Fostering Food Security Through Collaboration

By Sustainable Solano

Food insecurity is a big challenge in Solano County, where 13.7% of residents don’t have a stable food supply, compared with 11.6% for the state, according to Solano Public Health. In recent months, Sustainable Solano has been in conversation with organizations that are taking the initiative to move food from farms and gardens onto the plates of county residents. These organizations are seeking ways to collaborate toward supplying more people with the good food they need.

Sustainable Solano strives to build community around immediate personal connection, and an emphasis on healthy local food that provides greater food security and resilience is an important part of that connection. Our current food system doesn’t support this vision, which is why we applaud the efforts of organizations that are supporting ways to give on a personal level to people in need.

In the coming months, we hope to bring you more resources to share in the community and how you can get involved.

Images courtesy of Solano Land Trust

From Fair to Food

Solano Land Trust is known for its work preserving agricultural land and open space around Solano County, but the organization has recently expanded its efforts to include a farm-to-community food connection. It started when the COVID-19 restrictions canceled the Dixon May Fair and moved the Solano County Fair from a large public event to an online virtual event this year. While the livestock auctions for the fairs were able to transition to an online bid process, Solano Land Trust officials wanted to support the kids. The organization was able to purchase a steer and two pigs this year, coordinate the difficult task of processing those animals, and deliver the meat to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano County.

The food bank reports increased food insecurity as a result of COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, an estimated 43,650 people did not have access to enough nutritious food in the county. The number is expected to grow by 23,690 people this year due to the effects of the pandemic, the Solano Land Trust and food bank report.

Solano Land Trust is finding other ways to distribute food to those in need. The organization has supplied more than 1,000 tomato, squash, melon, pepper and eggplant starts donated by Morningsun Herb Farm to the food bank and other community food distribution organizations. Solano Land Trust also has been collecting restricted donations used to purchase more than 3,600 pounds of produce from local farms. So far, the organization has bought produce from Eatwell Farm, Tenbrink Farms and Fully Belly Farms. The purchased food is then donated through the food bank and distributed through the mobile food pharmacy, which focuses on getting fresh produce to people whose doctors have prescribed that they eat healthy.

Learn more and donate to the Solano Land Trust’s Farm to Community Food Connection program here.

Images courtesy of Food is Free Solano

Food. For Free

Food is Free Solano has grown in leaps from when Heather Pierini started with a small stand in her front yard to distribute extra produce (Heather is one of Sustainable Solano’s Food Forest Keepers and recently expanded her garden so she could offer more to her community members). Since starting with that one stand and seeing the need for food in her community, Heather started coordinating other permanent and pop-up stands as Food is Free Benicia. Next thing we knew, she was arranging the donation and distribution of 4,000 gallons of milk! She has since changed the name to Food is Free Solano to reflect the wider scope of her vision. Working with local nonprofit WAHEO, she has been able to arrange distribution of food boxes through the USDA’s Farmers to Families food box program. So far, Food is Free Solano has distributed over 90,000 pounds of produce and 8,000 gallons of milk. Heather’s also been involved in promoting gleaning of fruit trees through starting the Solano Gleaning Initiative, with distribution through the Food is Free Solano stands.

Learn more about Food is Free Solano and Heather’s work and donate here.

Image courtesy of Fairfield-Suisun Rotary Club
Sustainable Solano’s Avant Garden in Benicia

Gleaning Gets Going

Gleaning is gaining legs as people are looking for more sources of food that have been only sporadically utilized in Solano County. The Fairfield-Suisun Rotary Club saw the need for fresh produce among those receiving food assistance and identified gleaning as a way to serve that need. Through the new Rotary Feeds Families program, Rotary Club volunteers turn out to pick the fruit and then deliver it to the food bank or Meals on Wheels.

Learn more about the Rotary Club’s gleaning efforts here, and contact Kimber Smith if you have fruit to harvest. You can reach her at  kimbersmith2010@gmail.com or 707-333-9830.

