- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
New food systems partnership to aid disaster response in Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties
To improve people's access to food during disasters, University of California Cooperative Extension advisors Dorina Espinoza and Julia Van Soelen Kim received a combined $1.5 million from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Regional Food Systems Partnership Program and crucial matching contributions from local government, nonprofits and foundations. Over a three-year period, they will create a California North Coast Emergency Food System Partnership across six counties – Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa and Marin – to strengthen local and regional food systems and build community resilience.
“We wouldn't have been able to access these funds without UC providing the backbone,” said project partner Suzi Grady of Petaluma Bounty, an urban farm and food security project. “The trusted relationship with UC allows us to broaden our reach and scope; the neutrality piece is also really important. It's a natural fit for UC to step in.”
Grady added, “I'm excited by this opportunity because UC can provide evaluation, reflect back to us what happens in disasters, and help build our collective capacity when those of us who are busy doing are too busy to step back and reflect. Having academic partners helps us retain institutional knowledge, learn from the past and strategize for the future."
Meredith Knowles with the Del Norte and Tribal Lands Food Security Project agreed, “I have seen so many times that the relationship building, coordinating and making space for sharing is so important and the momentum that comes from that is powerful. I'm excited for the space to share that.”
Learning from past disasters
Following earthquakes in Humboldt County last December, UC Cooperative Extension advisor Espinoza took part in the Community Organizations Active in Disaster or “COAD,” collaborating with local government, agencies and organizations to support a Local Assistance Center in Rio Dell, the town hit hardest by the quakes.
Espinoza and partners worked to connect impacted neighbors with local, state and national services, including ensuring community members could access food right in their community through the local food bank and local food trucks, which prepared meals for residents who were unable to use their kitchens.
In January, with storms in the forecast, Mimi Enright, UCCE Sonoma County community food systems program manager, activated the COAD's Emergency Food Group in Sonoma County. She discussed with Van Soelen Kim, UCCE North Bay food systems advisor, as well as local emergency food providers, how their network could respond to food needs that might arise if flooding occurred.
“Before the storm, we met and asked, ‘What populations might be most impacted? What organizations might be offline because of the storm? Who will be able to deliver groceries and meals to sites in the community?'” Enright explained.
Further north in Del Norte County along the Oregon border, there are limited entry points and no major highways, leaving the region vulnerable to natural disasters. Road access to and from the county is frequently blocked by landslides, wildfires and floods, resulting in disruptions to food deliveries.
The Del Norte and Tribal Lands Community Food Council – a group that works to build a more local food system by providing healthy, culturally appropriate food to families – learned from past closures and from the pandemic the importance of having local and regional systems in place to better respond to the emergencies that impact the isolated area of the state. Their Choice Pacific Pantry includes local products in its food distribution programs and their Pacific Fresh Mobile Market brings food directly to vulnerable rural communities with limited access to nutritious food.
Over the past five years, Northern California has experienced catastrophic wildfires, floods, landslides, drought, earthquakes and the pandemic, all of which have put increasing pressure on local producers, the local/regional food system and emergency food aid.
“Food is implicated in every disaster,” said Patti D'Angelo Juachon with the Marin Community Foundation.
Through the various challenges to their communities, Espinoza, Enright and Van Soelen Kim have extended their expertise related to emergency food systems. Collectively the UCCE team has gained firsthand knowledge about what works well and what doesn't in getting local food to food-insecure community members. They hope to share this knowledge with partners regionally and expand collaboration at a larger scale.
“Local food production is critical to the resilience of the North Coast,” said Lynda Hopkins, Sonoma County District 5 supervisor. “I'm thrilled that UCCE will be working with our farmers to ensure that we can feed our residents healthy, local food no matter what disaster we're facing – be it future flood, fire or pandemic. This is a huge step towards food security for Northern California!”
