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 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  kimbersmith2010@gmail.com or 707-333-9830.

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

Toward Greater Collaboration

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

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

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

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

Creating Change During a Crisis

By Sustainable Solano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Economic Strategy for the Way Forward

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

Replacing a Flawed System with Resilient Local Food Systems

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

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

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

Financial Support for Workers and Farmers

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

A Move from Business as Usual

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

CSA Farm Spotlight: Soul Food Farm

By Sustainable Solano

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

Eggs from Soul Food Farm

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

What’s something that makes your farm stand out?

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

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

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

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

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

Anything else you’d like to add?

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

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

Find out more about local CSAs here.

Local Food Reflections from the Sustainable Solano Team

By Sustainable Solano

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

A beautiful selection of CSA contents

Elena Karoulina

Executive Director

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

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

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

Ben Lyons of Lockewood Acres

Gabriela Estrada

Listening Circles and Solano Gardens Program Manager

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

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

 

Packing up the CSA boxes at Terra Firma Farm

Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan

Chef and Local Food Program Manager

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

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

Packing coolers at Real Good Fish

Kassie Munro

Resilient Neighborhoods Program Manager and Farm Coordinator

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

The backyard chicken crew

Nicole Newell

Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

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

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

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

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

Allison Nagel

Workforce Development and Communications Manager

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