The next step in gleaning will be creating more coordination between the organizations that are offering gleaning services around the county and community food distribution organizations. This is an area Sustainable Solano hopes to support in the future in cooperation with the Solano Land Trust, the Rotary Club and Food is Free Solano.

Toward Greater Collaboration

Our dedication to sharing food within communities stretches back to the establishment of Sustainable Solano’s very first community garden in Benicia 21 years ago. Our community gardens have “share plots” that grow food for giving, and many of the community gardeners and food forest keepers we work with also give food as their gardens grow in abundance. Already this year, Avant Garden in downtown Benicia has donated around 130 pounds of squash, zucchini and peppers to organizations like Food is Free Solano and CAC. Many of the small to medium-sized local farms we work with offer opportunities to purchase donated boxes of produce through their Community Supported Agriculture programs, creating ways to support local farms and provide food for people who need it. All of these efforts are important, and we are excited about working with other organizations to coordinate all of our efforts toward the common goal of sharing more food with neighbors in various ways.

Learn more about Sustainable Solano’s work and donate here or contact us at info@sustainablesolano.org

If you or your organization is interested in joining these efforts, please reach out to us at info@sustainablesolano.org

You can find more local food resources here on our site, and more food access support and resources on our COVID-19/Community Resilience Resources page here.

Creating Change During a Crisis

By Sustainable Solano

When there is a crisis, it often can reveal underlying flaws in the existing system as well as opportunities for change. It has become apparent to us at Sustainable Solano that the current economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic (businesses shuttered, one in four people in the workforce filing for unemployment, increased need for food and other assistance) also opens the dialogue for how to shift our economy in a way that works for more people.

In particular, we wanted to take a look at the breakdown in the nation’s industrial food system and how strengthening and growing local food systems could support regenerative approaches to agriculture, create more local jobs, stimulate the local economy and create a more robust system that would weather future downturns better than the current system. This led to our open letter to California’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery.

Sustainable Solano also has joined more than 100 organizations in calling for equity, community-driven and comprehensive solutions, and capacity building in the recovery. These organizations, representing the environmental justice, equity, natural resources, transportation and energy sectors, offered principles and recommendations to embrace systemic transformation. You can find a copy of that letter and more on the recommendations here.

We hope the problems and solutions raised in these letters will be heard by those in positions of power to shape policy and move away from business as usual to transformative change.

Read Sustainable Solano’s open letter to the task force below.

Open Letter to Tom Steyer and the Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery

As the Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery explores what steps to take to ensure a steady, stable and long-lasting economic recovery within California, we at Sustainable Solano urge you to move toward an economy that works for more people, supporting the citizens of California and the small businesses upon which so many communities rely. In large part, a recovery in California will require a transformation of agriculture and our food system to create more local, resilient and regenerative approaches that are better for those who work in the system, the environment and citizens who need access to healthy, local food while supporting a local economy.

An Economic Strategy for the Way Forward

Sustainable Solano is a nonprofit grassroots organization in Solano County. Through our work, which grew out of community gardens and sustainable, edible landscapes, we have seen the need for access to healthy, local food. In 2017, we started building a local food system that supports our local farmers and creates appreciation and demand for food grown locally. We want to see a food system that is environmentally regenerative, economically viable and socially just. Supporting a local food system with some creative thought on how to help those hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis — those who have lost jobs, communities of color, the homeless and low-income communities — can create a way forward that helps to boost those communities even while building a robust system that will weather the next downturn with less disruption. This directly addresses your task of developing a fair, green, people-centered economic strategy to help the state recover.

Replacing a Flawed System with Resilient Local Food Systems

We urge you to consider approaches informed by the New Deal as well as the Green New Deal — finding ways to support citizens, provide work and improve the resilience of communities as we strengthen the economy and better the planet. The current situation has revealed cracks in the existing system of industrial agriculture, where food is treated as a commodity exchanged between institutions rather than the foundation that supports people’s health and well-being.

