Nourishing Solano County: A Collaborative Vision for Medically Tailored Meals

By Noah Galgan, Program Manager

Stakeholders meet to discuss how medically tailored meals could work in Solano County

In an era where the healthcare landscape is constantly evolving, the concept of “food as medicine” is gaining traction. The notion that the right diet can be pivotal in preventing and managing chronic illnesses is a scientifically proven fact. A group of Solano County stakeholders is bringing this knowledge to bear on an exciting journey to nourish health through medically tailored meals (MTM).

At its core, an MTM initiative in Solano County revolves around the idea that providing individuals with carefully crafted, nutritionally sound meals can have a profound impact on their well-being and support recovery from serious illnesses. These meals are not just about sustenance; they are about empowerment, about offering individuals the tools they need to take control of their health.

MTM initiatives are gaining traction all over the United States. We have seen many great examples of what MTM could look like through the dedicated work of groups such as the Food is Medicine Coalition. The coalition is an association of nonprofit medically tailored food and nutrition service providers that supports research-based interventions, advances public policy, promotes efficacy research for nutrition services, and shares best practices in providing medically tailored meals. This provided a foundation to build upon, and this is where we started the conversation in Solano County. The Solano Local Food System Alliance hosted an insightful educational panel on medically tailored meals back in February, with speakers from the Ceres Community Project and Project Open Hand. From this panel, the Solano MTM initiative gained a foundational understanding of what medically tailored meals are and opened the door for further discussion.

Solano County Ecosystem of Care

A medically tailored meals program has yet to be fully established in the county, but initiatives are already underway. A diverse group of stakeholders from various sectors have rallied together, all driven by a shared vision. In late April, the group came together to discuss the vision of an ecosystem of care. We realized it is not just about the healthcare providers or the chefs creating the meals — it’s about everyone coming together, recognizing the vital role they can play in this ecosystem, and understanding that they collectively have the power to make an impact. We also realized how complex the legal and logistical framework is for this vision, since it involves insurance, patient privacy, strict healthcare regulations, ingredient sourcing, meal production and delivery, and supporting services. Some of the community stakeholders that have joined the initiative so far are listed below.

  • Healthcare Providers and Administration
    • Solano County Public Health
    • Touro University
  • Culinary Experts, Chefs, and Meal Providers
    • Meals on Wheels Solano County
    • Thistle
  • Local Farmers, Food Suppliers, and Transportation
    • Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano
    • Food is Free Bay Area 
  • Collaboration, Coordination, and Policy
    • Sustainable Solano
    • Innovative Health Solutions
    • Solano Local Food System Alliance (Includes a wide variety of stakeholders committed to fulfilling the mission of creating an environmentally sustainable, economically viable, socially just and equitable local food system in Solano County. Many of these MTM stakeholders are also Alliance members)
    • The Food Agriculture and Nutrition Network of Solano County (FANNS)

Ecosystem Updates

Thistle – President Shiri Avnery said Thistle is beginning a fourth round of producing medically tailored meals in partnership with Kaiser Permanente for an MTM pilot study. The pilots are a 12-week whole-person care model that seeks to include wrap-around services such as nutrition consults and regular wellness check-ins. Thistle is interested in continuing to be a local meal provider for MTM and would like to participate in more pilot studies to help with development and collaboration for the logistics of an MTM program. One area of discussion is navigating the higher price points of Thistle meals that aim to be whole-food, plant-based meals from California growers. There is an opportunity for meal delivery outsourcing within the county as this would help reduce costs per meal for patients. Also, is there potential for a patient-selected tiered pricing model, where patients can choose a standard plan (covered by insurance) or premium plan (an added cost per meal beyond what insurance would cover). Cultural preferences for MTM is a tension point, and some recipients who are not used to a plant-based diet may find these meals unappealing.

