Partner Insight: The Value of Local Food

By Sustainable Solano

 Courtesy of Terra Firma Farm

We wanted to share with you some recent musings from our partners over at Terra Firma Farm in Winters on the recent closing of S.F.-based Munchery and why these startups are not the solution our food system needs.

As Terra Firma Farm’s Pablito points out, there is value in putting our money as consumers into local farms with sustainable practices. By buying local produce, money stays within our communities, farmers are able to retain more of what is paid for the food they produce and there are environmental benefits from having produce travel shorter distances (and our tables benefit from having the freshest, most flavorful produce).

There are many ways this local food ecosystem manifests, including local restaurants and caterers that source locally grown food, such as League of Chefs or BackDoor Bistro; food co-ops, such as the Cultivate Community Food Co-op that is selling ownership shares; and CSAs (community supported agriculture) that connect consumers directly with growers.

Terra Firma Farm is a CCOF certified organic farm that offers a CSA — a box of organic year-round vegetables, fruit and nuts for local residents — with box-drop locations that include Benicia and Vacaville in Solano County as well as in Winters. Here’s the post:

 Courtesy of Terra Firma Farm

Getting Munched by Munchery

If you live in the SF Bay Area, you have probably heard the news about the prepared-meal delivery company Munchery, who shut their doors and their bank accounts recently without paying their vendors or employees. I’m sorry for anyone affected by this incident.

Many TFF subscribers have already read my opinions about venture capital-funded start ups that promise to “shake up” the food business. They offer things that existing business owners know are simply too good to be true: Extensive freebies and free delivery along with dubious claims that all their ingredients are locally sourced from organic and sustainable farms. And they all claim to do this in the interest of “revolutionizing the food system”. But their only real goal is to make themselves wealthy if and when Wall Street takes them public in an IPO.

There are numerous problems with this model. The first is the idea that food should be cheaper than it already is, and technology can make this happen. That is simply untrue. The profit margin in the farming and food businesses is low; there is literally no fat to be removed. And nothing that companies like Blue Apron or Munchery did fundamentally changed those economics. The founders who ran these companies were either naive, ill-informed, or simply lying. And as stories from inside these businesses start to leak out, it is clear they were also poor and inexperienced managers.

Second, food is a mature market with a relatively fixed demand. Munchery and the others have not created new products, but rather taken market share from existing restaurants, supermarkets and other companies. Their only advantage was the free money from venture capital. Other businesses could not afford to spend more than they make in order to compete. Thus, the VC-backed startup model in this instance was not “disruptive”. It was profoundly anti-competitive.

Third, the companies they were competing against are better run. Lots of people can run an unprofitable business if they have an endless source of someone else’s money. Established business owners are the ones who have figured out how to be sustainably profitable. And yet these were the businesses that Munchery and the others were impacting or eliminating.

Fourth, Venture Capitalists are not held accountable. Sure, VCs are putting their money at risk when they finance companies like Munchery. But that risk should not be limited to the funds they have already invested. Munchery shut down without paying its employees or vendors, and it’s unlikely many of the creditors will get much out of their bankruptcy. The VC firms that retain an ownership stake in a startup should be legally required to make good on all the company’s debts when it fails. This would raise the bar on what type of companies venture capitalists fund, forcing them to spend more time evaluating the viability of startups and ensuring that they retain enough funds to pay their debts if and when they shut down.

 

In the end, the business model of Munchery, Blue Apron and so many others in the sector had only one real goal: to take business from thousands of small businesses and outsource limited profits to Wall Street. It was a terrible idea all around, and certainly not good for our economy or society as a whole.

I have sent a letter to my state Assemblywoman asking her to look into legislation requiring VCs to cover the debts of the companies they fund. I believe it is in the interest of the state of California to more strongly discourage VCs from funding companies that they do not have absolute confidence in. Small businesses in this economy need all the protection they can get, and face numerous layers of regulation that raise their costs and lower their profits. Wealthy Venture Capitalists should be subject to regulation and oversight that is just as strong, or stronger.

Thanks,

Pablito

This article originally ran on Terra Firma’s site.

Interested in joining a CSA? Find out more on our website and check out our list of local farms that serve the county.