Farmers often grow products that are shipped out of state and out of the country for processing or sale in a vast global supply chain. The flaws in this system are now exposed: food is flushed down drains and rots in the field while people go hungry. We encourage supporting local food systems where farmers can get a fair price for their food within a local market that in turn supports the creation of more jobs.

Supporting local farms that operate in sustainable ways and providing local markets for what they produce will support communities around the state. Access to local food reduces the carbon footprint of the food people buy, returns more of the profit to the farmers who are able to sell directly to consumers and nearby institutions, such as schools or hospitals, and has a multiplier effect for the local economy, boosting local business spending and jobs. You have the unique opportunity to encourage systemic change through the development and growth of local systems, based on successful models that already exist in the state, such as the local food system in San Diego.

Financial Support for Workers and Farmers

We envision that those who need work could find jobs within the local food system, including on farms, in restaurants, through distribution, in the production of value-add products and more. But we also suggest supporting those workers through an underlying Universal Basic Income, offering financial support to meet their basic needs, helping them pay bills and bolster the local economy even as they build the new food system. Having UBI to offset part of their salaries would also help to support smaller farms that have less capacity to increase production, allowing them to bring on additional workers at a lower price point. This again strengthens the system, and in ways that move away from food stamps and food banks, but rather support agricultural practices that pour resources back into the local economy.

A Move from Business as Usual

Now more than ever we are faced with a crisis that presents new opportunities to change from business as usual to business that supports even those who are most vulnerable in society. We urge you to reach out to community organizations like our own that are prepared to carry the vision forward. These organizations are ready to do the legwork to effect change in our current system, but we need the political will, high-level imagination and courage that comes from government and business leaders such as yourself and those represented on the task force.

CSA Farm Spotlight: Soul Food Farm

By Sustainable Solano

This is an ongoing series profiling local farms that have Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) available in Solano County. CSAs create a way for community members to buy a share of the harvest directly from local farmers. Customers pay a set amount and receive a box of seasonal produce or other farm products in return. Such arrangements help farmers receive a greater share of the money paid, bring customers fresh, local produce and promote health, community and the local economy.

Eggs from Soul Food Farm

Soul Food Farm, off of Pleasants Valley Road in Vacaville, sits on land that was a family farm since 1850 and had lain fallow for 30 years before Eric and Alexis Koefoed bought it in 1997. They officially named it Soul Food Farm in 2000. Known for its pastured eggs and olive oil, the farm started by selling eggs to the community and then to restaurants. “It all happened so fast we didn’t have time to write a business plan, but the mission was always to grow clean, fresh, real food that people could afford,” Alexis said.

There is a farm stand at the front of the property and the farm is often host to workshops and events, including the annual Women of Abundance conference. When COVID-19 upended the way local farmers were distributing their products, the Koefoeds took the steps necessary to start selling products from a variety of farmers directly to consumers through the Soul Food Farm CSA.

Below is a Q&A with Alexis about Soul Food Farm:

 

  • Soul Food Farm
  • Vacaville
  • 55 acres
  • Established 2000

 

When did you start offering a CSA? Why was it important to offer?

In this current pandemic and shelter in place, the closure of small businesses, restaurants and markets has had a huge impact on farmers, ranchers and food producers (chefs) and the ability for people to access nutrient-dense food. It seemed imperative to pivot and to build a CSA that farmers could come together on and sell their food — a way to connect farmers to customers and get good food out into the community.

Are there special perks for CSA members? Why do people tend to subscribe?

We have set it up a little differently than traditional CSAs. It is still operated on the premise of Community Supported Agriculture, but there is no membership fee. I wanted the flexibility for people to join with ease, and also it wasn’t practical to have a membership fee with so many items from different farms on the site. This way, they can purchase just what they want and the system I’ve designed handles all the orders and inventory. That being said, I may change it in the future. The story is still unfolding.

What’s something that makes your farm stand out?

I don’t know if Soul Food Farm stands out as different from any other small farm, but the guiding principles of the farm have always been simple: That the farm should embody beauty, form and function. That simple was best. Our strength was in staying small and diverse. There have been times over the years when we drifted from those core principles and beliefs, but we always found our way back. And there would never have been a Soul Food Farm if it wasn’t for the customers and farm friends who have been part of our story.

