Last week Ana and I went to the Food Systems & Sustainability Conference at UC Davis and it was fascinating on many fronts. Experts from throughout the U.S. came to talk about the challenges, policies and the effects of U.S. practice around the globe. As Ana recapped beautifully, “Many important people were saying many important things.” Yup, that pretty much sums it up.
One of the most interesting topics was about access to food. The great paradox that we see today is that food is cheaper than it’s ever been before; more food is available than ever before, yet we have more people starving in the U.S. (and around the world) than ever before. How can that be?
There are many reasons, but a large one is access to food—particularly healthy, fresh foods. For example, one panelist cited a study done in the city of Detroit that found that for a population of 850,000 people there was not one grocery store within the city limits. Not one. The primary source of food is convenience stores like 7-11 and gas station ready-marts. Holy jumpin’ jehosephat! Now, the reasons for this are again, many and complicated, but the end result is that folks in the city are a) buying UNHEALTHY pre-packaged convenience foods and b) buying extremely EXPENSIVE food and receiving very little value for it in return.
The followup to this scenario is a sharp increase in food-related diseases stemming from conditions such as obesity and diabetes, which consequently puts additional burden on our health care systems. Well, no wonder!
For locals who live in the Solano region there is a glimmer of hope. We are surrounded by farm and ranchland where fresh food is available at reasonable prices directly to the consumer. Larry’s Produce in Suisun Valley is a perennial favorite for all those looking for a bargain and the mobs of people on the weekend prove it. (My hint: go on a weekday morning to avoid the crowd.)
Also, every city in the tri-county area has a farmers’ market, some which are year-round. AND … wait for it … according to Patrick Duterte, Director of Health and Social Services for Solano County, local farmers’ markets may start accepting food stamps starting as early as April. It’s a program that the county is working hard on, modeled after the pilot program in Long Beach, Calif. When it starts Solano County will be the second county in California to make this program fly. It’s a huge step towards connecting those in need with healthy, fresh food.
The other aspect of living locally is that our weather conditions make it an optimal place to grow your own Victory Garden. It doesn’t have to be very big to yield food for your whole family. A 3×6′ garden box will generally suffice for a family of four. Growing your own food is relatively inexpensive and the region’s agricultural resources make doing so even easier. Visit your local UC Extension office (the one in Solano is located in downtown Fairfield and is housed with the county’s ag department) for more information and helpful resources. The Master Gardener program also operates out of the extension office and is available for all kinds of gardening questions—for FREE.
Amidst all the important discussion going on I was often distracted by a couple of ladies off to the side of the room. They were furiously drawing and scribbling, sticking post-it notes all over a large 4×8’ board. These ladies are professional brainstorming illustrators and facilitators and they were graphically recording the live discussion for future use.
What a cool job, eh?