local food systems
David King grew up in Kansas where, despite being very poor, his family ate very well because they grew their own food on his grandfather’s three acres. This was where David got his first taste of seed saving.
As founder and chair of the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA), David’s been committed to teaching others how to save seeds. He says he was spurred into action to start the library in 2010, when the Obama administration approved GMO sugar beets.
“It was just too much,” he says. “I lost it.”
So on a cold, drizzly day in December of 2010, he held the first meeting of SLOLA. About 45 people showed up, more than he had expected, and 15 of the people who attended that first meeting are still active members today. As stated on their website, SLOLA was founded with the idea of enabling all who live in the Los Angeles area to have access to nutritious, pesticide-free, non-GMO food.
Across the country, cities and suburbs continue to swell and push outward beyond the rural urban divide threatening small local farmers and food systems. Agricultural landholders are increasingly succumbing to offers from developers that far surpass the lease fees that they could obtain were they to continue to lease their lands to farmers. As a result, in certain counties and cities, what farmland remains is often priced beyond what most farmers can afford, or else it is offered for short-term lease periods. These leases often conclude abruptly with the sale of the land to a developer leaving the farmer left looking for a new plot of land on which to farm.
The tri-county region south of Puget Sound in Washington is one such area where significant urbanization pressures are posing challenges to those who wish to farm its lands. To tackle these challenges and help insure that local food and farming systems remain and flourish in the area, the South of the Sound Community Farm Land Trust based in Olympia Washington employs an innovative model of farmland preservation to insure that farmers have access to land at affordable lease rates.
If not for Mark Lowry and Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, “The Farm,” rather than providing inmates with meaningful work and the Orange County Food Bank with a weekly abundance of fresh produce, would be nothing more than the nickname for the James A. Musick Facility jail in Irvine, California.
It was at an Orange County Sheriff’s Department volunteer recognition event where Lowry, the director of the Orange County Food Bank, first learned of the jail farm’s history. From 1963 until its closure during the economic downturn of 2008-2009, the inmate operated farm had grown produce and maintained a livestock operation.
By September 30, 2017, the USDA plans to increase investments across its New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program by $5.6 billion over two years. During this period, targeted outreach and technical assistance initiatives aim to increase participation in the program by 6.6 percent.
“We’ve got a big challenge in front of us—new farmers are hard to find,” said Lilia McFarland, USDA New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program coordinator.
On a hot summer afternoon near Indianapolis, people start lining up early when the Gleaners Mobile Pantry truck pulls into a community partner parking lot. They may stand in line up to two hours to walk through the pop-up marketplace, where they can select dry goods and meats and fresh produce, when available, from the farmers’ market-style food pantry.
Kathy Hahn Keiner, chief programs and agency relations officer at Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, is one of the people running the Mobile Pantry program and often rides along to help set up the mobile marketplace. Gleaners has two refrigerated trucks and a fleet of smaller trucks that provide close to 300 mobile pantries a year.
“At a mobile pantry we’ll serve 150 to 200 families in a two-hour distribution. There may be three or four people to a family, so over 12 months that’s a lot of people. The most we’ve ever done at once is five on a Saturday, but that’s an awful lot,” Hahn Keiner says.
When 1 in 7 people are going hungry in a country that throws out half the food it produces, there isn’t a supply problem; there’s a distribution problem. This was part of the hypothesis tested in a 2011 study conducted by former University of Colorado students Caleb Phillips and Becky Higbee. By looking at data collected through a local food rescue organization, the study found that large volumes of food were going to waste in northern Colorado because there wasn’t a well-coordinated effort capable of catching that food before it became completely unusable. The research team showed that, with funding and adequate labor, organized food rescue and redistribution efforts were not only possible at small and large scales, they could also capture enough potentially wasted food in Boulder and Broomfield Counties to feed everyone in that area.
On the wings of this information, Phillips and Higbee joined with friends Nora Lecesse, Helen Katich, and Hana Dansky to form Boulder Food Rescue. The project began with the same systems-minded approach as the study. The BFR crew met with local grocery store officials, whose stores were trashing unsold food, and asked why they wouldn’t choose to donate it instead. Some blamed the rules of local food banks, which prohibited donations of produce outside of its original packaging. Many more grocery managers lamented that food gone past a supermarket’s saleable standards is too perishable to survive the extended journey from store to food bank to plate. As the study had already shown, timing was key.
When Tessa Edick was a young girl, she spent visits to her grandmother’s dairy farm in upstate New York pining over a big city life in which she would have her own elegant law office and manicured, dirt-free fingernails.
“Honestly, we were broke, and it was just smelly and embarrassing,” she says. “I wanted glamor and success. But a funny thing called life happened.”
As she grew into an ambitious communications professional, Edick found an unlikely synergy between her early farm experiences and her love of boutique culture. Beginning with her own label of specialty jarred sauces–Sauces N’ Love—that ended up selling in 4,000 stores nationally within its first five years, Edick continued to carve out a niche for herself as a food product development pro. She created lines for Tom Colicchio, Todd English, and several major retail companies, and in 2010 established her own consulting and development company called Culinary Partnership that offers everything from co-packing to TV production services.
Today, amidst the urban sprawl and paved over groves and ranches of yore, Orange County, CA residents might be surprised to learn that it is still possible to find cattle happily nibbling on grass and grazing the rolling pastures of 5 Bar Beef, a Silverado, CA-based ranching operation located in the Santa Ana Mountains. Residents can purchase 5 Bar Beef’s grass-fed, pasture-raised beef at several farmers’ markets in the county and online.
5 Bar Beef is something of a throwback, but the sustainable holistic grazing practices in use on the 800-acre ranch are entirely evidence-based — and Frank Fitzpatrick, owner and head cowboy in charge, believes that the techniques he uses offer hope for California’s water crisis and the planet at large.