Collaborating across the North Coast
“The Regional Food Systems Partnership Program will help to build a more resilient and stable food system in times of disaster and in times of stability,” said Heather Irwin, founder of Sonoma Family Meal. “This is very important work for the future of Northern California disaster relief efforts, and we are excited to be part of it. During disasters, Sonoma Family Meal coordinates resources between the restaurant industry and emergency meal providers in order to provide quality emergency meals for those who have been impacted.”
One way the team hopes to strengthen local and regional food systems is by reducing the risk of lost income and creating additional market channels for local food producers in emergency food supply chains. The team also plans to create a network of partners, develop emergency feeding plans, and inventory local emergency food supply chain infrastructure. They also plan to create recommendations for policies and practices that support local/regional emergency food supply chains./h3>
- Author: Mike Hsu
Reduction of SNAP benefit deepens crisis of inflation, high cost of living, low wages
Starting this month, many of the estimated 3 million people in the CalFresh program – California's version of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) – will be facing hunger and making difficult decisions to meet their most basic needs. In late March, participants received the last of the pandemic-related emergency aid that significantly boosted their monthly benefits. The reduction varies by household size and income; for example, in April a single-person household could see a drop from $281 per month to $23.
“The emergency food allotments had a tremendous impact in our communities and across the nation,” said Shannon Klisch, academic coordinator for the Youth, Families and Communities Program for UC Cooperative Extension in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. “One study estimated that these allotments kept more than 4 million people out of poverty across the U.S. in the last quarter of 2021, and reduced child poverty by 14%.”
SNAP increases during the pandemic made many Californians more food-secure, with some participants reporting that their allotments finally had been enough to feed their families for the month, according to Wendi Gosliner, a project scientist at the Nutrition Policy Institute (a program of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources). But, with the benefit reductions, food insecurity is emerging again as a serious concern.
“It is inconceivable that a nation this wealthy should have so many people experiencing hunger,” Gosliner said. “And here in California, with the high cost of living, ongoing inflation and extreme income and wealth disparities, people are being forced to explore every possible avenue just to feed themselves and their families.”
To help ensure they are receiving the maximum allotment, Klisch recommends that CalFresh participants – especially those who applied during the pandemic and are relatively new to the program – double-check their information.
“If the county doesn't have your most up-to-date information, call your county worker if you've changed your address, if you've experienced decreased income, if your housing costs have gone up, or if you have new expenses – like child or dependent care expenses or medical expenses – these can help you qualify for more CalFresh funds,” she explained.
For families with school-aged children, Klisch said they can stretch their food dollars and promote healthy eating by encouraging their children to eat breakfast and lunch at school through California's universal free school meals, and all families with children under 18 can watch for the next issuance of the P-EBT (Pandemic EBT) card, worth potentially hundreds of dollars.
In addition to these options for food assistance, Klisch pointed to programs that can help people save money on other household expenses, such as California Alternate Rates for Energy Programs (CARE) and Affordable Connectivity Program. Local food banks are also gearing up across the state to handle an expected surge in clients in need of emergency food; a list of California food banks can be found at cafoodbanks.org/our-members.
“We ask a lot of low-income families and workers to navigate and piece together various programs, applications, and benefits when we don't commit to a strong safety net,” Klisch said. “On the other hand, when people have enough money for food, everyone benefits through decreased health care costs and increased economic activity.”
Gosliner also said that people should look into their eligibility for WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children), as well as the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and CalEITC, poverty-alleviation benefits underused by Californians.
“People should make sure they are accessing all the safety net benefits for which they are eligible,” Gosliner said.
Market Match, other nutrition incentive programs can help
Through programs like Market Match, available at about 300 farmers markets across California affiliated with the Ecology Center, CalFresh participants can have their EBT benefits “matched” by their local market (usually up to $10 or $15 per visit).
“People are looking to get creative about how to stretch their food dollars, and Market Match is one way to do that,” said Klisch, who has led UCCE efforts to help promote the program along the Central Coast since 2017.
Striving to expand access to fresh fruit and vegetables and to support local farms, UCCE and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC worked with partners to increase CalFresh redemption at farmers markets in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties.
