Ways to Connect With Local Food

By Sustainable Solano

At Sustainable Solano, some of our deepest commitments to sustainability, health and community are tied to the importance of food. It is critical not only to provide access to healthy food, but also to support the local farmers, chefs and others that help us bring that bounty to our tables.

One of the challenges we’ve run into is how to draw attention to the different parts of the food system. Toward that end, we’ve created a new page on the site that highlights local food happenings and maps out local farms, farm stands and retail, CSAs, farmers markets, retreats and wineries.

We believe a functioning local food system is a collaborative network that ensures environmental sustainability, economic viability for farmers and others working in the food chain, responsible waste management practices and equal access to fresh, healthy food by all members of our communities.

Toward this end, Sustainable Solano has taken steps to strengthen our food system here in Solano County.

We’ve organized a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Center in Benicia, and we’re starting one in Fairfield as we look for other possible sites around the county. We also hold regular “What’s for Dinner?” cooking workshops to help county residents learn new dishes to cook with seasonal vegetables. Meanwhile, we continue to explore new ways to connect farmers with local customers, whether institutional buyers seeking healthy food or individuals wanting a more sustainable way of putting food on the table that supports the local economy.

Learn more about our local food efforts here.

You’ll find the map below on the new local food happenings page. If you click the icon on the top left of the map, you can select different types of properties and learn a bit about them.

As for the local food happenings, we’ve included upcoming events, such as festivals and workshops on cooking local food, as well as ways to get involved in the local food system, whether arranging a tour with a local farm, subscribing to a CSA membership that secures you a part of the harvest or exploring other agricultural adventures.

If you would like to see anything highlighted that isn’t on the map or event list at this time, please contact Allison Nagel at allison@sustainablesolano.org for consideration.

Wrapped Food and the Big Burrito Debate

By Lisa Núñez-Hancock, Culinary Arts Instructor

One of my favorite things about teaching cooking and the culinary arts is the research and history of food that I get to delve into when creating recipes. For our upcoming Wrap It Up! workshop June 1, I’ve been researching wrapped foods as a tradition that is found around the world. One of the interesting versions is found right here in our home state of California with the burrito.

While burritos are not classically considered a Mexican dish, they most probably have their origins as portable field and farmworker fare carried from home to rural work sites. Although the origins of the burrito have been traced to Cuidad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexico border, the real evolution of the post-modern burrito has occurred in California during the 20th century.

The three major regional sites of burrito evolution have been San Francisco’s Mission District, Los Angeles and the Chicano Scene in East Los Angeles, and inner city San Diego. Each place has its own distinct interpretation of the burrito, and there are ongoing debates about which town and locale makes the best burrito.

The origins of the Mission Style Burrito can be traced to the Mission District neighborhood in San Francisco during the 1960s and 1970s. This burrito is characterized by a large flour tortilla, steam table carne asada, beans, rice, sour cream and onions. El Farro on Folsom stands out as a beacon of Northern California burrito culture. As the culture evolved, and became a regional culinary movement in the 1970s and 1980s, guacamole, shredded cheese and spicy salsas were added to the mix.

The epicenter for burrito mania in Los Angeles is Al & Bea’s on East First Street, in the heart of East Los Angeles. The Los Angeles version is a bean-centric burrito with additions of shredded cheese and salsa. It’s possible that East Los Angeles is the birthplace of the breakfast burrito made with scrambled eggs, chorizo, beans and cheese, and the on-the-go meal for car-centric blue- and white-collar workers.

Last, but not least, San Diego has its own burrito style, characterized by a no-frills meat, cheese and salsa concoction. La Lomita was serving San Diego bean burritos as far back as the 1960s. Later decades saw a flourishing of burrito shops in the city, and by 1999 San Diego had over 60 locations serving burritos at places with names like Roberto’s, Filberto’s and Hilberto’s. Many of them are still operating and serving up hot and hearty burritos today.

Perhaps on your summer travels you’ll check out some of these Cali hot spots, and we hope that you will join us Saturday, June 1, at the JFK Library in Vallejo for Wrap It Up! and learn how to make more delicious wrapped meals. Learn more about the class here.

Lisa Núñez-Hancock is founder of UR What U Eat. The upcoming wrap cooking workshop is part of the What’s for Dinner? program presented through the Solano County Library and the Friends of the Vallejo Public Library in partnership with Sustainable Solano and UR What U Eat. Check out other upcoming workshop dates and topics here.

New CSA in Benicia!

By Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan, Local Food Program Manager

Photo of the contents of an Eatwell Farm CSA box, courtesy of Eatwell

 

Hey local food fans! We are excited to announce that Eatwell Farm in Dixon is planning to distribute their CSA boxes in Benicia!

Eatwell grows all organic vegetables and fruit, and also offers essential oils, flavored salts and pasture-raised chicken eggs. Eatwell has been supplying the Bay Area with their wonderful farm-fresh products for over 20 years, and they are now the first Solano County-based farm distributing in Benicia.

Not familiar with CSAs? CSA stands for community-supported agriculture and is a vital part of building a local food system. Participants commit to buying regular boxes of seasonal produce and other farm products directly from local farmers. This gives subscribers the freshest local, healthy produce, while also supporting a local food system. With a CSA, local farmers can retain a greater share of the money paid for the food they produce and there are the environmental benefits of not shipping food over great distances.

Located near Military and East Second Street, Sustainable Solano’s CSA site in Benicia features both a central location for pick-up as well as complementary products from other farms (meat, eggs, fish, pantry items, etc.).  It’s one-stop shopping for truly local food!

Let’s support our local food economy and eat healthy food at the same time! If interested in subscribing to Eatwell’s weekly box, please contact Noelle at organic@eatwell.com or 707-999-1150 or create a log-in account and sign up for Eatwell Farm here.

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.

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

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.