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.



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.


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.


  • 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!


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.


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:

Solano Local Food System Update: Advisory Board Meeting 3

By Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan, Local Food Program Manager

Sustainable Solano’s Local Food Advisory Board had their third meeting on September 18, 2018.  This group was formed to support Sustainable Solano’s Local Food initiative, launched in October 2017, with the help of a USDA Local Food Promotion Program planning grant (to see a full list of Advisory Board members, click here).  The meeting was graciously hosted by Solano Community Foundation in Fairfield, CA.  (Many thanks to all the SCF staff who helped with set-up, lights and technology!)  The meeting began with an overview by Elena Karoulina, Executive Director of Sustainable Solano, who stated that our original project – examining the feasibility of Community Food Centers in Solano County’s seven cities – has outgrown itself.  We have gone beyond the grant and are now envisioning a larger Solano County Local Food System, which will require an alliance among farmers and other stakeholders in the County.

The USDA working group studied existing demand segments in the County:  charity food, retailers, prepared food businesses (i.e. restaurants), and institutional customers.  To get a better sense of the supply – and really understand the needs of our local farmers – we reached out to over 50 local farmers in the County and conducted interviews.  We have at least 12 farmers who are interested and willing to work on the vision of a sustainable, local food system in Solano County.  Another area of study was successful business models, which we could use as a springboard for our own business plan.  These groups included Ceres Community Project (Sebastopol), Three Stone Hearth (Berkeley), Fresh Approach (Concord), Capay Valley Farm Shop (Esparto) and Sierra Harvest (Nevada City).

Next, Kristin Kiesel of UC Davis provided a summary of the data collection process.  Her team has been working to map out the supply in Solano County as accurately as possible.  They used data from aggregated data sources, including the 2012 Ag Census and 2017 Solano Crop Report.  Disaggregated data (farm-level data) was available via the interviews by the working group, and Certified Producer Certificates, which farmers acquire so they can sell at farmers markets in Solano County.  Her next step was to see where these data sources all connect and to identify the overlap.  Also, she and her team have formal requests in to the U.S. government, to acquire more detailed and current Census data.  All of this data, and the resulting findings, will go into the feasibility study for the project.

Following this report was an open discussion around what type of business plan makes sense, for our next step.  Simone Hardy, Solano County Agricultural Commissioner, also provided a brief history of Solano Grown, and where it stands now.  Greg Morrison and myself summarized a 6-week pilot, where he organized logistics of getting local farm products to a kitchen, I cooked dinners (using local product availability as the base for my menus), and then those dinners got delivered to the participants.

Conclusions and findings are as follows:

  • We need to strengthen the infrastructure of Solano’s agricultural community – perhaps in the form of a farmer’s collective/co-op.
  • Farmers need the most assistance with marketing and distribution of products.
  • We need to build community awareness and education around the value of local food, and the system that would support it.
  • We are considering partnering with Economic Development departments in Solano’s cities.
  • We should connect farmers to institutions first (as opposed to end consumers), to ensure consistent demand.
  • We need sustainable relationships between farmers and their customers.
  • We need strong partnerships with organizations and stakeholders, within the local food system.
  • When considering food access, our best efforts will be in “farm to school” program implementation.
  • Our planning process needs to include as diverse a group as possible (i.e. minority farmers, diverse community members).

The meeting ended with everyone listing on paper the values of a local food system.  We will compile these values and let that guide us forward.

The Seasonal Food Guide: Your Farmers’ Market Cheat Sheet

We’ve all heard at least some of the benefits of eating local: fresher produce, better for the environment, contributes to a stronger local economy. Shopping your local farmers’ market is a great way to support your local farmers and eat seasonally. But before you grab your shopping bags and head to the market, you’ll probably want to make a shopping list. But just what is in season? Take the guess work out of what fruits and vegetables are growing in your area right now by using the Seasonal Food Guide, your farmers’ market cheat sheet!

With data on more than 140 fruits and veggies in all 50 states it makes it easier to eat seasonally. Also find tons of recipes, preserving techniques and serving suggestions for all your fruits and veggies, along with great tips for buying and storing. It’s the perfect tool for planning menus, creating shopping lists and looking up recipes before heading to the market. Visiting a new city and curious about what’s available? Check the Guide.

Download the Seasonal Food Guide App for your personal pocket guide to seasonal food wherever you are! You can set reminders for when your favorite produce item is at a farmers’ market near you.

For a list of Solano County Farmers’ Markets, click here.

Got Dinner? 

By Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan, Local Food Project Manager

I once came across a birthday or anniversary card that said something like this:  “I love it when you whisper those 3 little words in my ear…..Let’s Eat Out!”  It’s true.  Making dinner has become something we all love and hate at the same time, and the complexity surrounding it is likely multiplied by how many jobs/children/after-school activities/deadlines you have.  Even as a trained chef, I find myself at times guiltily turning to easy, processed food from a box (i.e. mac & cheese!) for my two boys on any given weeknight.