Meals on Wheels Solano County – Executive Director Laurie Hartmann offered an exciting update on a local and state level regarding Meals on Wheels. MOWSC has been in the process of building a new production facility and is ready to break ground after acquiring all necessary funding. The new facility will be on Union Avenue in Fairfield, and scheduled for completion in spring 2024. With this new facility, they intend to include a small-scale commercial kitchen for use by community partners, such as Sustainable Solano for youth culinary instruction. On a much larger scale, Laurie shared about the upcoming work of Meals on Wheels California in the MTM space. MOWCA hosted a learning collaborative with all MOW program directors around MTM initiatives. There is a high probability MOWCA could become a one-stop-shop MTM wraparound service provider for healthcare providers and would potentially distribute administrative roles to leading regional agencies such as Solano County (NorCal Lead). This effort within the MTM space could start as early fall 2024.

Innovative Health Solutions (IHS) – Founding CEO and CFO Norma Lisenko shared an update on the work IHS has been doing and will be doing in the coming months around medically tailored meals. The team is currently wrapping up a 12-week MTM pilot with La Clinica Vallejo, which provided 50 community participants with weekly ready-made meals made by Provisions. While we look forward to the final report from this pilot toward the end of this year, Norma shared the importance of access to culturally relevant prepared foods. All the hard work that goes into a meal to be carefully prepared and transported can end up going to waste if people don’t like the food they are eating. IHS is set to receive additional funding through the Solano County Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) to further its MTM efforts over the coming months through a 12-week pilot program focused on maternal health.

Food is Free Bay Area – Through the work of Heather Pierini and Alma Munoz, FIFBA has participated in two separate MTM pilots for IHS. FIFBA actively participated in both pilots in a transportation provider role for MTM meals and grocery boxes. The first pilot was the 12-week program at La Clinica Vallejo for 50 participants: the team provided distribution of refrigerated meals prepared by Provisions and custom weekly grocery boxes to the La Clinica Vallejo distribution site. The second IHS pilot is a 12-week MTM program with Partnership HealthPlan of California, in which ready-made meals were picked up from Thistle and delivered to participants’ homes twice a week, alongside packed grocery boxes. Heather shared that the biggest hurdle in these pilots was creating the necessary logistical infrastructure, including a delivery/logistics app for drivers, a food safety program through the FDA recommendations, food storage/movement equipment for the bagged/boxed foods, limitations of eco-friendly packaging (compostable cardboard packaging was not sturdy enough for participants to carry home). She also shared about their efforts to find a better participant-tracking system for participant meal selection, allergies, and delivery weeks.

Sustainable Solano – Sustainable Solano continues supporting the foundation for medically tailored meals in Solano County through stakeholder meetings and creating an action plan. Sustainable Solano will continue the collaborative work to form an ecosystem of care amidst community stakeholders and clarify roles of each stakeholder in the emerging vision.  Besides the ecosystem’s coordination role, Sustainable Solano sees its participation in the MTM vision through public education programs, especially targeting youth, which can help prevent diet-related illnesses in the future. They continue their public education efforts through monthly cooking classes focused on healthy local food and are set to receive funding under the Solano County Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) for three youth wellness internship cohorts. These internships aim to educate Solano County youth about health and wellness through culinary and garden exploration.

Food for Thought

The beauty of collaborative efforts lies not only in celebrating successes but also in collectively addressing the challenges encountered along the way. We have discovered some thought-provoking areas that merit thoughtful consideration:

  • Exploration of the healthcare administration role (HIPPA compliance for patient records, billing, etc.) and capability to operate in the role.
  • How to generate access to additional pilot programs that foster collaboration and open feedback loops through diverse funding channels.
  • Exploration of providing health-forward meals that honor diverse cultural palates.

    These topics will likely be central to an upcoming virtual collaborative meeting around MTM in early January, as well as other topics offered by the partners working together on this process. We invite those interested who see a role for their organizations in these efforts to  reach out to Noah Galgan at to share more about your interest and what you can contribute to the conversation.

    A Step in the Right Direction

    This is just the beginning of fostering an ecosystem of care in Solano County. We are beyond excited to continue in this work and advocate for community-based collaborations for the good of the whole. Each community stakeholder brings a unique perspective and a passionate commitment to this initiative, and together, they are forging a path toward a healthier future for Solano County.


    Influencing Local Land Use Comes Down to Making Your Voice Heard

    By Sustainable Solano

    When it comes to how land is put to use in your community — whether rural or urban — it is important to remember that each local citizen has a voice and that those voices can influence government decisions around planning and zoning.