In 2017, about $48,000 in CalFresh and Market Match benefits were redeemed at farmers markets in the area. In 2022, the total was more than $207,000 – a 327% increase. According to Ecology Center figures for the entire state, CalFresh and Market Match spending at farmers markets jumped 161% from 2019 to 2021, up to $13 million.
Gosliner, whose research has shown that these nutrition incentive programs are associated with increased food security, noted that “the people who use Market Match absolutely love the program and feel it is incredibly helpful.” She also added that the California Department of Social Services is developing a pilot program that would offer match incentives for purchasing fruits and vegetables at larger food retailers.
Although the biggest of its kind, Market Match is just one of the programs across California that provide “matches” for healthy food purchases under the California Nutrition Incentive Program, which in turn is primarily funded by GusNIP (the nationwide Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program).
GusNIP dollars – and SNAP overall – are governed by the federal Farm Bill, typically renewed every five years and currently being negotiated by Congress./h3>/h3>
- Author: Amy Quinton, UC Davis
Study finds even fewer screened during virtual appointments
As jobless rates rose during the COVID-19 pandemic, millions more Americans experienced food insecurity because they lacked consistent access to food. National health organizations recommend primary care providers screen patients for food insecurity, since not having access to enough food can lead to chronic diseases.
But research from the University of California, Davis, finds that only 7% of primary care providers screened patients for food insecurity. If the appointment was virtual or telehealth, only 3% asked patients about their access to food. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine published the research.
“These rates are surprising and seem relatively small in comparison with what seems like a growing awareness of food insecurity during the pandemic,” said lead author Cassandra Nguyen, an assistant professor of Cooperative Extension in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition.
She said the findings may indicate that health care providers were prioritizing emergency responses to COVID-19. The research showed that once people had access to COVID-19 vaccines, screening for food insecurity increased to 10%.
Barriers to telehealth screenings
Screening for food insecurity at telehealth appointments remained low even after vaccines became available. Nguyen said that may suggest telehealth appointments have unique barriers.
“One of those barriers could be a concern about privacy and whether the patient is alone or feels comfortable discussing a potentially stigmatizing experience such as food insecurity. This may deter a primary care provider from asking about it,” Nguyen said.
Screening might also be more difficult if patients aren't familiar with the technology needed or if there are technological disruptions during telehealth appointments. Nguyen said more study is needed about potential barriers given the increased popularity of telehealth appointments since the pandemic.
The research examined electronic health records and clinic data from a national network of more than 400 community health centers in 16 states. It examined encounters between March 11, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2021. Screening typically involves a primary care provider asking the patient to answer that either or both of the following two statements is often true or sometimes true:
- Within the past 12 months we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.
- Within the past 12 months the food we bought just didn't last and we didn't have money to get more.
Co-authors include Rachel Gold with OCHIN Inc. and Kaiser Permanente Northwest Center for Health Research; Alaa Mohammad, Dedra Buchwald and Clemma Muller with Washington State University; Molly Krancari, Megan Hoopes and Suzanne Morrissey with OCHIN Inc.
The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases supported the research./h3>/h3>
- Author: Saoimanu Sope
Along Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, atop a small hill, sits a residential community for adults with disabilities. When you get past the gate to Glennwood Houseand look beyond the parking lot, you'll immediately notice the quaint oasis of swinging benches enclosed by vegetables growing in large pots and along walkways.
The garden, which is maintained by the residents, was created in spring 2022 by Monica Mehren Thompson and Robbie Prepas, two UC Master Gardener volunteers of Orange County.
The UC Master Gardeners program is a public service and outreach program of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. Through the efforts of more than 6,000 Master Gardener volunteers across the state, the program is a unique driving force of change in local communities.
Thompson and Prepas completed their 16-week Master Gardener training in 2021 and quickly turned to Glennwood House for an opportunity to apply their newly acquired skills. Troy, Thompson's son, was a resident at Glennwood for nine years, making her decision to develop a garden on the grounds an obvious choice.
