Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Finding Our Strategy

We all have aspects of our work that we like more than others. Some of us hate to fill out paper work, others can’t stand the back and forth of emails, or the interruptions of office life. There’s plenty to like and dislike about work. But for me, when it comes to being a VISTA, I love asking questions. I love questions because I love what comes out of a question – I get to learn more about an issue or a person and I am able to find solutions that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. 

There’s so much to know about this place we call Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands. I think too many people take it for granted. The history and transformations this place has undergone aside, there’s a story to every person here that’s next to unbelievable. Residents tell me stories of lives I could only hope to live. Lives full of adventure and tradition. When I ask questions here, I am usually given answers that are insightful and give me strategies for the future. 

In recent memory, my supervisor, Angela Glore, and I had the pleasure of attending the Spring Flings of Weitchpec and Klamath this past June. While there, we asked a very specific and somewhat awkward question: What does food sovereignty look like to you? 

This question enticed attendants, and begged for more explanation and created a dialogue between myself and the participants. Created some twenty or so years ago, the idea of Food Sovereignty is the "the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems." Angela and I believed we were asking the right question, especially since we would largely be interacting with Tribal people throughout the day. Issues of tradition and sovereignty are completely in line with tribal development. We were interested in how the issues of food development intersected with the greater issue of cultural preservation and development. 

The two areas experience a lack of good food resources. In fact, we would term them “food deserts”. Sure there is food in Klamath, and there is food in Weitchpec. No one is arguing that food does exist there, but on the whole residents have a difficult time getting access to good, healthy and affordable food options. Simply stating that people need food, or even "healthy food" isn't enough. Food varies upon the person, religion, culture and geographic region. We all have a favorite food, and particular taste as does cultural food. Shouldn't we catering our food work to that understanding? We must endeavor to improve upon what is wanted and what will be used, not just what's "good" according to a text. Looking over the responses to our question, "what does food sovereignty look like", it's easy to see that residents acknowledge the issue of food in their lives, and how they would like to interact with their food.



These word clouds are wonderful in how different they are than mine would have been. Mine would probably be more filled with big picture ideas, maybe farms and markets, SNAP issues - who knows. The responses that we collected were more appropriate, more grounded for the area. The answers were sincere and about their own personal history. That's what Food Sovereignty is all about. Knowing me, my answer would have little to do with fish. But we were asking mostly the Yurok people, so of course their answers would include fish, fishing, salmon, the river. These assets matter to them and their traditional diet. While the answers were different from what I might expect or what mine would have been, the answers are ten times more meaningful because they give us a strategy, a context to work with. We cannot hope to create a more cohesive food system without understanding what that food system should look like for different populations and areas.

When I first arrived here, I heard talk and interest in learning about the food systems work that has been carried out in other areas to recreate that work here. And while I thought it was a good thought to be considering modeling some aspects of the work off other successful programs, my gut recreation was what about the culture here? What is going to work here? I truly believe that the community does have the answers for most of its problems. If we continue ask the right questions, we will see what will work here, what's right for us and how to proceed. We must continue to remember we are dealing with place and people, together these resources have all the answers we need.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Food Deserts and the Farm Bill

Did you know that despite our months of solid rain, Del Norte County is considered a desert by the USDA? We are! According to USDA definitions, almost all of Del Norte County qualifies as a food desert. The USDA working group defines food deserts as "low-income census tracts where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store."

Food deserts often have lots of food -- just not the healthy kind!

Food deserts are a hot topic in the food world, with First Lady Michele Obama taking them on as part of her focus on healthy foods and obesity. USA Today recently featured an article about some projects trying to bring water to some of the deserts around the country. At this year's Food Justice conference in Oakland, CA, there are many sessions dealing with both rural and urban food deserts in California and around the nation.

A small provision in the 2008 Farm Bill directed the USDA to study the "food desert" phenomenon. The Food Desert Locator pictured above is one of the outcomes of the research. To view Del Norte's food deserts or to check out food deserts across the country, check out the Locator. You can zoom in on northern California to see our region up close.

