Toward a Community-based Food System

Lessons from an inspiring morning in Sacramento

California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross (right) and California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Diana Dooley hosted a June 24 gathering of community-based food system organizations.

Representatives of 17 of California’s 22 community-based food system organizations gathered at CDFA headquarters in Sacramento last week to spend a few hours with me and Secretary Diana Dooley from the California Health and Human Services Agency.  Diana and I were glad to host the session and we feel the group gained a good deal of useful information by sharing their goals and methods with us and with each other.

The group was loosely formed around the shared principles of promoting a food supply that is local/regional, safe and wholesome.  Other shared issues for many of the organizations include ecologically sound farming practices, water policy considerations, and the economic sustainability of farming.

Among the priorities offered by the groups at the table:  improve nutrition;  improve food security;  improve access to good food;  encourage healthy mobile vending;  expand composting and food scrap recycling;  identify/mitigate obstacles for people coming to farmers’ markets; increase EBT acceptance and use; protect and expand urban agriculture.  Where I come from, that sounds like a recipe for a healthier citizenry.

One thing we learned right away was that most of the groups promote and support California’s Cal Fresh program (formerly “food stamps”) and its federal equivalent, SNAP.  These are by no means perfect solutions to the societal problems of malnutrition and poverty, but the general approach is widely embraced as a positive force toward increased access to good food for those who can least afford it.

Dimmock of Roots of Change helped the group get the “lay of the land” with regard to community-based food systems and key issues facing these organizations.

The primary takeaways for me, as a recently minted public servant, were the overarching sense of commitment and the high degree of creativity that these dedicated people bring to the table.  Each of the staffers and volunteers from around the state spoke with emphasis and energy about the ways they want to change their communities for the better.  Secretary Dooley and I convened the session because we recognize the value of having these groups get to know each other and learn from each other’s successes.  It is in our collective best interest that these community-based food system organizations take root and grow; we will benefit through improved access to good food, and—if we stay the course—our children and our grandchildren will grow up knowing who grew their food, where and how it was tended, and why it tastes so good.

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