Planting an Urban Forest: Harvesting The Power of Community

By Gabriela Estrada

“Planting trees can be very rewarding,” Dr. Muick told her class. She was a professor at Solano Community College, whose class I was giving a presentation to. I had never thought about the planting of trees as anything other than practical. Her words however, invited me to reflect on exactly what part of working on the Urban Forest project I found rewarding.

 

After deep reflection, I concluded that the rewarding part about this project so far has been the chance to strategically support community members who are seeking opportunities to take action and activate their power as community members. For there is true strength in diverse community members collectively working on a project that will create a positive change in the world. 

 

With this reward in mind, I entered on a three-month journey of event planning, of reaching out to different organizations and individuals in Fairfield who might be interested in joining the Sustainable Solano to plant an Urban Forest.

 

On the day of the event, I was delighted when about 60 volunteers from all age groups showed up; ready to plant trees and reap their own rewards. Armed with shovels, gardening gloves, water bottles and a go-getter attitude, they were ready to dig holes and serve at any capacity needed.

 

After making sure that everyone was signed-in and accounted for, we gathered to talk a little more about the importance of the project and to briefly discuss what the next three hours had in store for us. We then gathered in a circle, and while taking three deep breaths; we thanked the earth beneath our feet, the air around us and the people we were getting ready to share this tree planting journey with.

 

Afterwards, people self-assigned into two groups: one that will be moving mulch in order to prepare the soil and another team that was going to be digging the holes where the trees were going to be planted. Younger children, assisted by their parents, began to move mulch in wheel barrows. A few father and son duos soon became occupied digging holes, and removing trees from their storage containers (this task is harder than it sounds). Small groups of 20-something year olds laughed, as they met classmates for the first time in person while they struggled to dig into the hard ground.

 

As the event progressed, I then encouraged volunteers to think of names for the trees they were planting, and everyone jumped at the opportunity to do it. Tree names ranged from Groot, to Bert, to Crystal Diamond, to Snowflake. People were having fun, chuckling and discussing possible names as they struggle to dig deeper into the ground.

 

Our hard work paid off, and in a manner of two hours, eighteen trees had been planted in their new home. This, however, did not discourage many from persevering and continuing to move mulch and helped set-up the drip irrigation system for the trees until noon. As the event came to an end, volunteers then began to place shovels, garden rakes and wheel barrows next to the trailer they had gotten them out from.

 

They scuffed the mud collected underneath their shoes away on the pavement and asked when the next tree planting was going to happen.

 

The end of the event, marked a successful first installation of Fairfield’s Urban Forest, but the project is continuing through November 2019! As the project continues, I envision strategically attracting more people and organizations who are interested in working with Sustainable Solano to increase the green infrastructure in Solano County. I hope to increase the capacities of volunteers to go beyond planting trees on the ground (though this is one of the most important parts). Though I am still figuring out just how I will do this, I hope that as volunteers continue to work on this project, they will continue to harvest the power of their community and learn a couple new skills along the way. I am always excited to hear ideas and how people want to be involved!

New “Resilient Neighborhoods” Program Launches in 2019!

By Kassie Munro

Representatives from Sustainable Solano, Vallejo Commission for the Future and Greenbelt Alliance met with PG&E at the JFK Library in Vallejo on December 21st to celebrate the launch of the Resilient Neighborhoods Program

We can’t think of a more fitting way to celebrate our 20th anniversary than with the announcement of a new program that will help to expand our work in improving social, economic and environmental justice in Solano County: Resilient Neighborhoods.

What is “Resilience”?
You may have noticed the term “resilience” popping up more and more in the environmental community, and increasingly in mainstream conversations.  The Community & Regional Resilience Network defines community resilience as “the ability to anticipate risk, limit impact, and bounce back rapidly through survival, adaptability, evolution, and growth in the face of turbulent change.” In short, resilience is about surviving and thriving, regardless of the challenge. It’s easy to understand why this topic is garnering so much attention today, as we face the reality of our changing climate – from droughts to heat waves, to the devastating fires that have ravaged our state.  There is an urgent need to strengthen our cities’ capacity to adapt to these stressors, and we see this as an inspiring opportunity to develop a new holistic sustainability program that aims to help our cities better serve the needs of our residents today and into the future.

