August 7, 2013

California Ag Community
Fights Hunger

Yesterday at California State University, Fresno, the California State Board of Food and Agriculture (of the CDFA) held an open meeting with representatives from several state food banks, non-profit Calif. organizations that are invested in food provisions, growers, and the media, plus a filmmaker via Skype and members of the community. Craig McNamara, Board President, chaired the meeting, and CDFA Secretary Karen Ross was present.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

“The San Joaquin Valley is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the nation and yet we have a number of individuals in these communities who do not know where their next meal is coming from,” said Secretary Karen Ross stated in a recent statement. “Bringing together the agricultural community with local food banks, faith-based organizations and other stakeholders, is an important step in addressing food insecurity in the Valley.”

Here are some surprising statistics:

·      23% of the Central Valley (CV) population is food-insecure (1 in 4).

·      1 in 3 children in the CV are food insecure.

·      50% of children in Chico receive 2 meals a day.

·      In some Fresno public schools, 98% of students have free or subsidized lunch.
These are some of the meeting highpoints: 

All those present watched a trailer for the sobering film, A Place at the Table, directed by Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson. Silverbush, who joined the meeting via videoconference, said, “Hunger is fixable.” She said that poverty is not about personal failure, laziness or poor choices; rather, the hungry people she has met are typically hard-working adults with insufficient income who struggle to feed their families.


She claims that hunger exists in our 1st world country “because we are not holding our representatives accountable. I don’t blame the government for this situation; I look at fellow citizens and say, ‘We are the government.’”

Sarah Reyes

Sarah Reyes, of the California Endowment, a private, statewide health foundation, began by describing herself as having come from a food-insecure family.

Reyes, like Silverbush, has observed that food-insecure families typically have two working adults; they just have a hard time making ends meet.

Ironically, she explained, many hungry families suffer from obesity because they only have access to cheap, nutrient-deficient food.

This is where the California agricultural community comes in.

The Food System Alliance, a county-based collaboration of community leaders, ag leaders, and CEOs, addresses, among many issues, the need for growers to be able to have a market right here in the Central Valley. “For instance,” said Reyes, “Fresno Unified School District just signed with local strawberry farmers to provide berries for school lunches.

Reyes also talked about seeking agricultural partnerships to teach people to work in community vegetable gardens, for example. “This isn’t about me; it is about us,“ she stated.

Addressing the CDFA, Reyes urged Board Members to invite residents to their meetings; look at how SNAP and Food Fresh programs work and sign up participants; examine state-created barriers that prevent outreach; and review service program accessibility.

Miles Reiter

Miles Reiter, Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc. and CDFA board member said that unfortunately, “We have a cheap food policy. We must make grocery stores accessible because it is so easy for a working parent to go through a drive through.”

Lindsay Coate

Lindsay Coate, Ag Against Hunger, said we need to provide a necessary link between agriculture and community needs. Her organization, initiated by the agricultural community, provides a clearinghouse for surplus crops in a 3-county area. With their own fleet of trucks and a cooling facility, the organization provides the local ag community with a distribution system that gave out 210 million pounds of vegetables, particularly leafy greens, last year. In wintertime, they send their trucks to Yuma for fresh crops.

Barriers to distribution, reported by many panelists, include poor farm yields, short shelf life, availability of cool storage, increasing poverty and food insecurity, competition for non-retail quality food with feed needed by ranchers, high cost or shortage of farm workers, processors and transportation, cost of liability insurance, and high cost of crops (e.g., nuts, cabbage).

Also cited were a lack or high cost of transportation, poor harvest timing when gleaning volunteers are unavailable, limited storage, difficulty in maintaining stable food availability year-round, and the high cost of canning and dehydrating food for preservation. Finally, presenters noted the lack of volunteers, packaging, and agricultural providers for particular crops.

Strategies to encourage the agricultural community’s participation are: solve some of the above problems/barriers for farmers, use peer pressure among growers and the rest of the agricultural industry’s services, enjoin packers to provide packaging, and engage transportation companies to provide trucking.

Presenters also emphasized getting grower-buy-in by including them more in meetings and decision-making, providing incentives for more participation, encouraging farmers to allow access to their crops they wouldn’t have picked anyway, giving tax credit by the IRS, continued fundraising.

Potential solutions for food insecurity are establishing local grocery stores, providing education on how to eat (i.e. peel a kiwi) and cook food, teaching how to exercise voting rights to pressure government representatives, starting community fruit and vegetable gardens, and finding volunteers. Other possibilities include the subleasing of cold storage, use of fairgrounds as distribution centers, and the provision of working wages and emergency-gleaning committees.

Bryce Lundberg

When Bryce Lundberg, a rice grower in Yolo County and CDFA board member, asked about the anticipated effect of severe water deficits on food banks, panelists either did not know or would not comment. Aside, he commented about the necessity and lack of water storage in California, both above and below the Delta, and surface and ground water.