Anything exciting on the horizon? What do you see happening and what do you want to see happen with interest in local food?

I think this upending of our economy in many ways is a reason to feel some excitement. We are watching people come together and exhibit great acts of kindness. It’s a painful adjustment, of course, but it’s forcing us all to be creative and inspired about how we view our businesses. We have the possibility now to create a new system of food equity:

  • A sound regional food system that includes access, transportation, a closer connection between farmers and consumers.
  • The understanding that food is our common denominator and is not a commodity but a human right.
  • The uplifting of small and regional food production as opposed to large, clumsy and cruel.
  • Farmers in each region supporting food security in a more profound way and the community responding with financial support.

The world is changing and it could be a wonderful moment to create truly regenerative systems. The old way of corporations controlling our food supply is no longer feasible. The fractures of that big ag system have been revealed. The smaller farmers and their advocates are picking up the work of feeding people, building new supply chains and working out how to alleviate food insecurity with an intensity like never before.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Soul Food Farm CSA is adding new farmers, ranchers and small business owners each week to our list. We are going to keep operating the CSA as long as needed to help bring farmers and customers together.

The Soul Food Farm CSA is available for pickup at the farm on Saturdays. Orders go live Saturdays at 10 am and close Wednesdays at 5 pm. Learn more here.

Find out more about local CSAs here.

Local Food Reflections from the Sustainable Solano Team

By Sustainable Solano

Building awareness of the benefits of buying local food and building a local food system that supports our farmers and food producers is a key part of the work we do at Sustainable Solano. We have seen the interest in buying directly from producers explode in recent weeks as the pandemic affects supply lines and people are seeking a reliable source of food that reduces their dependence on the grocery store and food shipped across state and international lines. In talking about this growing interest, our team started sharing how we buy locally, which supports the local economy even as we benefit from having a closer relationship with the people behind our food. We wanted to share that with you, our community. None of us does it perfectly, but we support local food in a way that works for each of us.

A beautiful selection of CSA contents

Elena Karoulina

Executive Director

I am so grateful to our local farmers, ranchers, fishermen and producers for keeping my family well-fed and healthy. Since we started the “What’s for Dinner?” educational program in Benicia in 2012, our family food supply has been shifting toward truly local. Today, we source more than 80% of our family food from local sources. Our produce comes from Terra Firma Farm in Yolo County. Over the years, we got to know the farmers, visited the farm a few times and developed a wonderful annual rhythm of seasonal bounty: spring comes with sugar peas, asparagus and strawberries, summer is at its best with juicy tomatoes and corn, and later in the season — colorful watermelons (a favorite summer game for my children is to guess a color of our weekly watermelon — red or yellow); we slowly shift toward persimmons and squashes in the fall, and winter announces itself with endless greens and citruses. We are nourished by this seasonal rhythm and never crave an out-of-season item!

To our great surprise, we learned that our fish/seafood and meat supplies are seasonal too. All our fish comes from Real Good Fish, a collective of local fishermen. Every week we know the name of the captain who caught our fish (and the name of the boat!), the method that was used (only sustainable) and the place it was caught. Our meat and eggs come from Tara Firma Farms in Petaluma. Being a strong believer in regenerative agriculture, I am so happy to source from the ranchers who do it right. They are “the grass farmers”! Cows are roaming freely on the green hills, improving the health of the soil and nourishing us.

Our olive oil comes from Sepay Oil Company and occasionally from Soul Food Farm (we are thrilled they re-opened their CSA — their eggs were once named “The Best Eggs of the Bay Area” by San Francisco magazine). You have to try them! If I have a chance, I buy Central Milling flour, and I’m so grateful The Barn & Pantry in Dixon carries it. I pick up a bag every time I am in Dixon! Our family is not big on jams, but if we want some, Lockwood Acres in Vacaville or Cloverleaf in Dixon are our go-to suppliers. Our dairy and other random items comes from a local grocery store. We grow herbs, strawberries (you can never have enough!) and blueberries in our tiny home garden.