    Experts on planning and land use discussed how to be informed and take action around such decisions at the Rural & Urban Land Use: Planning, Zoning & the Local Food System event on Nov. 3 hosted by the Solano Local Food System Alliance. The online event started with keynote speaker Dr. Catherine Brinkley with the Center for Regional Change at UC Davis, and a panel that included Solano County Planning Manager Allan Calder, Solano Land Trust’s Tracy Ellison, and Vacaville Senior Planner Tyra Hays. You can watch the video of the event below.

    While the topics covered were wide-ranging, several highlights emerged.

    During her keynote, Brinkley talked about the importance of looking at where similar zoning and planning decisions have been in effect and also analyzing where the gaps exist. This is difficult because city and county general plans have not been kept in a central location and, when they can be found on government websites, they are not always easy to search for the particular land use that is being researched.

    “Not all plans are in the same place,” she said. “You can’t Google ‘I’d like a recipe for food security’ the way you do for pumpkin pie.”

    That’s why the Center for Regional Change has been collecting general plans and creating a database that can be searched for keywords that will help to cut through the dense text of general plans. Searches show when the plans were created and can help to see if nearby jurisdictions are doing something similar or if a municipality might be the first to have an innovative policy in place. This can support everything from community advocacy to supporting general plan updates.

    In the local food system, this might mean searching agricultural plans that affect policies and purchasing, development rights, or greenbelts in agricultural areas; looking at food equity policies; or exploring urban growth boundaries. You can learn more about the database here.

    Another part of influencing the planning process around the food system is making sure you are involved. This is true for citizens of any age — even if you’re not yet old enough to vote, you can make your voice heard to influence planning decisions. Sometimes what it takes is showing up.

    Hayes recommends speaking with city council members or bringing forth a proposal around planning issues. It can be involving yourself in general plan update meetings and land use discussions. Having interested residents who support an idea helps greatly, she said.

    Calder said there are often technical or citizens advisory committees involved in shaping new plans, and these are opportunities to participate as a citizen in planning and zoning updates.

    The panel also touched on hot topics including urban agriculture/community gardens; the use of prime ag land for greenhouse growing; agritourism; and foreign entities buying local farmland.

    Interested in learning more about the local food system? The Solano Local Food System Alliance holds public educational events every quarter to address different topics that affect local food. The Alliance includes a wide variety of stakeholders committed to fulfilling the mission of creating an environmentally sustainable, economically viable, socially just and equitable local food system in Solano County. You can learn more about the Alliance here.

    Vallejo Food Rescue Project Promotes Community Collaboration to Share Information, Resources, Food

    By Sustainable Solano

    The Vallejo Food Rescue Project had its official launch meeting in early June at Loma Vista Farm, bringing together people from organizations involved in current food rescue and distribution operations in the city and seeking guidance on how to streamline and shape food rescue efforts in Vallejo.

    “So much of what we do is not about lifting a box of food,” Food is Free Solano Executive Director Heather Pierini said. “It’s about getting food to people in need.”

    The Vallejo Food Rescue Project seeks to do just that in a pilot project that could serve as a model for elsewhere in the county — perhaps elsewhere in the state and nation.

    Starting the meeting in the shade of the large tree that centers the entrance to the educational farm and surrounded by pollinator and native plants, the attendees acknowledged the indigenous stewards of the land’s history and shared about their own work in the food system. Organizations represented at the meeting included the Islamic Center of Vallejo; Emmanuel Arms Community Inc., the nonprofit arm of Emmanuel Temple Apostolic Church; Catholic Charities of Yolo-Solano; and Vallejo Together.

    Many related how the need for food has grown in the community and they could serve many more people if they had more access to food for distribution. Food pantries quickly empty out, and hundreds of people show up for meals or to pick up food.

    Heather noted that the meeting brought together a diverse group of individuals and organizations. Each of these groups can reach different communities, and it’s important to make sure resources are spread out so that people feel they have someone to reach out to, she said.