More truths:  the demand for prepared food has become stronger, and the quality of some prepared foods has become very questionable.  Wouldn’t it be nice if someone were around to cook you healthy dinners, made from ingredients that came from local, organic farmers in Solano County?  Well, that is exactly what has been happening for the past 4 weeks.  In mid-August, I began working on a pilot program with Cultivate Community Food Co-op – funded by Solano Department of Public Health – which I’ve been calling “Community Supported Dinners.”  These dinners are much like what we envisioned within our original Community Food Center model – homemade meals made by local chefs from local ingredients.

The main purpose of this 6-week pilot is to test costs, logistics and other factors involved, which will provide us with information to fine tune the vision.  Greg Morrison (Board Treasurer of the Co-op, and on our USDA Local Food Advisory Board) has organized a distribution plan to get raw food products from the farms to me in the commercial kitchen at Vallejo’s Dan Foley Cultural Center.  Deliveries come Monday and Tuesday mornings, and by Tuesday afternoon, my assistant Veronica Bearce and I have meat or vegetarian dinners cooked, cooled, boxed, labeled and ready to get delivered to folks in Benicia and Vallejo.  Speaking of Veronica, she is also the chef-owner of Veronica’s Veggies, which specializes in vegan food.

The participants for this project are largely Co-op members (sorry – it’s not open to the public yet!), who also have the option to purchase raw ingredients directly from the farms through an online ordering system.  Feedback from the farmers has been positive, because they can get direct-to-consumer sales without having to stand at a farmers market or utilize other resources to get their products to people.  Fresh produce for the project comes from Eatwell Farm (Dixon) and Lockewood Acres (Vacaville).  Meat products are sourced from Tara Firma Farms (Petaluma), and fish is sourced from Real Good Fish, which supports sustainable fishermen/women up and down the California coast.  While I have been ordering products based on consumer counts, I am more interested in knowing whether people would sign up in advance for dinners (similar to how a CSA operates).  Would you pre-pay for, say, two months of dinners every Tuesday?  I promise I won’t make mac & cheese.

Menus thus far:

Aug. 14:  Caribbean Chicken / Black Beans with Sofrito + Coconut Quinoa with Cilantro + Roasted Seasonal Veggies

Aug. 21:  Indian Spiced Lamb Meatballs / Indian Spiced Eggplant + Tzatziki Sauce + Chickpea-Tomato Salad with Feta Cheese + Whole Wheat Pita

Aug. 28:  Spanish Paella with Chicken & Pork Linguica / Paella with Roasted Peppers & Onions + Lemon-Garlic Aioli + Fig Salad with Mixed Greens, Walnuts, Goat Cheese

Sept. 5:  Mustard-Glazed Salmon atop Cannellini Bean & Tomato Ragu + House-made Focaccia + Classic Greek Salad

Special Thanks to Eatwell Farm, Lockewood Acres, Tara Firma Farm, and Real Good Fish for assisting with this project!

Solano Spotlight: Soul Food Farm

By: Marcella Licea

[Photo: Alexis, Owner of Soul Food Farm, Source:]

In the late 1990s, owners Alexis and Eric Koefoed bought 55 acres of prime pasture and farmland off Pleasants Valley Road in Vacaville, a historically agricultural area. The land had been untended for 30 years. Their vision at the beginning was simple – a farm with functionality, beauty and a means to share the fruits of their labor with the people. They began with planting a few olive trees as a family and later started a chicken farm.

Through years of hard work and developing a deeper connection with the land, Alexis and Eric began to further immerse themselves in issues around community land use, the true cost of feeding people, workers’ rights and the humane treatment of animals. Today, Soul Food Farm is working on a number of new expansion projects that will add layers of diversity and variety for community members, such as heirloom peaches, apricots and pears. In addition to more fruit trees, they also plan on extending the olive orchard and are in the planning stages of a farm store, tentatively scheduled to open in the spring of 2019. This farm store will not only sell Soul Food Farm goods, but produce and other products from local farms in the region.

Every year, Soul Food Farm hosts a wide variety of workshops on the farm. Everything from artisan cooking classes, photography, herb gardening, basic chicken care, and so much more; our calendar of events has something for every pallet. This month on Saturday, September 22nd from 1:00pm-4:00pm, engage in a panel discussion between six of the most successful and driven women entrepreneurs of the Bay Area at Soul Food Farm’s first annual Women of Abundance Conference: Women Entrepreneurs in the Regenerative Culture, Economy, and Community. The conference stemmed from Alexis’ interest to explore the dynamics between food and agriculture and its intersection with social justice movements– both integral parts woven into the fabric of Northern California. This event will examine the ideas of competition, explore the realms of abundance and manifestation, and cultivate the possibilities of growing together in success through collaboration and support.  Click here to register and ticket information.