Ben Lyons of Lockewood Acres

Gabriela Estrada

Listening Circles and Solano Gardens Program Manager

Allison and I have been sharing a CSA box from Eatwell Farm for a while now. This arrangement has been great because we get a couple more items in our box. Sharing the box has been amazing since I’ve gotten to try vegetables that I would have never thought to buy in the store like broccoflower, turnips, fennel, green garlic, among others. This has led to Allison often sharing recipes with me, and giving me insight on how to cook some of the items I haven’t tried. Some I’ve loved like turnips, while some I’ve yet to find the right recipe for, such as fennel. In addition to this, I’ve also planted a few seeds in my garden including corn, cucumbers, watermelons, green beans and tomato starts in my backyard, and am in the process of researching plants that would benefit a small orange tree, in order to make my first tree guild. The current times are not ideal, but having the privilege to have a backyard to plant on and a CSA buddy that I can share the cost of a box with (and who guides me with cooking tips) has been a definite plus that keeps me well-balanced!

Another thing that I tend to source locally is honey from The Lazy Barn in Fairfield. While I do this to try to alleviate really bad spring allergies, I often indulge and put in on my teas and sweet treats too. Along with the honey, I also sometimes source raw milk from them (though I don’t do this as often, since I don’t consume a lot of milk products) as there are certain very traditional Mexican dishes where store-bought milk just won’t do. All in all, it’s been a real pleasure (and a tasty one) to support local businesses that do their best to provide the people of Solano County with local food options!

 

Packing up the CSA boxes at Terra Firma Farm

Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan

Chef and Local Food Program Manager

My relationship with local food goes way back to my childhood in Nebraska, when I watched my grandfather pull endless produce from his backyard garden and pass it on to my grandmother who preserved and canned a lot of it. They were young parents during the Great Depression and had more mouths to feed during World War II; having a cellar full of home-canned goods was a necessity and my grandmother carried on with this practice well into the 1980s and ’90s. Fast forward 40-odd years and here I am: a trained chef raising my own children, trying to teach them where food comes from, how to prepare it, and now — in the current COVID-19 pandemic — how we waste as little as possible, be resourceful with ingredients we have on hand and be patient while waiting for the next grocery order or CSA pickup.

When I was in culinary school in Chicago in 2003, the local food scene was just gaining momentum — farmers markets were popping up in various neighborhoods and fellow chefs were talking about sourcing locally and naming partner farms on their menus. Shortly after moving to California in 2011, I was pleasantly shocked at how the “growing season” never really ends (unlike the Midwest!), and I began looking for how to grow and source local organic food. I signed up for a community garden bed in Benicia and had raised beds installed in our backyard. Needless to say, right now I’m very thankful to be living near rural areas where there are several Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms. Around 2012, I subscribed to Terra Firma Farm’s CSA and then joined Tara Firma Farms, Real Good Fish and Eatwell Farm. While I certainly appreciated all this super-fresh food and the farmers who grow it (my dad was a farmer, too), I didn’t fully grasp all the benefits and potential of local food (economic, social, etc.) until becoming involved with Sustainable Solano in 2016. Today, as Sustainable Solano’s Local Food program manager, I’ve delved into the problems and issues behind our current food system, and have been envisioning what a functioning and resilient local food system looks like. While our world is changing every day right now — and there are experts out there who have studied food systems far longer than I have — I can’t help but think that the answer may be similar to what my grandparents had. Meanwhile, special thanks and appreciation to our farmers and gardeners!

