn’t wavered from its core mission to build a healthy and sustainable food system to serve every Aquidneck islander despite unexpected obstacles and costs. In fact, four new partnerships and programs were recently cultivated to expand access to locally-grown produce for islanders and visitors.

When schools were closed this spring, ACT quickly created remote-learning, garden lessons for 120 students, and provided home garden kits to first and second graders at the Claiborne Pell School in Newport, RI. “It’s so wonderful to see the students who struggle in the classroom come to life when working hands-on. I truly feel it levels the playing field for students who may not feel successful with ‘book learning’. It’s so important for students to know that there are many different ways they can contribute to their community,” shared Kathleen Breede, Pell School Community Garden Program.

Food that is now being distributed through the Summer Meals Program at Pell Elementary School is the yield of a spring partnership between ACT, the Housing Authority of Newport, and Newport Public Schools organizations. Together they repurposed garden spaces that could not be opened to the public due to new regulations emerging from the pandemic.

ACT continues to operate safe, accessible marketplaces for more than 30 farmers and food businesses keeping close to $2 million food dollars in the regional economy annually. Many ACT growers and makers are also now offering delivery services.

In early July, Newport Health Equity Zone and Conexión Latina Newport partnered with ACT to offer food certificates that are redeemable at the farmers’ markets. This exchange helps at-risk households and supports the local food economy.

ACT is an integral part of the movement exploring how people can build more resilient food systems locally and nationally in light of environmental and health challenges. “The only way to survive the future is to source our own food and to make it healthy. It is imperative to connect various parts of the food system and get people thinking about where their food comes from,” urges Bevan Linsley, Executive Director, ACT.

A critical part of ACT’s mission is education and teaching the next generation how to build a sustainable, resilient, and equitable food system that serves all on Aquidneck Island. ACT is working on highlighting their programs via social media to include featured farmers, virtual garden visits, community gardener and composter profiles, as well as supplying tips for growing and preparing healthy food.

Donations to the Challenge Grant before August 15 ensure that ACT can continue to connect consumers from all socio-economic levels with fresh local produce, fish, meats, flowers, dairy products, and more.