“This place is truly magical,” said Thompson.
Prepas agreed and shared that the residents play an active role from beginning to end. “We take the residents with us when we buy seeds so that they can choose what they want to grow,” she explained.
The garden has only experienced two plantings so far: spring and fall 2022. When it's time to harvest, the residents eagerly gather to taste the fresh vegetables and herbs. During the week, dinners are prepared by a professional chef, who incorporates ingredients pulled from the garden.
This will soon change, however. Since the residents enjoy the hands-on opportunity to cook so much, they'll now be in charge of preparing lunch and dinner every Friday. To kick start this shift, the residents prepared a huge salad and spaghetti with vegetable marinara sauce. The meal was a big hit and the residents were so proud of their creation.
“This is an all-out, very sophisticated effort with the Master Gardeners,” said Faith Manners, Glennwood House CEO.
Glennwood House is unlike other residential communities for persons with special needs in that it is home to 46 residents. “It's one of the largest supported-living communities in the U.S.,” Manners said, adding that Glennwood has an enormous waiting list.
According to Janet Parsons, development and facility director at Glennwood House, Laguna Beach genuinely embraces Glennwood residents. “When we're out and about, you should just see how warm and welcoming the community is towards our residents. Everyone is always engaging and smiling,” she shared.
Recently, the Laguna Beach Garden Club caught wind of the community garden at Glennwood and made a $1,500 donation to help fund materials.
Janet Chance, president of the Garden Club, credited Glennwood as one of the few places that caters to adults living with disabilities, commending their ability to cultivate a sense of belonging and integrate them into the greater Laguna Beach community.
While Chance regrets not having the time to become a Master Gardener herself, she attends some of the classes they teach in the Laguna Beach community. “The work they do is remarkable,” she said, adding that the club's recent donation was “one of the best” they have ever made.
Parsons said that it's important for the residents to feel independent. Therefore, the administration and the staff prioritize intentional programming. For example, instead of simple activities like coloring, Glennwood hosts advanced art sessions so that interested residents are learning techniques that will strengthen their artistic capabilities.
The same idea applies to the “farm-to-table” experience Thompson and Prepas have established.
“Just because the residents are living with a cognitive disability, it doesn't mean they're incapable of learning new things,” Parsons said. “They will tell you when something is boring or when they're not interested. So, we try to select activities or programs based on skills, personal interests and goals.”
While being recognized for the positive effect the gardeners have on the residents, Prepas quickly interjected that the real positive effect is the one that residents have on her. “I've learned so much from them,” she said. “They're incredible and so much fun to be around.”
Thompson, whose son lived at Glennwood until he passed away earlier this year, describes the Glennwood community as her family. Seeing Thompson's delight while gardening or cooking with the residents, it's easy to understand what she means.
“My husband has always supported philanthropy,” said Thompson. “But he says this feels like so much more than that. Because it is!”
To learn more about the UC Master Gardener program visit https://mg.ucanr.edu/.
- Author: Mike Hsu
Program with Foothill Indian Education Alliance teaches healthy eating to young people of many tribes
More than a tutoring center, the Foothill Indian Education Alliance facility in Placerville also provides cultural activities for youth in El Dorado and Amador counties affiliated with a broad diversity of Native American tribes.
In addition to traditional crafts like drum- and jewelry-making, the center began offering a food component last summer, through a partnership with CalFresh Healthy Living, University of California – one of the agencies in the state that teaches nutrition to people eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
“A lot of the kids, because they don't live on a reservation or their family might not be connected to a local tribe, don't know a lot of their history or their foods,” said Cailin McLaughlin, nutrition educator for CalFresh Healthy Living, UC, based at the UC Cooperative Extension office in El Dorado County. “Food is a good way to explore any heritage because food is at the central point of a lot of cultures and customs – sharing meals and sharing stories behind it.”