So what's next? Will the 2012 Farm Bill follow up on the research mandated in 2008? Will it include funding and policy priorities that will help alleviate food deserts? Some programs with the potential to mediate local droughts -- such as the Farmers Market Promotion Program grants, the Community Food Project grants, and the Financing for Local Food Enterprises program -- will end without specific reauthorization in the 2012 Farm Bill.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Farm Bill Conversations

It's that time again! Every five years, Congress debates and re-authorizes America's Farm Bill in what is always a lively debate on Capitol Hill and the public arena. The Farm Bill is one of the omnibus spending bills that Congress passes to dictate funding on a wide variety of food and farming programs for five years at a time. Debate on the 2012 Farm Bill has already begun and may be contentious with Congress and President Obama focusing on deficit reduction.

We were lucky enough to have Mark Winne with the Community Food Security Coalition in Crescent City for two days last week, and one of the sessions he offered was an open conversation about the Farm Bill. Why should you care about the Farm Bill if you're not a farmer? The Farm Bill is about so much more than farms and farmers:
  • The SNAP program (that was once called food stamps) is the biggest part of Farm Bill spending and brings over half a million dollars into Del Norte County every month -- that's money that is feeding our neighbors, being spent in our stores, and supporting local jobs.
  • Support for crop-based energy solutions is also part of the Farm Bill, with provisions in the 2008 version encouraging corn production for ethanol rather than human or animal consumption.
  • Commodity crop supports help determine what crops will be grown on millions of acres of farmland. Support for corn and soybeans, for instance, help provide the underpinning for cheap, heavily-processed foods that some have linked to the current obesity crisis.
  • Small programs like the Farmers Market Promotion Program grants help promote local and regional food systems and infrastructure. The FMPP grant won by CAN last year is buying local radio and newspaper ads, supporting our Crescent City Farmers Market, and encouraging the purchase of locally-produced, fresh, healthy foods by SNAP (in California, CalFresh) recipients.
The Farm Bill sets farm and nutrition policy for five years. It will affect what we eat and how much we pay for it. It affects every resident of the United States every single day and now's the time to have a say in how it will affect us over the next five years. To learn more, check out some of these links:

The Community Food Security Coalition's 2012 Farm Bill Priorities

Seattle's Farm Bill Principles

The Environmental Working Group's Top 10 Things You Should Know About the Farm Bill

Good News for Local Foods A listing of programs that help local producers and consumers that were included in the 2008 Farm Bill. Some may be in jeopardy for 2012.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Reading: Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart-Cookin' Mamas

Please join us for a book reading by Mark Winne this Friday evening. Mark is an extremely knowledgeable and lively speaker on food policy and has written extensively on food justice and food "rebels". This promises to be an enjoyable and educational event.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Safeway Summer Food Drive

A lot of people think of food drives as something that happens around Thanksgiving and Christmas. But did you know that summer is one of the hardest times of the year for many families? Children who receive free breakfast and lunch at school don't have that option in the summer. Families that are already stretching a tight food budget have to find food for those ten extra meals per child every week. In the 2009-2010 school year, more than half of Del Norte students received free school meals.

This summer, Safeway is recognizing this need and holding a food drive in July to help Community Assistance Network meet the need. Starting tomorrow -- July 6th -- and running through July 24th, all Safeway stores will have a display of prepackaged bags at the front of the store. The bags contain pasta, canned vegetables, canned tuna, mac and cheese, peanut butter, and more. All you have to do to help CAN feed your neighbors is pick up a bag as you begin your shopping. At the checkout, you'll be charged the $10 donation (which will appear on your receipt for tax purposes), and the checker will mark the bag as paid. Drop it off in the collection barrels on your way out of the store. It's that easy!

CAN will pick up the donated bags as frequently as the barrels are filled. (Can you help make it every day for the whole drive?) The non-perishable goods in the bags will help provide basics for families and children served by the food bank -- our neighbors!

Hunger is a serious issue at any age, but children are especially vulnerable. Research shows that children who experience hunger:
  • Are more likely to go to the hospital
  • Are more likely to be overweight than children who eat three balanced meals a day
  • Have trouble concentrating in school and therefore have less success academically
You can help change this in our community. Help make sure every child is ready to start school well-fed and eager to learn. Pick up one of Safeway's prepackaged bags and donate it to our community's children.

Thank you, Safeway! And thank YOU for helping make this food drive a success!