Through the Fair Food Network, Oran Hesterman works with vendors to help their businesses and provide food to those who need it.
Through the Fair Food Network, Oran Hesterman works with vendors to help their businesses and provide food to those who need it.

Oran B. Hesterman says Fair Food Network will place an increased focus on climate solutions and on meeting a growing demand for food assistance.

Tikkun olam has always resonated with Oran B. Hesterman.

The founder of Ann Arbor-based nonprofit Fair Food Network, which aims to grow community health and wealth through food, sees the Jewish concept of repairing the world as part of his civic duty.

“The foundation of the work I do on food justice and really paying attention to social service is part of my background of being Jewish,” says Hesterman, 70, of Ann Arbor. “I don’t take the command of tikkun olam lightly.”

That concept, he continues, has been a driving force throughout his entire professional life. “All of us have to take responsibility for repairing and healing the world as much as we can.”

Hesterman found he can repair the world through food. Launched in 2009, Fair Food Network has stayed true to its mission of recognizing that not everyone has equal or equitable access to the healthful foods needed to lead a healthy life.

“We founded the Fair Food Network to address these issues and creative positive solutions and models that can show how we can work with our food system differently,” Hesterman explains.

Started as just an idea, Fair Food Network now operates with 40 staff and programs that reach across nearly every community in the state of Michigan. Nationally, it also helped create policy change that brings resources to low-income families.

“We’ve been able to establish an impact investing fund that is supporting entrepreneurs across the state and in other pockets in the country, all being done with a real dedicated and talented staff mostly right here in Michigan,” Hesterman says.

A Multifaceted Approach

To do so, Fair Food Network taps into three strategies.

First, they invest in local businesses. A recent investment, for example, helped support Detroit-based food business Cooking with Que, which brought healthy meals to essential workers in the city of Detroit during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Not only was Cooking with Que able to survive, but really thrive as a business,” Hesterman says of the investment and the impact the pandemic had on the food industry.

The second strategy Fair Food Network practices is to build collaborative relationships with local and national organizations. 

Through Double Up Food Bucks, a nutrition incentive program that allows any individual with SNAP benefits to double their buying power at participating locations — a whopping 759,000 families received benefits in 2021.

“It’s a win-win-win,” Hesterman says of the Double Up Food Bucks partnership, among others. 

“It’s more healthy food coming home for families that need it, with those very food dollars going into the pockets of local farmers and local food businesses.”

Lastly, Fair Food Network implements a third strategy of championing and changing food policy solutions across the country. These policies help ensure that federal dollars offer improved benefits for the community while supporting essential ideas and programs.

Through recent policy solutions, Fair Food Network has been an important part in implementing nutrition incentive programs at farmers’ markets and grocery stores nationwide.

“We’re very proud of the policy work we’ve been able to do,” Hesterman says.

Oran Hesterman and Kate Krauss of Fair Food Network at a local farmer’s market.Oran Hesterman and Kate Krauss of Fair Food Network at a local farmer’s market.
Oran Hesterman and Kate Krauss of Fair Food Network at a local farmer’s market.
New Generation of Leadership

Now, with inflation on the rise, it’s one of the main areas of focus for the Fair Food Network, in addition to a rising number of households receiving food assistance.

As the nonprofit looks to the future and how it can continue to address critical food issues, current executive director and chief operating officer Kate Krauss will step into a new role as chief executive officer of Fair Food Network in January 2023.

Hesterman will transition into a supporting role as founder and resident champion.

“I’ve decided it’s time in my own personal life to shift my role and make way for a new generation of leadership,” Hesterman explains. “I’ll be championing the abilities and the rise of young leaders all over the country [involved] in this movement.”

Hesterman says Fair Food Network will place an increased focus on climate solutions and on meeting a growing demand for food assistance. 

“There will be a deeper effort on the part of the Fair Food Network to help mitigate what we know is a crisis,” he explains.

Still, the idea of repairing the world — especially through food — isn’t going away.

“When we start with food, we can build a path toward better community health and economic opportunity, as well as environmental resistance,” Hesterman says. 

“I like to think of the food economy as the first economy in every community.” 

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