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.

Cultivate Community Food Co-op’s Farm to Table Food Pilot

Between August 13th and September 18th, Cultivate Community Food Coop (CCFC) ran a Farm to Table food pilot to deliver locally grown produce and locally prepared cooked meals to our CCFC owners’ homes in the Benicia/Vallejo area.  The effort was a partnership between Cultivate Community Food Co-op, Solano County Health and Social Services, and Sustainable Solano.

The pilot gave us a chance to work with local farmers and chefs to explore the costs and work involved in providing our owners with Solano grown food.  Eatwell Farms in Dixon and Lockewood Acres in Vacaville provided the organic produce that was offered for sale and Hot Dish, a local catering company, used some of that produce to prepare complete dinners for our owners.   Tomatoes, eggs, summer squash, and peppers were some of the most popular items offered for sale.  The dinners featured both meat and vegetarian options each week and were delicious!

Our owners used our online store (http://www.cultivatecommunityfood.coop/oscommerce-2.3.3/catalog/) to purchase whatever items they wanted to buy.  Once every week, their orders were filled and delivered to their homes free of charge.  Low income owners were provided rebates for their meal orders, courtesy of Solano County Health and Social Services.

A total of 16 owner households participated in the pilot.  Once the pilot was complete, sentiment surveys were sent to all households seeking their views on what aspects of the effort they enjoyed and any ideas they may have for similar services to be provided for our owners in the future. Those surveys are currently being tabulated and the results will be shared with all our owners via our newsletter.

Judging from the surveys returned so far, our owners enjoyed their first chance to purchase food from their Co-op.  The challenge now is to use the data we collected to devise a sustainable, affordable, and convenient option for our owners to continue to enjoy the healthy, environmentally friendly, and fresh foods grown and prepared by our local farms and chefs.  Please provide your input and let us know what you would like to see your Co-op focus on as we continue our work with our neighboring farmers, restaurants, and other food service providers to improve the way we eat and strengthen our local economy.

Meeting Solano Farmers

By Elena Karoulina, Executive Director

We continue working on our big vision for the environmentally and economically sustainable and socially just local food system in our county. As a part of our Community Food Center project, funded by USDA, we are finalizing the feasibility study of the agriculture production available for the needs of the county. In June-July, our mighty working team of Sustainable Solano staff, UC Davis interns and a representative of the Solano Public Health, our key partner in this vision, embarked on reaching out to our farmers and meeting face to face with them to better understand the reality of farming and feeding the community in Solano County.

We reached out to 60 farms. Most of them are small to mid-size operations, producing a variety of food (mostly produce, but also honey, olive oil, eggs, meat and dairy). Not everyone was available or interested to talk with us about the emerging local food system, and we totally understand and respect this reservation. However, many opened their hearts and minds to this vision, and we are immensely grateful to the farmers who took time off their busiest season of the year to sit down with us and to tell us the true story of local food production and distribution.

We are still finalizing the results of our interviews and integrating them with relevant statistics from USDA and Solano Department of Agriculture to form an accurate picture of the state of agriculture production suitable for the local markets. What we see so far is a rather weak supply, a lack of infrastructure and most importantly, a week demand for Solano-grown food. If we are to change this picture, if we are to create a resilient local food economy, we’ll have to revisit our relationship with local food, our commitment to buying locally and our priorities as consumers.

Sustainable Solano is committed to continue working with various stakeholders and community partners to strengthen our local food economy. However, we cannot do it without a broad support of this vision from our communities! Please give your personal and family food supply a thought! To find out more, attend one of our many public educational events and consider buying truly local. For the list of Community Supported Agriculture, farm stands, restaurants and retailers, please click here.

From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU to the owners and operators of the following farms who communicated with us during this process and contributed to our understanding of the current state of our local food economy:

Acquistapace Farms, Fairfield

Be Love Farm, Vacaville

Brazelton Ranch, Vacaville

Cherry Glen Beefmasters, Vacaville

Eatwell Farm and CSA, Dixon

Everything Under The Sun, Dixon

Grabishfarm, Dixon

Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company, Fairfield

Lockewood Acres Organic Farm, Vacaville

McCormack Ranch

Menagerie Hill Ranch, Vacaville

Pleasants Valley Honey Company, Vacaville

Robledo Produce, Fairfield

Rock Hill Ranch Chickens, Fairfield

Saechao Family Farm, Fairfield

Sepay Groves Olive Oil, Fairfield

Sierra Orchards, Dixon

Solano Mushroom Farm, Vacaville

Soul Food Farm, Vacaville

Tenbrink Farm, Fairfield

The Cloverleaf at Bridgeway Farms, Dixon

The Collins Farm, Dixon

 

#GivingTuesday Success, Thanks to You

What a beautiful reminder of the heart, generosity and support that we have in our community! Because of your generous donations through this year’s #GivingTuesday campaign, we are re-energized in knowing that our vision for a more sustainable Solano county is backed by the very communities we work so hard to enrich through our programs.

We truly appreciate everyone taking part in this global day of giving back and are so grateful to those that celebrated with us this on this powerful day of giving back. Your generous gift will help us continue to bring to you educational workshops about sustainable landscaping practices and wise water use, inspirational speakers and seasonal cooking classes, maintain our two Benicia community gardens and help connect local food producers to residents like YOU through Community Supported Agriculture. On behalf of everyone here at Sustainable Solano, THANK YOU for your gifts, energy and engagement. We hope you continue to GROW WITH US on this journey.

