For more than a year now, I have been a subscriber to an excellent food listserv called Comfood, sponsored by the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC). According to its web site, Comfood is an electronic mail list created to link individuals and organizations involved with or interested in community food security. Co-founded and managed by Hugh Joseph, an adjunct assistant professor at Tufts University, the listserv is administered through the university’s School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
Joseph helped found CFSC and has worked in the area of community food systems for more than 25 years, specializing most recently in new entry immigrant farming. I recently had the privilege of speaking to him to find out more about Comfood.
“When Comfood started in 1997, it was envisioned as a straightforward national networking vehicle on community food security topics,” said Joseph. “Now it’s become a repository for most food-related issues.” During the past ten years, it has grown from a few dozen people to nearly 2,500 subscribers and from two to three postings to 10 to 15 posts a day. Joseph believes Comfood has a certain momentum of its own; it’s spread by word of mouth and each posting includes an easy way to subscribe at the bottom.
The growth of Comfood is in sync with the growth of the sustainable agriculture movement. Joseph believes that awareness of food and agriculture issues is a reaction to the overall globalization and consolidation of our food system, which has driven small and regional farmers out of business. Joseph noted that the number of Community Supported Agriculture programs and farmers markets have doubled and tripled in the past decade. “Despite the cheap food mentality that pervades our society,” Joseph said, “More and more people are looking for alternatives and linking healthier eating with local food systems to do so. Comfood offers interested individuals and organizations a simple way to communicate with one another about these issues.”
On any given day, subscribers will post news stories, share job postings, ask for background for research projects or share studies or ideas related to sustainable agriculture. Many subscribers reply to one another off screen, but just as many start a dialogue that is shared throughout the day, if not carried over thereafter.
“Comfood is really the e-spine of the sustainable agriculture, good food community,” said Wendy Wasserman, a consultant on good food issues and former publisher of Edible Iowa River Valley. “It’s part news service, part bulletin board, part discussion. It’s also one of the most accurate snapshots of what is happening in the community because everyone is on it—from veterans of the movement to newbies, from producers to policy wonks.”
Comfood has become more policy oriented, in part, Joseph believes, due to the increased interest in the 2007 Farm Bill, when people become aware of the issues at stake in our food and farming policy and joined the listserv as a means of gaining greater insight. The recent nomination of Tom Vilsack as USDA Secretary alone has merited several dozen postings, with individuals and organizations sharing ideas, strategy and news with one another. Comfood also helped spawn a hugely successful online petition calling on President-elect Obama to choose from a group of qualified sustainable food-stamped folks for Agriculture Secretary and Under Secretary.
While it’s unclear to Joseph whether the listserv can influence policy, he believes its greatest success is building awareness, engendering grassroots work and connecting the vast network of sustainable food foot soldiers. “I’m so grateful to the Comfood listserv for giving the good food movement’s movers and shakers a forum where we can exchange ideas and information, and keep up with the latest news and developments on the issues near and dear to our hearts,” said Kerry Trueman, co-founder of Eating Liberally and regular contributor to Huffington Post, Open Left, Alternet and Air America. “Thanks to my fellow Comfoodies, I know I’ll never miss a great editorial or ag-related article—I think of it as food-for-thought security.”
Whether and how Comfood evolves could be up to the subscribers who read the daily postings. Joseph said a survey is in the works to determine the best way for the listserv to move forward. Comfood members have a certain pride in subscribership and sense of belonging to a community that cares about the future of food in this country. If you’re a subscriber to Comfood, share your story with us by commenting below!