20 Nov 2015
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Room to Grow

A family foundation is helping nurture a healthy food system for producers and consumers in New England.
by Margie Kelley

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Photo by Stu Rosner

Despite New England’s long traditions of farming and fishing, only an estimated 5–10 percent of the food consumed in the region is actually produced there. That’s a fact Andrew Kendall (MBA 1988) is working hard to change.

“At least 50 percent of our food could potentially come from this region,” says Kendall, executive director of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, his family’s philanthropic organization, which is dedicated to creating a “resilient and healthy food system in New England that increases the production and consumption of local, sustainably produced food.”

That mission was inspired by the work of Food Solutions New England, an organized network of agricultural experts, farmers, academics, concerned citizens, and regional grassroots organizations working to overcome barriers to increased local food production.

“Their work is quite compelling for us,” says Kendall. “They’ve created a bold and provocative vision—‘50 by 60’—that says that [New England] can produce 50 percent of our food locally by 2060. This is the organizing principle in what is a systems-wide approach to solving a problem.”

Since 2011, the Kendall Foundation has granted $17 million to a handful of high-impact programs that take aim at statewide food policies, large-scale food operations, and regional food infrastructures to spark the innovations that will move them closer to that goal.

“With the increasing awareness and demand for food that’s sustainable and local, we decided to channel that demand and focus it up the supply chain and let the market forces determine which of the growers, processors, and distributors are going to succeed and be responsive to these market opportunities,” says Kendall.

One major opportunity, he says, resides on the region’s college campuses, where close to a million students consume more than $1 billion worth of food annually.

“There are 371 colleges and universities here, so 371 food service directors are making decisions about where and how the food for a million students is being purchased and prepared,” says Kendall. “If we can find those who share the values of local, sustainable, healthy food, they can have a huge economic, environmental, and health benefit throughout their institutions.”

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst—the largest institutional food operation in the region, serving 6 million meals a year on an $80 million budget—is one such place that has embraced the sustainable local food mission.

“We’ve been working with them for a little over two years,” says Kendall. “Farms in the Pioneer Valley now provide much of the food, and the dining halls are all state-of-the-art. They also have a huge commitment to reducing food waste, and have significantly lower rates of waste than the national average.”

Kendall says the foundation’s multi-year, $485,000 grant to the university has helped it develop new relationships with local growers, processors, and distributors and funded educational and marketing efforts to create an engaged campus community. Beyond the campus, the program’s impact is evident in a revitalized farming community in the surrounding areas and at other nearby colleges and school systems that are using the UMass model to start similar programs.

“This is a clear example of how you can work with an institution to have a dramatic economic, environmental, educational, and health impact,” he says.

That kind of impact has long been a personal aspiration for Kendall, a lifelong environmentalist who studied astronomy and economics at Amherst College. Hoping to run his own business one day, he sought real-world experience after college and landed at an animal feed company in Arizona. When the company’s leaders were removed due to fraud, Kendall found himself in charge. “I ended up seeing an organization go through a bankruptcy and serious legal troubles,” he recalls. “I realized I was very lucky to be able to learn how not to run a business, and I figured it was time to go learn what the mistakes were and how not to repeat them in the future. That’s pretty much how I ended up at Harvard.”

With an MBA in hand, Kendall spent a few years at a welding company, but quickly realized climbing the corporate ladder wasn’t for him. He wanted to make a more personal mark in the world.

“A principle role model at the time was my uncle, Henry Way Kendall, who was a nuclear physicist, Nobel Laureate, and cofounder of the Union of Concerned Scientists,” says Kendall. “He was inspiring as a passionate environmentalist. He and I spent a lot of time together discussing the larger environmental challenges of our time. He was a big thinker. He was very encouraging and supportive of my desire to shift my career more in the direction of public service, as he referred to it.”

Kendall set about searching for a way to bring his Harvard business skills to bear on a cause he believed in. That led to a post as the CFO of New Hampshire Audubon, where he “quickly fixed some problems due to lack of financial controls” and put the organization on track to double-digit growth in programs, membership, and expanded facilities.

So began Kendall’s career path in the nonprofit and environmental space, which has included some time in Central America working on carbon sequestration and hardwood conservation projects, and eventually, in 2000, to his taking the helm at the Trustees of Reservations, a nonprofit land trust with a mission to “preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts.”

In Kendall’s 12-year tenure at the organization, he led its largest capital campaign, raising $100 million—twice its stated goal. Another major accomplishment there was the restoration of the thousand-acre Appleton Farms, one of the oldest continuously operating farms in the country.

“That was the beginning of what is now a major emphasis for the Trustees on community farming, agricultural programming, and food production, such that it is now one of the largest owners of farmland in Massachusetts,” he says.

His experience with the Trustees of Reservations was Kendall’s introduction to sustainable agriculture and public engagement in their food systems, and would later impact his work at the foundation.

“The Kendall Foundation had been focused on climate and energy until 2008, when I took over as chair,” says Kendall. “At the time, the climate and energy agenda was a huge exercise in frustration, because no one was listening, never mind responding. I like to say that we, as a species, don’t respond well to the ultimatum of ‘change your behavior or the world will end.’”

“On the other hand, local food systems and community agriculture is essentially the positive side of that same coin. It has immediate impact, everyone relates to it, and if you make good food choices, you will have improved health, an improved environment, and improved economic well-being in your community. It’s the literal and proverbial carrot, as opposed to the stick.”

Working closely with Food Solutions New England, Kendall has sought to partner with and fund initiatives that align with the foundation’s new sustainable local food mission. It has provided funds to help develop food system plans across New England and is supporting programs in high-impact regions—Greater Boston, the Connecticut River Valley along Interstate 91, and the state of Rhode Island—that are leading the economic and market shift toward a local food infrastructure.

Those programs include the Boston Public Market, the city’s first indoor, year-round market dedicated entirely to fresh, locally produced food, and Daily Table, a Dorchester market founded by former Trader Joe’s president Doug Rauch that brings healthy, affordable food to an inner-city audience by carefully culling its inventory from the excess food other supermarkets and suppliers typically throw away. The Kendall Foundation also supports CommonWealth Kitchen, which offers food entrepreneurs a place to incubate new businesses without the high overhead costs associated with commercial kitchen equipment and manufacturing.

“This is about trying to build food system activity all around different elements of the food system,” says Kendall. “It’s reflective of our orientation to the market approach.”

That approach harkens back to Kendall’s business training—something he says was a rare thing in nonprofits at the time.

“When I went into the nonprofit world in 1991, the number of MBAs there was very small compared to today,” he says. “For better or worse, many nonprofits only attracted people who had the passion and skills in the mission, but not the ability to manage the enterprise. So, being able to do that has allowed me, in all of the organizations I’ve been involved with, to ensure their financial well-being.

“I’ve also had the good fortune to learn from the ground up and really develop a programmatic expertise as well as the fundraising side,” he adds. “If you don’t have that capability, you’re never going to run a nonprofit. It’s about the maximum utilization of scarce resources. I deal with that every single day.”

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Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1988, Section I

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