WE GROW FOOD, LEADERSHIP, AWARENESS, HOPE AND FUTURE!

Photo: Inspired young helpers of our next generation of growers break ground at this month’s demonstration food forest installation at Loma Vista Farm in Vallejo.

Were Not Able to Give a Monetary Donation?

There are still lots of ways to help and get involved! You can give the gift of time and energy by sharing a special skill or talent. Click here to learn how. You can also help support us all year long by choosing Sustainable Solano as your beneficiary nonprofit while shopping Amazon.com through their AmazonSmile program. Click here to bookmark our unique link and Sustainable Solano will receive 0.5% of each purchase made!

Permaculture and Community: A 13-Year-Old’s Perspective

By Rileigh Barton

Hi, I’m Rileigh, and I’m 13 years old. I volunteer for Sustainable Solano with my dad. I’ve gone to two Sustainable Landscaping classes so far at a food forest in Fairfield called “Mom’s Delight.” But first, I’ll tell you a little about me, and how I got involved in permaculture.

It all started at The Tomato Festival, Fairfield’s annual celebration of the tomato harvest, in August. My dad met Kathleen Huffman, Landscape Designer; and Nicole Newell, Program Manager at Sustainable Solano, and got involved with the program.  Once he bought certified permaculture expert Denise Rushing’s book, “Tending the Soul’s Garden: Permaculture as a Way Forward Through Difficult Times“, Dad became fascinated with the idea of permaculture, which is short for permanent agriculture. Permaculture design is a way to work with nature to grow a resilient and edible eco-system.  In September, Dad went to a Speaker Training class which kicked off my own interest in permaculture.

Two weeks ago on Saturday, Dad and I went to a Sustainable Landscape class, and witnessed the birth of a food forest. Kathleen talked to us about what we were going to be doing that day, and she taught us what swales were. Then the Food Forest Keeper, Brenda, came up front and told us about the forest. She’d nicknamed it “Mom’s Delight” because before she planted the garden in the backyard, her mom stayed inside all the time. Now her mom comes out and walks around and she’s happy. We then got to work. We first dug a swale, a ditch about 2 feet wide and 1 foot deep that is flat on the bottom. Then we filled it with mulch. There were lots of big dirt clods, and Kevin, a fellow volunteer, came in with a mattock to break up some of the clods. Before we planted the calamondin tree and the apple tree, Kathleen gave us a small lesson on how to plant trees and the best conditions for them. Then we planted the trees, mixing the natural soil with organic potting soil, and watered them.

A couple days ago, Dad and I went to another Sustainable Landscaping class. This time we were installing a Laundry-to-Landscape system, which saves time, saves water, and conserves energy. Christina and Nina from Greywater Action talked to us about these benefits and more, and oversaw the event. Up until lunch half of us worked inside while the other half worked outside. Dad and I worked on digging mulch basins, which are similar to swales, but often surround a single plant. Kevin and I took turns with the mattock to help with the digging. After lunch, we assembled and installed the Laundry-to-Landscape pipes.  Then we worked together to irrigate the mulch basins. We didn’t quite finish, but Dad, Kathleen, and I came back the next day to finish.

This experience was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Permaculture is the only way to make Earth a healthier, and nicer, place to live. Definitely more people should participate in this, and I’m glad I got the chance to: “Save the world, one yard at a time!”

2016 Message From the Chair of the Board, Marilyn Bardet

marilyn

In the midst of this holiday season, despite fears and worries surrounding the unprecedented national election, I more than ever want to honor and celebrate what all of you have actually achieved this past year. Together, we’ve demonstrated how vital hopes for a better, more sustainable world can be made manifest right where we live. Together, we’ve shown that real change comes from the ground up when we share an ethical vision and actually roll up our sleeves and work to make “the possible” come alive through committed, collective actions.

Our mission in 2017 will continue, nourishing initiatives for the good of the whole. One of our major changes and accomplishments in 2016: Benicia Community Gardens as a non-profit organization has grown, becoming “Sustainable Solano” for wider reach to Solano communities, thus to embrace initiatives and partnerships inspired by many others sharing our vision. BCG’s accomplishments in 2016 will carry us into 2017. Here’s what we’ve done together:

  • installed the last 3 of a total of 7 food forest gardens under the Benicia Sustainable Backyard program, with 3 public garden tours, and 5 more tours planned for 2017;
  • inaugurated the first Land Caretakers program for training novices and professional landscapers in sustainable practices for creating edible, wise-water gardens using greywater and rain water harvesting systems;
  • partnered with local chefs in Vallejo and Benicia to create community-supported kitchens, with a pilot kitchen program in Benicia to launch in 2017;
  • established partnership with the Solano County Water Agency — contract awarded to establish a total of 5 food forest gardens, three in Fairfield and two in Vallejo;
  • Hosted, in consort with Pachamama Alliance, a very moving and successful “Awakening the Dreamer Symposium” in Fairfield, the event serving to inspire individuals toward embracing a new dream and to take actions that can heal the world where we live, and to introduce Sustainable Solano as an organization embracing that new dream.

Thank you all for a milestone year in 2016! May we keep hope, working together to strengthen our communities, upholding basic values for a more just, healthy world.

With appreciation and gratitude,

Marilyn Bardet,
Board Chair