 

The Resilient Neighborhoods Program
The Resilient Neighborhoods program will drive the restoration of regenerative ecosystem services in our urban landscape to improve the social and environmental resilience of our communities.  This program introduces a concept of shared solutions and collective actions to the community, in which a few nearby houses cooperate to install and enjoy various sustainability elements. Utilizing low-cost, low-tech measures, these clusters of homes will transform into a Resilience Hub. Informed by leading edge sciences, including biomimicry (which you can read more about here) and permaculture, we will facilitate the installation of sustainable solutions that can help transform our built environment from a resource sink, into a functioning producer of ecosystem services. This program has the potential to demonstrate that, block by block, neighborhoods can produce clean air, maintain clean water, create healthy soil, sequester carbon, reduce heat, and support biodiversity. These environmental benefits have a cascading effect into health and wellness and economic prosperity. In addition, when implemented in a cooperative model of shared services, they provide the framework for social benefits like disaster preparedness and community support networks.

The Resilient Neighborhoods program will be a collaborative effort with community partners, from city leadership to like-minded organizations, and, most importantly, the residents.  This work is about empowering our citizens to take an active role in the stewardship of their local environment.  By providing education, skill building, and much-needed resources, we hope to foster local champions that will help expand grass-roots movements and create more resilient cities across our county.

 

The Vallejo Pilot
The inaugural phase of this program will be launched this year in Vallejo, made possible by generous funding from PG&E and support from our partners at the Vallejo Commission for the Future and Greenbelt Alliance. Over the next twelve months we will complete two demonstration installations, each consisting of a small cluster of three to five residences in traditionally disadvantaged communities in need of revitalization. Each pilot Resilience Hub will receive a suite of sustainability measures tailored to its unique composition, addressing both the individual homes and surrounding communal areas.

Example measures that will be utilized to create these Resilience Hubs include: 

  • Laundry to landscape greywater systems
  • Roofwater diversion & capture
  • Bioswales
  • Tree planting
  • Shade structures
  • Edible landscaping
  • Adopting “cool” building colors
  • Energy efficiency measures
  • Solar power
  • Water efficiency measures
  • Disaster preparedness

By linking our Resilience Hubs with nearby community organizations we can also encourage engagement and collaboration within the larger neighborhood.  Incorporating the same sustainability measures applied to the residences, these “Resilience Centers” will have the potential to serve as an oasis of shade and moisture during heat waves, offer a community garden space, facilitate disaster response and preparedness, and act as a central point for organizing neighborhood resources and communication.

All installations will serve as free educational workshops, open to the community at large. The work will be completed entirely by the community, for the community. The completed pilot Resilience Hubs will also serve as public educational platforms for years to come.

We have formed a skilled Advisory Board comprised of local experts and passionate partners to help us carry out this pilot program in Vallejo.  The Board will provide guidance as we continue to hone our vision, aid in selecting locations and participants, and support efforts to build our capacity for expansion.

We will begin holding collaborative planning discussions with Vallejo residents in early February, and look forward to working with our neighbors to create meaningful change in the community. 

Onward and Upward
These installations will demonstrate the social, environmental, and economic impact possible through small-scale collective action, and we are thrilled to have an opportunity to show proof of concept for this approach to community resilience, which we hope to expand across Solano County.

If you are interested in learning more or getting involved, please contact Resilient Neighborhoods Program Manager, Kassie Munro at kassie@sustainablesolano.org.

SPICE UP YOUR LIFE AND STAY WELL THIS WINTER!

By Lyta Hamm, Solano County Herbalist and Wellness Educator

With the days growing colder; the winter and cold and flu season is upon us. Practicing good self-care and incorporating herbs and spices in our diet can help keep our health and immunity strong; increasing our odds of staying well and not getting as sick when we do catch something.