Last spring, McLaughlin worked with Hal Sherry, the head tutor at Foothill Indian Education Alliance, to create a new, five-week “summer camp” during which youth would learn about and prepare Native foods in the center's kitchen, primarily with ingredients from its backyard garden.
Sherry said that the experience provided the participants – 10 elementary school students and seven middle or high school students – an important perspective on the interconnectedness of all living things.
“Part of the objective of the program is for them to understand that each one of us is part of the natural order of things, and that we have to do our part to fit into that cycle,” he explained. “There's kind of an ecological lesson that's also being learned…and we don't want to put poisons in our bodies, and we don't want to put poisons in our environment.”
Program combines cultural lessons, nutrition information
For the summer program, McLaughlin selected a curriculum centered on garden-based nutrition, and infused it with elements of Indigenous food ways.
“We predominantly picked ingredients that had cultural significance to Native American communities, so things like blueberries, blackberries, pine nuts, squash, things of that nature,” she said. “So we could feed into the history of that ingredient, why it's important to the Indigenous communities – and then give (the students) the nutritional information about it.”
After the youth prepared chia seed parfaits – from a recipe that is part of a series developed by CalFresh Healthy Living, the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, and the Center for Wellness and Nutrition – a Foothill Indian Education Alliance staff member shared that Native hunters would eat chia seeds for strength before a long hunt.
Many of the participants had never had chia seeds before, and the parfaits were an “absolute favorite,” in the words of McLaughlin.
“I wish we could have made them more often!” said Lacey, a fifth grader who participates in the center's programs year-round.
In addition to working outside in the garden, Lacey said she also liked cooking in the kitchen during the summer camp – and the fact that the young people could take the lead.
“It was all the kids doing it, but (McLaughlin) was just supervising and making sure we were doing it right – it was really nice,” said Lacey, who identifies as Miwok.
Sharing within families, across tribes
Active participation by the young people is one of the strengths of the program, according to Sherry. He expressed admiration for McLaughlin's engaging teaching style, which eschews “lectures” and instead draws the participants into lively conversations about the nutritional content of the ingredients.
“Hopefully they're going to retain some of that knowledge and information and then remember: ‘You know what, yes, I think I would like to have some corn and some beans tonight, because that's going to help my bones grow strong and my eyesight get better,'” Sherry said. “That's really a big part of what we want them to come away with.”
At the end of the summer program, participants also came away with a binder of recipes from a cookbook of Native American dishes, “Young, Indigenous and Healthy: Recipes Inspired by Today's Native Youth.” James Marquez, director of the Foothill Indian Education Alliance, said he heard from students that they were bringing many of the lessons from the program back to their homes.
“I've heard the same kind of thing from parents and grandparents, who have said how wonderful that was and that kids come back home and have an interest in cooking and trying to serve nutritious meals to their families,” Marquez said.
That crucial sharing of knowledge also happens between and among staff members and students, as the center comprises members of many tribes, from South Dakota Lakota to Navajo.
“We serve Native people, we don't care what tribe they come from – they're all welcome,” Marquez said. “What we do represents a lot of different tribes, so we share information from one tribe to another, and that way people can appreciate everybody and what we have to bring to the table.”
Talia, a sixth grader who participated in the summer program, said that she enjoys that cultural sharing.
“I like how I can learn new things…and how I learn more about the people around me,” she explained. “It's also fun to learn about other people's cultures, and what Native American they are, too.”
McLaughlin went on to partner with Foothill Indian Education Alliance on a “Cooking Academy” program during this past fall, and is planning another spring/summer program for 2023, as well. The ongoing teaching and sharing of food ways is just one part of a long process to recover and rebuild Native American cultural traditions.
“Unfortunately, there was a very concerted effort to obliterate the Native culture on this continent; it was a very intentional, very deliberate effort to just stamp that culture out like it had somehow never existed,” Sherry said. “Now there's a much greater awareness of what a terrible thing that was, and so it's like trying to regrow a new garden over an area that was severely burned…and it's being done all over the country.”/h3>/h3>/h3>