    The Vallejo Food Rescue Project is a joint effort between Food is Free Solano and Sustainable Solano under a grant from the Office of Environmental Justice at the EPA. It seeks to support current efforts by creating a network of organizations and individuals and develop an app that can be used to streamline the giving and receiving of excess food within the city. The app is being developed by Kim Quach of FreeBites.

    The project is using a collaborative problem-solving approach under EPA guidance.

    “The people doing the work actually design the solution,” said Lauren Gucik, the SuSol program manager involved in the project.

    That’s why it was important to have this first meeting with selected stakeholders. Upcoming meetings will be open to the general public and involve more wide-ranging discussion around how the Vallejo community can share food between institutions, organizations and individuals.

    The issue is two-fold: The state is now requiring that excess food go first to people, then animals, then compost to keep food waste out of landfills. There is also an increased need for food, with hunger rising sharply in the county during the pandemic. Organizations that seek to distribute food run into myriad challenges, from restaurants that are hesitant to donate food due to liability concerns to not having enough ways to get information out to people about the food distribution and other services they are offering. The Vallejo Food Rescue Project seeks to address that by increasing collaboration, food security, better health for our communities and a reduction in landfill waste, said Cristal Gallegos with Food is Free Solano.

    A big part of that is the app, which the group discussed. Kim developed FreeBites while a student at UC Davis. She witnessed first-hand how food was often thrown away after university-catered events, while at the same time there were students who were hungry on campus. She created the app as a direct response to this and to help bridge the disconnect. As part of this project, she’s further developing the app to help with the logistics and build community around food sharing.

    The app will allow posting of surplus food, create a map that shows available food resources based on distance, and match donors and recipients.

    Heather likened the use of the app to the way someone might post an item on Facebook Marketplace. It’s a way to share what is available locally with those who might be interested. But through using filters, those donating food and those receiving it are able to narrow down who gets the notifications. So if a caterer has 30 extra meals, their post would go only to those organizations that have said they could take that many meals and distribute them properly.

    “That right there takes me five texts,” Heather said. By shortening the communication chain through the app, the process can become easier and more efficient.

    The excitement and interest around the app was apparent as the group discussed what support they could use. But something else was also going on during the meeting — connections were happening within the room.

    “I’d like to acknowledge the collaboration happening here,” Cristal said, noting how when the meeting started people were talking about how they didn’t know what each other’s organizations offered, and now that they had shared and did know, they were already seeking ways to work together.

    By the end of the meeting, people were inviting each other to come volunteer and observe their distribution events and to find other ways to connect. They said they left feeling hopeful, optimistic, informed and energetic and that doors were opening and help was on the way.

    The project will be working on a prototype of the app through the end of July. At the next meeting, on Wednesday, Aug. 17, members of the food rescue community and the general public will be asked for feedback on the app and the possibilities and challenges they foresee.

    Vallejo Food Rescue Project Community Meeting

    The next VFRP community meeting will be Aug. 17 at the John F. Kennedy Library at 505 Santa Clara St. in Vallejo. The meeting will be an opportunity to learn more about the project and the app.

    More details will be announced soon. Learn more here.

    Regenerative Agriculture: Health for the Land & People

    By Sustainable Solano

    Event speakers (from left) Harald Hoven, Michael Wedgley and Rose Curley (fourth from left), speak with Scott Dodson, Elena Karoulina and Priscilla Yeaney at the Pleasants Valley demonstration site

    “Regenerative Agriculture.” It’s a buzzword, but just what does it mean?

    Rose Curley asked this question of about 30 people gathered for the regenerative agriculture event that was part of the Solano Local Food System Alliance‘s quarterly meeting. The event brought together three speakers to cover different sustainable agricultural practices. Rose is a GrizzlyCorps fellow with Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) in the organization’s Ecological Farming Program.

    The crowd did its best to answer the question. Regenerative agriculture is ancestral traditions, self-sustaining, biodiversity, organic, no waste, healing, no till, place-based, nutrient-dense, abundant, soil-building, interdependence … the list had more than 25 suggestions.

    The range of answers “speaks to how broad this term is,” Rose said. “You see it on farms, the produce section of large grocery stores, and tacked onto restaurant menus.”