BASIC HEALTH PROMOTING PRACTICES AND REMINDERS TO STAY WELL:

  • Sleep 7-8 hours a night. Sleep is an underutilized health elixir with many benefits for your health, immunity and mood.
  • Practice stress reduction in the way that best works for you, whether it is a walk in nature, laughing with friends or yoga and meditation.
  • Get some physical movement in each day, you don’t have to go to a gym; every minute of any physical movement and stretching counts!
  • Hydrate! You might not be as thirsty in the winter months, but you still need water for optimum health.
  • Eat well and eat more fruits and vegetables which are packed full of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients that keep healthy and ward off disease.
  • Add more herbs and spices to your diet!

SPICE UP YOUR LIFE!

Many commonly used culinary spices and herbs have immunity and digestive enhancing properties as well as making our food taste better. Traditionally, most cultures incorporate many spices and herbs in their daily diet to maintain health and prevent illness. Basic food seasonings such as garlic, ginger, hot chilies, horseradish, rosemary, oregano, thyme, basil, sage, turmeric and cinnamon are all useful, especially in the winter season, to promote our vitality.

WANT TO LEARN MORE? 

Attend the “Spice up Your Life and Fire Cider Demo” workshop this month and learn how to use more of the herbs and spices that are widely available and in your cupboard. Learn how to make infused vinegars and watch a demonstration of how to make Fire Cider!

  • WHAT: “Spice up Your Life” workshop on using spices and herbs to stay healthy and Fire Cider demo
  • WHO: Presented by Lyta Hamm, Herbalist and Wellness Educator
  • WHERE: Tune Up Massage Works, located at 1212 Georgia St. Vallejo, CA 94590
  • WHEN: Saturday, December 15, 2018 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
  • COST: $40 includes a bottle of Fire Cider vinegar to take home

If you can’t make it to the workshop, and still want to make a batch of Fire Cider vinegar, learn from the original creator of Fire Cider, herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JU8U0bDmXks

Regenerate Culture: from the Women of Abundance Gathering

By Marlen Otten, Board Secretary, Sustainable Solano

A new movement is emerging throughout the Bay Area where women are connecting to collaborate and embrace their visions for a sustainable and regenerative future for all. Conversations arise about the concepts of abundance, sustainability and what it means to be “regenerative”.

To explore these concepts more deeply, Alexis Koefoed of Soul Food Farm had envisioned for a long time to host a special event at her Soul Food Farm on the outskirts of Vacaville. On Saturday, September 22, 2018, this vision became a reality when women and men gathered at her farm for the first-ever “Women of Abundance: Women Entrepreneurs in the Regenerative Culture, Economy, and Community” event.

The key theme of this gathering was the exploration of the meaning of “regenerative”. It was proposed that “regenerative” is defined as a “living, evolving and naturally functioning environment where abundance and resilience are recurring outcomes of its underlying health”. This idea is closely linked to wide-ranging economic factors throughout our communities in Solano County and the Bay Area. To create regenerative local economies, awareness and education help strengthen the relationship with local food producers and consumers towards an ecologically balanced system. “Regeneration” is also the central theme of the work at Sustainable Solano. Our interest in and commitment to regeneration is at the heart of what we do as we continue to work on our vision for an environmentally and economically sustainable and socially just local food system in our county.

At this unique gathering, a panel of six successful Bay Area women entrepreneurs and farmers was led in discussion by Erin Walkenshaw, who is part of a new movement of spirited women in the Bay Area who are breaking new ground in the world of farming. The panel included Kelly D. Carlisle of Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project, in Oakland, Elisabeth Prueitt, co-founder of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, Nicolette Hahn Niman of Niman Ranch in Bolinas, Rebecca Burgess, Executive Director of Fibershed and Chair of the Board for Carbon Cycle Institute, Helena Sylvester, co-owner and lady farmer at Happy Acre Farm and Jessica Prentice, co-founder of Three Stone Hearth, the nation’s first Community Supported kitchen.

The panel of women leaders shared in one word about the stage where they are at currently, which ranged from transitioning to transformation, surrendering and doing less, highlighting how there is an ebb and flow in life while maintaining a sense of abundance. The participants explored their individual meaning of abundance and their vision for a regenerative agriculture – how to build and shape the traits that give women the strength and empowerment to lift themselves up to continue their work.

