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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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local food systems

Harvest Club Looks to Backyard Groves to Feed the Hungry

May 25, 2016 |
Harvest Club volunteers pose next to freshly­ picked oranges from backyard trees. The oranges’ next destination is various food banks throughout Orange County. (photo courtesy Lindsey Harrison/The Harvest Club)

Harvest Club volunteers pose next to freshly­ picked oranges from backyard trees. The oranges’ next destination is various food banks throughout Orange County. (photo courtesy Lindsey Harrison/Harvest Club of Orange County)

While citrus groves no longer dot the landscape, trees in backyards across Orange County still yield an abundance of produce that sadly often goes to waste. But thanks to the efforts of the Harvest Club of Orange County, a volunteer-based organization that gleans fruit from neighborhood trees, much of this excess backyard bounty now goes to help feed the hungry.

The gleaning operation started informally in Huntington Beach.

“In 2009 a couple of friends had fruit trees they could not finish,” says Lindsey Harrison, coordinator of volunteers for the Harvest Club. “Others helped pick trees and donated extra fruit to the food bank.”

More and more neighbors got on board and as word spread, the organization began to grow and solidify. In 2011 the Harvest Club became a project of the Orange County Food Access Coalition (OCFAC). By this time Harvest Club’s coverage area had already expanded beyond its Huntington Beach roots, but the new association with OCFAC served to further boost its countywide presence. Read More

Food Distributor Helps Iowa’s Health Care Facilities Serve Patients Local Food

May 17, 2016 |
Photo courtesy Iowa Choice Harvest

Photo courtesy Iowa Choice Harvest

Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa is dedicated to serving its patients, staff, and visitors the best food Iowa has to offer. And thanks to a few handfuls of local, Iowa farms, the hospital has been able to maintain that standard.

One of the companies that helps Mercy Medical obtain fresh produce and goods is Iowa Choice Harvest. The Marshalltown, Iowa company has partnered with the hospital since 2015. It is dedicated to helping farms across Iowa find customers and co-processes and co-packs for existing and start-up businesses in the Midwest.

“We began planning in 2006 and began production in 2013,” says Sung Hee Grittmann, sales coordinator for Iowa Choice Harvest. “Iowa Choice Harvest is the brainchild of an innovative group of farmers who are passionate about establishing a viable local food system while simultaneously supporting Iowa farmers and creating new economies. Read More

‘Cooking Up Change’ Competition Puts High School Students in Charge of Lunch Menu

April 21, 2016 |
Jonathan Quispe and Elizabeth Castro won first place in the 2015 Orange County Cooking Up Change competition with their Mexican street tacos and motherland esquite. (photo courtesy Linda Franks/Kid Healthy)

Jonathan Quispe and Elizabeth Castro won first place in the 2015 Orange County Cooking Up Change competition with their Mexican street tacos and motherland esquite. (Photo courtesy Linda Franks/Kid Healthy)

Who better to put in charge of creating healthy school lunch menu options than the students themselves? It might sound crazy to some, but eager high school students in Orange County, California are taking on this challenge by participating in Cooking Up Change, an annual national culinary competition in which teams of student chefs strive to concoct healthy and delicious school meals.

The program is part of the Healthy Schools Campaign and winning high school teams qualify for the national contest in Washington, D.C.

In Orange County, the program is managed by Kid Healthy, an organization that focuses on reducing childhood obesity and promoting healthy diets. Read More

Los Angeles School District Says ‘No’ to Hormones and Antibiotics

April 14, 2016 |
Kale is one of many locally-produced ingredients put to use by Los Angeles Unified School District. Because of LAUSD’s commitment to health, it has spearheaded an effort to feed healthier chicken in the meals it provides to its students. (photo courtesy Ellen Morgan/Los Angeles Unified School District)

Kale is one of many locally-produced ingredients put to use by Los Angeles Unified School District. Because of LAUSD’s commitment to health, it has spearheaded an effort to feed healthier chicken in the meals it provides to its students. (Photo courtesy Ellen Morgan/Los Angeles Unified School District)

School meals consumed by the 732,833 students enrolled at 1,274 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District will soon include chicken that is free of hormones and antibiotics.

In a vote on March 8, LAUSD became the nation’s first school district of its size to require hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken. Full changes will take effect in fall 2017.