    Rose then went over some of the basics of regenerative agriculture and its intention to return health to the land while growing nutrient-dense food and building overall resilience for farmers and our communities. She brought a chunk of soil from the farm where she works to talk about the makeup of healthy soil and maximizing biodiversity above and below ground, and some cover crops that cover and nourish the soil. Regenerative agriculture asks for an emphasis on a more holistic approach to farming, but that can be gained through a variety of practices, she said. (On the topic of nutrient-dense foods, she said you can learn more about how healthy soil creates healthy food by reading some of the research that has been done at Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol.)

    One of the most important parts of the conversation around water and soil health and conserving natural resources is the wealth of knowledge that farmers can offer to each other to build resilience, she said. This support is particularly important because of the barriers to farming in a regenerative manner: the higher financial investment needed, the time it takes to see returns and improved health in the system, and social and cultural barriers.

    The conversation pulled in much of the audience, with observations offered about how the term “organic” has lost its meaning, the use of hydroponic growing that doesn’t use or return anything to the soil, how to better promote and support growers using regenerative practices, and the idea of making Pleasants Valley a demonstration corridor for different regenerative approaches to build more public interest and understanding.

    The event was held at the farm site of Pleasant Valley School, with the seating and presentation area carefully arranged and decorated with spring flowers and sporting a table of Solano-grown food for the attendees (and eyed appraisingly by the three resident donkeys). Sustainable Solano is creating a demonstration permaculture site on the property in partnership with Pleasant Valley School, which will also pursue a biodynamic garden on site in accordance with Waldorf educational principles. The event had speakers on both approaches to the landscape.

    This is a new scale of project for Sustainable Solano, which has not worked on a farm property before, noted our executive director, Elena Karoulina. The hope is to plant the seeds through the foundation of the permaculture site so that the school community can continue to grow it in scope and vision over the years.

    Property owner Shea McGuire said the hope is to instill stewardship in the Pleasant Valley School students, giving them an understanding that they are part of the ecosystem and to “keep the noise of the world out of childhood.” Elena and Shea signed the partnership agreement for the demonstration project at the beginning of the meeting. We invite you to join us for a public planting day on Saturday, May 28, to create the foundation for this permaculture site.

    Solano Gardens Program Manager Michael Wedgley, who is designing the demonstration permaculture site on the farm, spoke about permaculture. Permaculture is a way to grow plants in a harmonious way with nature, guided by principles that can be applied to everything from a landscape to how an organization is run. Recognizing the relationships of everything in the system, including the relationships of the plants to one another, is vital to the design, he said.

    Michael addressed questions and conversation around a good introductory permaculture book (Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway), taking fire into account when designing in a fire zone, and the dangers of introducing non-native species to an area.

    Harald Hoven, a retired biodynamic farmer who still consults regularly on the practice, talked about the history of biodynamic farming as it arose nearly 100 years ago. A main focus of biodynamic agriculture is building vitality into the system that then translates into the food we receive from the system – vitality that is often lost in today’s agricultural practices. Biodynamics also focuses on relationships, with plants and livestock kept in balance on the site to yield land fertility. Sometimes, things have to be brought onto the site, such as manure or compost, to build that fertility, but ideally everything comes from the land itself, he said.

    Just as we are always developing and becoming something new, so the land grows and develops with our help and guidance, Harald said. Gradually, it all works toward the greater health of the land.

    From all of the talks and conversation it was clear that these different approaches have the same objective: health, both for the land and for people who consume what that land yields.

    Our next big event, Bounty of the County at the Solano County Fair on June 18 will recognize that yield through the produce of Solano family farms. You also can learn more about the Solano Local Food System Alliance at the event. Alliance members will be there to hear about your vision for local food and your commitment to supporting the local food system. Another opportunity is at the Alliance’s quarterly meetings, which are always open to the public. The next one on Aug. 4 will focus on ways to buy local food, from purchasing directly from Solano farmers to Cultivate Community Food Co-op and other retail locations.

    Pleasants Valley Demonstration Permaculture Site Installation

    Join us on Saturday, May 28, to learn about sustainable landscape design and help install a demonstration site based on permaculture principles at a Pleasants Valley farm!

    Learn more and register here

    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 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

    If you or your organization is interested in joining these efforts, please reach out to us at

    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.