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Summit’s goal: building a sustainable local food system

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What: Yolo Food Connect summit

When: 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19

Where: UC Davis Activities and Recreation Center, Room 232

RSVP: Diane Parro, 530-757-5557, [email protected]

By Don Saylor, et al.

In conjunction with the recognition of World Food Day on Oct. 16 and National Food Day on Oct. 24, Yolo Food Connect will conduct a summit at UC Davis on Friday, Oct. 19. Among the presenters will be Mark Winne, author of “Closing the Food Gap, Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty,” and Tom Tomich, director of the UC Davis Agriculture Sustainability Institute.

Yolo Food Connect is a local coalition formed to build a stronger local agricultural economy, support the many efforts under way to connect local growers with local markets, and get food from the farm to the fork for all Yolo County residents, especially those who are currently experiencing hunger.

Yolo County is a well-known agricultural treasure, with great climate, water and soil. For more than a century, UCD has injected the world’s best technology into this rich environment. More than 30 seed research companies are headquartered in Yolo and serve the entire planet. Yolo farmers are creative and productive, making this one of the leading agriculture counties in California.

Farmers grow tomatoes, rice, wine grapes, hay and walnuts, among other crops. There are more than 800 local farms, six certified farmers markets, and 19 Community Supported Agriculture programs in the county. Local general plans and land-use management practices are exemplary and continue to preserve agricultural lands.

Even with this great work and incredible assets, there are disconnects and gaps in our local food system. Several efforts are under way locally and in the Sacramento region to strengthen the agricultural industry by identifying and addressing gaps in technology transfer, infrastructure investment, regulatory processes and food aggregation, processing and distribution.

Among these gaps is food access. The county’s bountiful harvests are not being served at the dinner tables of many local residents.

It is painfully ironic that food insecurity exists in Yolo County, a county with such agricultural abundance. Sometime this month, nearly one in five Yolo County residents will go to bed hungry. This includes unemployed workers stretching every dollar, senior citizens on fixed incomes or who have physical difficulties that prevent them from shopping or cooking, and children whose families are unsure where to turn for help. It also includes low-wage workers, including those work on farms.

According to “Feeding America” in 2010, about 34,000 of Yolo County’s 200,000 residents are food-insecure and one in four children in Yolo County lack access to healthy food on a consistent basis. Increasing food prices, including a 4 percent increase in 2011, exacerbate this food access problem.

Many residents rely on the Food Bank of Yolo County to ensure that food is on the table. The food bank provides food for nearly 20,000 people every month and distributes 3 million pounds of food yearly through a network of 60 partner agencies.

Studies by UC Davis researchers indicate that “food deserts” exist in two Yolo cities. A food desert is an area where residents have little or no access to foods needed to maintain a healthy diet but are served by fast-food eateries instead. Farm workers in Yolo County’s rural areas have very limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Other signs that access to affordable healthy food is a problem include more seniors asking for meals through the Elderly Nutrition Program and one of the country’s lowest rates of participation by eligible low-income households in the federally funded CalFresh program.

In a community needs assessment conducted this year by First 5 Yolo, parents and caregivers of children under 6 years old indicated that food access and information about how to feed their families were paramount. Yolo residents need information about how to feed their families. To meet this need, Family Resource Centers throughout the county will be partnering with the University of California Cooperative Extension to offer classes on food resource management skills to help residents stretch their scarce food dollars.

Please join us for the summit to kick off Yolo Food Connect on Friday, Oct. 19, in Room 232 at the UCD Activities and Recreation Center. The event runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Participating in the summit will be community food activist and author Mark Winne, UCD professors and researchers, members of the agricultural community and leaders of area food banks, elderly outreach programs and children’s programs.

The focus will be on identifying ways to address gaps in the farm-to-fork food distribution system and ensuring that healthy, affordable food is available to all. Hunger in a land of plenty is not acceptable.

For more information about Yolo Food Connect or to register for the summit, contact Diane Parro at 530-757-5557 or [email protected].

— Don Saylor, Yolo County supervisor, District 2; Lisa Baker, executive director, Yolo County Housing; Thaddeus Barsotti, chief farmer and co-CEO, Capay Valley Organics and Farm Fresh to You; Davis Campbell, former trustee, Yolo County Board of Education; Delaine Eastin, former state superintendent of public instruction; Bob Ekstrom, executive director, Yolo Family Resource Center; Gail Feenstra, food systems coordinator, UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program/Agriculture Sustainability Institute; Stacie Frerichs, president, Davis Food Co-op; Julie Gallelo, executive director, First 5 Yolo; Ryan Galt, UCD professor of community and regional development; Laurie Green, women, infant and children program manager, Yolo County Health Department; Marcel Horowitz, 4H youth development and nutrition adviser, UC Cooperative Extension; Mary Kimball, executive director, Center for Land-Based Learning; Nicki McCabe, executive director, Elderly Nutrition Program of Yolo County; Alysa Meyer, managing attorney, Legal Services of Northern California; John Mott-Smith, president, Yolo Farm to Fork; Nancy O’Hara, assistant director, Yolo County Department of Employment and Social Services; Cathleen Olsen, food services director, Winters Joint Unified School District; Ben Pearl, vice president, Davis Food Co-op; Mindy Romero, member, Yolo County Community Service Action Board; Kevin Sanchez, executive director, Food Bank of Yolo County; Tom Tomich, director, UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program/Agriculture Sustainability Institute; Tricia Valenzuela, deputy to Yolo County Supervisor Duane Chamberlain; Katie Villegas, executive director, Yolo County Children’s Alliance; John Young, Yolo County agriculture commissioner; Tico Zendejas, executive director, RISE Inc.; Jake Clemens; Randii MacNear.

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