Q&A: City Councilmember Andy Melendrez on the Importance of Sustainable Food and Agriculture to Riverside, CA
April 13, 2015 | AJ Hughes
Riverside City Council Member Andy Melendrez is a supporter of Grow Riverside and local foods, and is enthusiastic about educating Riverside residents on the importance of local and sustainable food and agriculture.
In an effort to provide more education to the public about the importance of sustainable agriculture in Riverside and the surrounding communities, Melendrez started a lecture series on healthy sustainable living. The first lecture, on genetically modified organisms, took place on Nov. 6, 2014.
Seedstock caught up with Melendrez to ask him his thoughts about food and agriculture in Riverside, his hopes for the Grow Riverside conference, and more.
Seedstock: Why did you decide to launch a lecture series? How is that going, and what are your future plans for these lectures?
Melendrez: We came up with the idea of how we’re going to encourage people from low-income neighborhoods to live healthier and more active lives. Having worked in the low-income community, we’ve found that a lot of people come and share information on services and what you should and shouldn’t do and those types of things, but we’ve never really provided education on how these things come about.
For example, one of our lectures was on genetically modified organisms. Most of the people attending the lecture had never heard a college professor lecture live or listened to theories about issues such as GMOs and climate change or how global waste impacts our growth. Now these individuals have a greater understanding of the importance of eating healthier—for example, the difference between a freshly picked apple and genetically modified food.
It gave them the opportunity to understand the difference, and hearing this from a scientific perspective provided them the opportunity for a greater understanding and level of engagement. What I’m planning on doing is to have a similar lecture series in the upcoming months, and keep that ongoing throughout the coming years. Hopefully we can make that a staple there in the eastside, which is one of Riverside’s low-income communities.
Seedstock: What is the importance of local food and agriculture to Riverside?
Melendrez: People move out here for a reason, not only because it is a lower cost of living, but it provides a good quality of life. There’s more room, more open space. Riverside has a real deep history in agriculture, predominantly oranges and citrus. In the surrounding Inland Empire, farmers grow a variety of crops, including vegetables and strawberries.
We have a real connection to agriculture, and there’s a real interest in our city to bring that agriculture back, paving the way to benefit from our open space and some of the areas that are no longer planted becoming rejuvenated. We would like to make whatever we grow there available to our local community through farmers’ markets, restaurants and fruit stands.
So, we have not lost that culture and these types of activities and businesses, which continue to be very important to us. And from an economic standpoint, we take pride in eating things that are grown in our backyard by people we know in areas that we are familiar with.
Seedstock: What are your hopes for the 2015 Grow Riverside conference?
Melendrez: The last Grow Riverside conference that we had really energized many individuals in the community and surrounding areas. They came together with a strong interest, and a lot of individuals came up with excellent ideas and approaches, including many things people did not think of doing in the past. Grow Riverside really allows for that interaction and discussion of ideas about how certain things are done and how we hope to do them here.
My hope is for that conversation to continue even further, and most importantly, we hope we generate more interest here in our city to be involved in growing, whether it be citrus or general farming and related services.
Seedstock: How does local food and agriculture fit into your goals as a Riverside City Council member?
Melendrez: The overall goals of the City Council are to make it happen. One of the reasons why we celebrate and have the Grow Riverside conference is because the entire Council and our mayor support growing local. Growing the local foods movement in our community comes from a knowledge that we have had that in our past, and we want to revitalize that for our city in the future.
Seedstock: Looking to the future, can you tell about your vision for Riverside and how food and agriculture fit into that vision?
Melendrez: I think the overall vision is something that’s shared by the Council—that is, having a balance with local growers and local markets as well as community members who are involved, whether it be farming or gardening in their backyards or converting their lawns into small gardens.
We really want to create that balance that the city is striving for; not just do asphalt and concrete and tall buildings, but one that has usable open space where people will be able to grow their food as well as have space for hiking and walking. It’s also important to have the types of businesses that support that quality of life.
Seedstock: What obstacles, if any, have you faced in trying to put sustainable food and agriculture at the forefront for the City of Riverside?
Melendrez: Water is at the forefront right now. We need to have water in order to grow and be prosperous. People within the City of Riverside need to be very conscientious as to how they use water. We can choose whether we use water in our yards, or whether we use it to grow food. We’re working on two fronts—we need to create the balance of knowing how water is an important resource for our survival, but there are also other benefits water can bring into the growing of local food.
It is important that we conserve our water usage. We need to educate the community that water is a vital resource that we all need. We’re going through a dramatic change throughout Southern California relating to water, and we must be very cautious as to how we use this resource.