Packing coolers at Real Good Fish

Kassie Munro

Resilient Neighborhoods Program Manager and Farm Coordinator

I have always enjoyed gardening — a word that, to me, conveys an activity more than a product. I love my vegetable gardens, and cooking for loved ones with homegrown ingredients has always been a great joy that I feel grateful to have the luxury of doing. While I have a small yard in a residential neighborhood I know that I am very fortunate to have the space, time and capacity to grow some of my own food, which this year includes eggs with the welcome addition of our three new chickens (Frankie, Charlie and Harry). But it has always felt like that — a luxury, a hobby, a pastime. Self-sufficiency and an understanding of where food comes from is a part of my love for gardening, but I never felt like that was a skill I would need to rely on in my lifetime, until the past few weeks. I am blown away every season by the incredible amount of food that can be grown in a single backyard and even with the meager crops I still have growing at this transitional time in the season, I have been able to harvest a steady amount of fresh, safe, and nutritious greens and eggs for my family and friends. Not only does this help us limit our exposure to shopping in public, sharing my food restores a sense of connection to people I love that I am unable to be with right now. The hours I spend tending, harvesting, washing and packing is perhaps more nourishing for my spirit than the food itself, and while I am preparing now for the next season planting I have a new perspective on the value and importance of what I am doing in my garden.

The backyard chicken crew

Nicole Newell

Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

During this pandemic I realize the importance of the permaculture principle of redundancy. For every basic need we have, it is important to find multiple ways of meeting that need. So basically we aren’t dependent on one source. I would be feeling more vulnerable now if I was getting my food only from the grocery store.

In April 2019 I made a commitment to purchase a CSA box from Eatwell Farm. Every other week I pick up my fruit/veggie box and half-dozen eggs at the CSA drop-off site in Benicia. At first I was uncomfortable with the transition as I enjoy going to the farmers market to personally pick out produce to make recipes that I feel inspired to make.  The CSA box produce is organic and mostly beautiful. Occasionally veggies come and lets just say, they aren’t the ones I would have selected at the market; either it is a veggie that I don’t like or the quality isn’t “perfect.”  Now I totally embrace the box and my meals are created around what I am growing in my yard and what is in the box. I am learning new recipes and beginning to eat spaghetti squash. Today I am grateful that I have an established relationship with Eatwell Farm and I am now aware of all the challenges that farms have to deal with like unseasonably hot weather that makes the cauliflower begin to flower earlier than expected. Local farms also need a commitment from us. They are planting for the amount of people that are signed up for the CSAs and they rely on that financial commitment.

Making the decision in my life to source ethically and locally when funds allow has provided me the opportunity to build relationships with farmers and others in the community that I care about and want to support. A healthy interdependence has emerged and without realizing it — I have redundancy in many of my sources of food:

  • Eatwell CSA box
  • Eggs from 3 chickens in my yard
  • Growing fruits & veggies
  • Relationships with plant nurseries
  • Seed saver
  • Provisions (this restaurant is providing not only pick-up food, but they are selling flour, eggs and even paper products)
  • I get homemade cheese from a friend
  • Sharing with neighbors
An Eatwell CSA box

Allison Nagel

Workforce Development and Communications Manager

I love buying local food. Yes, in my family we still make grocery runs for staples that we aren’t able to source locally, but more and more there are local options for many of the things we need. And you find that the more you buy locally, whether from a family-owned farm or at a restaurant or retail store that sources from local farmers and producers, the more familiar you become with what is available. Every other week, I split a CSA box with Gabriela, creating an opportunity for us both to divvy up what’s available in a way that works for us. I also tend to add on to the box pretty frequently, so that in addition to the produce that was just growing in the field days ago, I’m also able to get dried beans, sauerkraut, miso and even artisan salts. On the other weeks, my family receives a different CSA. These basically replace a large amount of our grocery shopping, for which I’m so grateful (and the produce is fresher, lasts longer and tastes better). It also means sharing in the harvest, whether a bad or good year, with the farmer — getting to know the farmer and the farm through weekly newsletters and social media posts, having the opportunity for farm visits and truly connecting more with your food. I don’t eat meat, but my husband does and has been more mindful of where he’s buying from, which has led to us purchasing meat from a local farm that operates in humane, regenerative ways. This mindset of buying local has influenced our restaurant purchases as well. We now try to ask where the restaurant sources from and appreciate and support those who are working to support our local farms in various ways. I’m a very haphazard gardener, so while I love the idea of growing my own food, and we have various herbs, edible perennials and annual veggies that we try to grow, I also could never rely on my semi-green thumb to feed my family. That’s why I feel so lucky to live near farms where there is a true passion for healthy, sustainably grown food, and that I can be a part of supporting the network that supports those farmers.