This change was born from the District’s Good Food Procurement resolution, spearheaded by school board president Steve Zimmer. The resolution states that LAUSD put into practice Good Food Purchasing Guidelines as defined by the LA Food Policy Council. These guidelines stress the values of local economies, environmental sustainability, valued workforce, animal welfare, and nutrition.

LA Food Policy Council’s environmental sustainability standard specifically calls for the avoidance of hormones and antibiotics in meat.

Due to LAUSD’s size and influence, it expects this new approach to have national implications. Indeed, the resolution reads: “Thoughtful purchasing practices throughout the District can nationally impact the creation and availability of a local, sustainable good food system.” Read More

Online Marketplace Connects Western Michigan Chefs to Local Produce

April 6, 2016 |
Grand Rapids-based West Michigan FarmLink offers regular opportunities for farmers and chefs to get to know each other at “happy hour” events. (photo courtesy Jerry Adams/West Michigan FarmLink)

Grand Rapids-based West Michigan FarmLink offers regular opportunities for farmers and chefs to get to know each other at “happy hour” events. (Photo courtesy Jerry Adams/West Michigan FarmLink)

Western Michigan is incredibly rich in the agricultural products it provides, but matching this great food with local wholesale buyers can still pose a challenge.

So food aficionado Jerry Adams came up with West Michigan FarmLink, an online marketplace in Grand Rapids that connects growers to chefs and other institutional end-users of foodstuffs.

It was during a trip to a farmers’ market that Adams first got the idea for an organization that links farmers to restaurants and other foodservice institutions. Despite his affinity for farmers’ markets, he saw areas in which they were lacking. Read More

Rhode Island Seeks to Strengthen its Rising Local Ag Scene with New Emphasis on Seafood

March 9, 2016 |
Ken Ayers, chief of the agriculture division of Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management.

Ken Ayers, chief of the agriculture division of Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management.

Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management has announced two new funding streams intended to support local farmers and food producers. 

The program is making nearly $400,000 in grant monies available to local small businesses under the Local Agriculture and Seafood Act (LASA) and Farm Viability programs. The goal is to increase the competitiveness of Rhode Island agricultural products in the marketplace while helping local farmers and food partners grow their businesses.

“Traditionally, 50 to 70 percent of Rhode Island’s agriculture income has come from sod, nurseries, and floriculture,” says Ken Ayers, chief of the agriculture division of Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management. Read More

To Stem Rising Tide of Obesity in SoCal Neighborhood, HEAL Program Tackles Local Food Access and Nutrition

February 8, 2016 |
Courtesy Heal Zone

The Eastside Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Zone program seeks to improve the overall wellness of Riverside, CA’s Eastside community through education and increased access to healthy local food.

As of 2012, in Riverside, California’s Eastside neighborhood, more than half of the adults and almost a quarter of the teenagers, were considered overweight. To stem this rising tide of obesity, Kaiser Permanente awarded a $1 million grant to establish a Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Zone program to improve the Eastside community’s overall wellness through education and increased access to healthy local food.

Kaiser sees the HEAL Zone program as a community benefit, according to health manager Cecilia Arias.

“Wellness isn’t just about the absence of illness. It’s about how you live,” she says. “Is your community supportive of you having a healthy lifestyle? Is it safe for you to go out to exercise and walk or do something the park?” Read More

California Congressman Takano Works to Unleash Power of Agriculture for Riverside’s Health and Prosperity

February 1, 2016 |
Official Portrait - Mark Takano 113th

Congressman Mark Takano, whose district includes the City of Riverside, spoke at the 2014 GrowRIVERSIDE conference and is a champion of local and sustainable food and agriculture. (photo courtesy Josh Weisz/Office of Congressman Mark Takano)

Congressman Mark Takano, a Democrat from California’s 41st congressional district, was born in Riverside, California. The longtime Riverside Community College Board of Trustees member delivered a keynote address at GrowRIVERSIDE’s “Citrus and Beyond” conference in 2014, and he understands the importance of local sustainable agriculture to the economic prosperity of Riverside.

Seedstock caught up with Congressman Takano, who answered some of our questions:

Seedstock: What are your impressions on the pursuit of the development of local food system infrastructure in your district?

Takano: We’re making good progress, but there’s more work to do. The efforts of GrowRIVERSIDE are really encouraging and I was honored to be a keynote speaker at the GrowRIVERSIDE “Citrus and Beyond” conference. It really takes buy-in from consumers to get this kind of thing going and that’s what I’ve been seeing.   Read More