The panelists also revealed lessons women can use to reaffirm the support they have historically shared with one another to become successful and what they would do when things get tough, including the need to be in communication with each other. They examined the abundance model versus the competition model, the role of money and power as well as the meaning of equality versus fairness, or the lack thereof, in today’s society. All agreed the need for policies that would support healthy soils as part of a healthy ecology.

This conversation about regeneration and abundance was topped off with culinary delights by local Solano County producers. Attendees we able to explore the goodness of local olive oil and farm eggs, honey by Pleasants Valley Honey Co., fragrant lavender products by Girl on the Hill and they were able to enjoy local oven-baked pizza by Bella Fiamma and local organic cream by Documentary and portrait photographer Paige Green of Petaluma shared her inspiring exhibition of panelist portraits under the big olive tree, where attendees shared inspiring paper notes with their interpretation of the meaning of abundance.

We are grateful for Alexis Koefoed’s vision and taking the initiative to make this inspiring event happen. Events like this bring together the hearts and minds within the community and empower participants to take part in the creation of a sustainable and regenerative future we strive for, and we look forward to the next event.

Resilient Neighborhoods. Stronger Communities: A Vision For the Future

Richard Fisher, of the Vallejo for the Future Commission, reflects on the state of the world and talks about our shared vision for our Resilient Neighborhoods project we plan to pilot in Vallejo next year. 

Understanding Biomimicry

Biomimicry, as Richard describes it, is the practice of emulating biological forms, processes, and systems to address human challenges. He is particularly keen on applying this innovation to enable cities to function like ecosystems. For example, parts of cities—including buildings, streets, parks, industry, community programs, etc.—can be induced to perform ecological functions that serve the larger whole. This includes filtering water, cycling nutrients, cleaning the air, fostering biodiversity, storing water, building healthy soil, and regulating local temperatures like local native ecosystems.

Companies have begun to understand the economic value of the services that ecosystems provide—“how much would it cost a company to purify water, like a watershed would, for free?” Puma and other future-facing companies are conducting environmental profit and loss (EP&L) reports on the impacts of doing business. The environmental loss is readily understood—Puma is measuring exactly how much clean water, a gift from the watershed, it uses or pollutes to create a shoe. Richard is working on how to enhance the environmental profit side of the equation—“How much clean water can a product, company or city create for its watershed?”

Richard explains, “By challenging cities to meet or exceed the ecological performance of local native ecosystems, cities can become generous contributors of conditions that foster a safer, healthier and more resilient world. Not only do our local native ecosystems provide metrics for resilience, they also provide a model for how to get there. In addition to ecological performance, a city can set social performance standards based on community values like those of Vallejo’s recent General Plan Update Guiding Principles. Strategies for addressing these social aspirations can be sourced from native ecosystems as well as nature is teeming with models of anything from coordinating housing, to cycling resources, to cultivating community.”

With these social and ecological performance standards, cities can evaluate decisions based on the extent to which they positively or negatively affect progress toward their social and environmental goals. This degree of transparency would empower communities with tools to hold decision-makers accountable and gives them the information they need to push for policies that align with community values. Perhaps most exciting is that achieving ecological performance can provide a means for achieving social performance and vice versa.

As an example, Richard ties the two together by asking, “How can filtering water, sequestering carbon, supporting biodiversity, etc. create meaningful jobs, increase access to healthy food, and lift people out of poverty?”

With this type of thinking, meeting these aspirational goals in Vallejo provides a pathway for social innovation, new jobs, and more social engagement. These benefits can also help promote more sustainable culture, lift people out of poverty, and enhance the community’s quality of life as a whole. Richard is currently working with Sustainable Solano on a resilient neighborhood project to pilot these concepts.

This work in biomimicry is closely related to Greenbelt Alliance’s work to create sustainable and resilient communities—“Cities that are conducive to life,” as Richard would say. Through biomimicry, he asks “How can we leverage the genius of native ecosystems to inspire socio-ecological standards in our city?”

As Greenbelt Alliance promotes sustainable infill development throughout the Bay Area, we can frame the creation of our cities and towns through this biomimicry-inspired lens. By turning them into sustainable ecosystems, we can help our cities and towns meet the demands of more individuals. Doing so also helps prevent the need to sprawl outward into suburban and rural areas where the lands simply aren’t equipped with the resources to create a thriving urban ecosystem.