Alliance Members Reflect, Connect to Deepen Local Food System Conversation

By Kassie Munro, Program Manager

Solano County Farmbudsman Sarah Hawkins and Kaiser Vallejo Nutritional Services Manager John Healy, both Alliance members, connect during the February meeting. Kaiser Vallejo is the first healthcare organization in Solano that has started sourcing consistently from small farms in the county. 

The Solano Local Food System Alliance held its first quarterly meeting of 2020 at the beginning of February to continue its collaborative effort to foster a strong local food system within the county.

At the February meeting, Alliance members began by reflecting on insights gathered during the October listening sessions, including the nuanced importance of building community health and community wealth, and the strong interest around developing robust farm-to-school programs.

The meeting included a discussion on climate change and agriculture lead by Wendy Rash and an in-depth review of fees and regulations that farmers face to sell their food at different venues compiled by Jahniah McGill and Priscilla Yeaney. A deeper conversation developed around policy and the actions needed to bring about meaningful change that would help our farmers thrive.

The Alliance received updates from the Sustainable Solano team on the recently awarded CDFA Specialty Crop Block Grant that is supporting the development of a number of key initiatives. Those include farm-to-institutional customer sales, public education on the importance of eating locally and the abundance of produce grown in Solano County, including cooking classes across the county, and the development of the first Bounty of the County event slated for August 29.

You can find more details in the meeting minutes here.

Curious about the Solano Local Food System Alliance? Learn more about the USDA grant that led to the creation of the Alliance and find out more about its work here.

Got Specialty Crops? Sustainable Solano Embarks on New Project, Funded by CDFA

By Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan, Local Food Program Manager

In our mission to create a local food system that is environmentally sustainable, economically viable and socially just, Sustainable Solano applied for a “Specialty Crop Block Program” grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. We are pleased to announce that we received the grant! The overall purpose of these funds is to support projects that increase competitiveness of specialty crops in California. Specialty crops are primarily those that we eat (fruit, vegetables, tree nuts, culinary herbs) but also include nursery products. As you might guess, over 100 specialty crops are grown in Solano County!

Sustainable Solano’s project is titled “Solano County Farm to Institution and Public Education Project,” and will take place from November 2019 through March 2022. There are four interrelated parts to the project. The first is development of an “info hub” of specialty crops, farmer profiles and collateral materials to promote Solano-grown specialty crops. Second is building a foundation for in-house hospital kitchens and culinary professionals (restaurants/caterers) to introduce one to two seasonal specialty crops per month. We will help bring attention to these foods through signage and other promotional materials developed in the “info hub.” Third, we will host 88 cooking classes all over the county (yes, 88!), to increase knowledge on the health benefits, sourcing and preparation of specialty crops. Finally, we will partner with Solano County Fairgrounds for a special event called Bounty of the County, which will pair farmers with restaurants for special tastings, educational events and more. We will also examine current county policies on agritourism and work to improve those that do not fully serve our farmers.

You might be wondering why “farm to institution” and “public education”? This project is in response to the results of a feasibility study led by our partners at UC Davis, which concluded that pairing farms with institutional customers (not end consumers) would provide a steady demand and allow them to increase capacity. The feasibility study also showed the need for increased public awareness on local, seasonal food around us and education on cooking/preserving those foods. Our place-based public outreach program seeks to establish personal relationships between communities and the farmers/food around them. Our ultimate goal is to have communities that value local food, leading to greater economic stability for our specialty crop farmers.

Stay tuned for updates, and keep an eye out for those cooking classes! We will be looking for people who know how to cook and want to share that knowledge within their communities by leading these classes. If you’re interested or have questions, send a message to stephanie@sustainablesolano.org