REAP Food Group was originally founded in 1997 under the name Dane County Research, Education, Action and Policy on Food Group. A diverse group of academics, elected officials, and citizens concerned about food issues came together to discuss galvanizing civic engagement through local sustainable food.
They envisioned a group that would function as a connecting point for all of the other groups working on food issues in various ways, bringing everyone together to provide a forum and bringing visibility to the cause. In 1999, these discussions culminated in the planning of the first Food For Thought Festival. For the first time, all of the passionate people and groups engaged in sustainable food work presented together publicly, raising awareness of what it means to build a sustainable food system. Odessa Piper, Kathleen Falk, and Deborah Madison were the presenters, alongside 40 local organizations, businesses, and agencies. The success of this event showed that there was interest in continuing the work.
In 2004, Research, Education, Action, and Policy on Food Group became a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. This made it possible to accept donations, apply for grants, and hire staff. REAP’s first staff member was Executive Director Miriam Grunes, who continues to serve that role today.
During and after the planning for the first Food for Thought Festival, the group continued meeting in living rooms and on porches to explore other projects that could continue engaging folks interested in local, sustainable food. In 2002, REAP volunteers created the first Farm Fresh Atlas in partnership with the UW Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) and the Dane County Farmers’ Market. That same year, REAP volunteers and CIAS also launched the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch program to focus on bringing more local food into schools.
Much has changed since those first years. A growing understanding and awareness of local food and sustainability have also grown a community supporting our work, and that support has helped us add more annual events, start the Buy Fresh Buy Local program, expand the Farm Fresh Atlas and Farm to School programs, participate in dozens of local coalitions and tasks forces, and increase from a staff of one to a staff of six (plus our four half-time Farm to School AmeriCorps members). We’ve also changed our name - in 2013, we officially became REAP Food Group, no longer an acronym.
But despite all the changes, we’re still focused on many of the same issues. We still do our work with the help of dedicated volunteers, and we still provide a voice for the movement working to grow a healthy, socially just food system that is environmental and economically sustainable. Our commitment to connect eaters, producers, buyers, community members, and policy makers – to nourish the links between land and table - is as strong as ever.