Turning Potential into Action

From Richard’s perspective, one of Vallejo’s main challenges is that it has limited resources to address community needs. It is a city that is trying to stay afloat after bankruptcy with a backlog of basic services waiting to be met. Adding to the scarcity of resources is the lack of external funding for community non-profits—Solano County has by far the lowest per capita giving in the Bay Area, at about $3. Too often, this lack of resources results in Vallejo missing out on opportunities and applying band-aid solutions rather than solving problems at the roots.

Richard elaborates, “Vallejo has the capacity within it to solve its challenges but needs bold leadership to nurture a culture of possibility and resource innovation. Look at how ecosystems deal with scarce resources. By drawing upon biological inspiration for cycling nutrients in closed loops and cultivating cooperative relationships, we can identify more effective ways to leverage Vallejo’s existing talents and resources.

I am currently working with multiple organizations on initiatives to foster greater connectivity between community needs and assets. One of the community assets I believe is underutilized are Vallejo’s anchor institutions—the medical and educational institutions that are the largest employers in the city. The employment, purchasing, and investment power of these institutions, along with those of the city government, as potential assets that can be utilized multi-functionally to more effectively meet community needs.

I am currently organizing a summit to bring community leaders together to constellate community needs with these assets. The goal is to leverage the capacity of anchor institutions for local training, hiring, investment, and procurement to catalyze policies and programs that achieve shared community performance values. While adopting an Anchor Mission represents a huge lever for changing the way Vallejo thinks about its resources, I believe that tapping into human capital on a small scale can also have major impacts.”

The people of Vallejo are caring, friendly, and hold a lot of pride for their city. In Richard’s view, Vallejo’s residents should be empowered to use their talents and passions to improve their home. This belief led him to start a microgranting potluck dedicated to celebrating and empowering community projects in Vallejo.

Taking Stock of Vallejo SOUP

Richard’s love for his city is perhaps most visible in an event he brought to the city earlier this year, Vallejo SOUP. Originally held in Detroit, Michigan in 2010, SOUP events invite community members to gather together and crowdfund support for local projects, all while eating “soup,” which attendees bring for a large potluck community dinner. Recognizing his neighbors’ passionate desire to better their city, Fisher was confident Vallejo SOUP would be a success. But the results immediately exceeded his expectations.

Richard expected a crowd of around 30 for Vallejo SOUP’s first gathering back in April. Instead, he was thrilled to see 65 people show up, more than doubling his expectations. Over the course of the evening, the attendees watched as four project groups each presented a proposal to improve Vallejo. The crowd was treated to proposals on mental health, youth theater, homelessness, and a city bike plan.

“Vallejo’s greatest strength is its people, who care deeply about making their city a better place.”—Richard Fisher

During the evening, the generous and enthusiastic crowd donated $1,500, which was awarded to the four project groups as prize money. After this initial success, Fisher hopes to organize another event every few months. That way, he can keep nurturing residents’ interest in local activism and community participation.

Richard’s efforts are an excellent example of how just one resident can drastically improve his community by strengthening the social fabric to create greater resilience. One individual’s actions can be a catalyst for much-needed social change, especially when backed by other inspired community members. Greenbelt Alliance’s Development Endorsement Program functions similarly, but on an organizational level. It is a way to promote community health and environmental sustainability within cities and to inspire more smart growth by leading with individual examples.Richard’s sustainability-focused efforts also remind us to look to nature for solutions to our modern problems.


Richard Fisher is a Vallejo local applying the principles of biomimicry to community building. Richard’s background in engineering and education in biomimicry trained him to think at the systems level—to see how all of the interrelated and interconnected components of a city, like Vallejo, can be leveraged to create a cohesive sense of place and a thriving city. He has spent the last two years studying unique ecosystems—from the Canadian Rockies to the rainforests of Costa Rica—with an interdisciplinary team, seeking innovative solutions to the social challenges of our time.

If you or someone you know is doing exciting and innovative smart growth or conservation work, email Solano County Regional Representative, Amy Hartman at ahartman@greenbelt.org.