- Author: Jennifer Sowerwine
As our world grapples with the containment of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), essential services including food provisioning remain vital to the health and well-being of our communities. Yet, many small farms are struggling as they face rapid decline in sales as restaurants, schools and other farm-to-institutions programs close. Many urban farms and community gardens who share the mission of providing fresh, health and affordable food to some of our most vulnerable community members are trying to decide whether and how their operations can stay open, as Shelter-in-Place orders mandate social distancing in many of our counties.
The good news is that many Shelter-in-Place Orders list farms, farm stands and farmers' markets as “essential businesses” and are therefore exempt from the Shelter-in-Place orders. However, there are some key guidelines from the CDC regarding social distancing, heightened health and hygiene practices and cleaning and disinfecting procedures that can help minimize exposure and risk of spreading of the virus. The other good news is that there is no evidence to date of Coronavirus spreading through food and food packaging. The virus is thought to be spread mainly from person to person, however there is evidence that it can last for days on surfaces, thus the need to ramp up good health and hygiene practices, social distancing and cleaning & sanitizing of surfaces.
University of California research and extension faculty have compiled a list of valuable fact sheets and resources for farmers, community gardeners and other food system actors on the UC Davis Food Safety website to ensure that we can continue supplying fresh, healthy and affordable food to communities across our state. The following PowerPoint presentation, created for urban farmers in the San Francisco East Bay area, on Safe Handling Practices for Fresh Produce in a Time of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) provides what is known about COVID-19 and outlines best practices for safe food handling at the farm as well as links to a number of useful resources from the CDC, CDFA and others. A set of policies and procedures for safe food handling at the farm during COVID-19 provides step by step instructions for how to implement new food and health precautions on the farm including checklists, standard operating procedures and signage posting guidelines for preventing the spread of infection. Handouts for safe food handling at home can be distributed to customers receiving food from the farm.
During this challenging time, I am heartened by the quick and thoughtful responses by many extension, grassroots and institutional efforts, including Community Alliance with Family Farm's COVID-19 Responses and Resources for California Family Farms, Mutual Aid organizations where groups of young, healthy, and lower-risk people are bringing food and services to those who shouldn't be in public at all, and Rooting in Resilience that seeks to support local restaurants, farmers, and food systems workers as they weather this latest storm. Crisis can spawn innovation, and I am hopeful that through this, we will come out the other end with a more compassionate and resilient food system.
Jennifer Sowerwine is the UCANR/UCB Extension Specialist in Metropolitan Agriculture and Food Systems.
Conducted by the University of California Cooperative Extension and the School of Veterinary Medicine and funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, this survey will take about 20 minutes to complete. Provided information will be kept strictly confidential. We will not connect your name with your responses.
Originally created as part of the Healthy Animals, Healthy People workshop series in California, the survey is now open to all owners and small-scale producers of livestock and poultry in California regardless of workshop attendance. We would appreciate your time and participation in this survey, accessible here.
- Author: Rachel A. Surls
Note: This post is first of a series in which we will recap our UC ANR Urban Agriculture Workshops. We'll share key points, as well as links to videos and handouts. Even if you couldn't make it in person, you can still access the content.
Finding land is one of the key challenges for aspiring urban farmers. Identifying an appropriate site, working out an agreement with the landowner, and signing a lease are huge milestones. But once the land is secured, how should the new farm be set up?
Design of urban farms and community gardens was the topic of Dr. David de la Peña's workshop conducted for urban farmers in Sacramento. De la Peña, an Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design at UC Davis, specializes in sustainable architecture and community-based design.
Some of his key points:
Think about the physical elements you want on your farm. Will you have raised beds, structures such as a greenhouse, fruit trees, a meeting area? These are just a few of the elements to consider for your plan.
Will the community be involved in the urban farm? If so, engage the community in planning and design.
Site design should match the purpose of the project. For example, an urban farm focused exclusively on production for market may look very different than a farm designed primarily as a community gathering place.
Use renewable and recycled materials when possible.
Don't forget aesthetics. It's important for urban farm sites to be attractive. For example, consider including handmade art in the form of signs and mosaics.
Make a site map. It can begin as a simple sketch. Ultimately, you want your map to be to scale. De la Peña offers a design exercise to get you started.
De la Peña's talk was part of a day-long workshop on production in urban agriculture. To see the other presentations, which covered pest management, soil management, and more, visit our workshop site. Additional resources on site design can be found on UC ANR's Urban Agriculture website.
In a growing number of communities, food policy councils (also called “food system alliances”) have emerged to address gaps in local policies that focus on food. Most communities have transportation, housing or land use policies, but food policies are frequently missing. Food policy councils (FPCs) are an important way to bring community members together with local government to promote the social, economic and environmental health of local and regional food systems.
Food policy councils are made up of representatives from many sectors in the food system, including farmers, distributors, retailers, food service operations, government agencies (like public health, county social services and county agriculture departments), and community organizations that work in the food system. Some FPCs also develop close partnerships with county-based UC Cooperative Extension to help facilitate their work.
FPCs support a variety of food and agriculture-related policies and programs, including healthy food access, land use planning, regional food procurement, food waste, food and economic development, local food processing, and regulations related to urban farming or community gardening, to name a few examples.
A brief history of food policy councils
FPCs emerged in the late 1980s as the sustainable agriculture and food/nutrition movements began to pay more attention to community food systems. Early FPCs were created through resolutions of local government bodies (Clancy et al 2008). At that time, they tended to be embedded within government, much like a planning commission or a social service commission. As the local food movement began to rapidly expand in the 2000s, many local activists and organizations began to create FPCs as a way to bring together a more diverse group of food system stakeholders. These newer generation FPCs were typically organized outside of government as a non-profit organization or community coalition. Studies of FPCs, including our own, find that they take very diverse organizational forms and tackle widely varying issues, which means that generalizations about their goals and outcomes are difficult to make. This may be quite appropriate however, given the enduring FPC goal of tailoring food policies to the specific characteristics of particular places.
A UC ANR research project is looking at how FPCs work
While FPCs are increasingly on the radar of those trying to promote food system change, we still don't have much recent documented evidence about the actual work of FPCs (though see Harper et al. 2009, Fox 2010 and Borron 2003). In response, a team of UC Cooperative Extension researchers (Clare Gupta, Julia Van Soelen Kim, Dave Campbell, Jennifer Sowerwine, Gail Feenstra, Shosha Capps and Kate Munden-Dixon) began a comparative study of 10 California food policy councils in 2016. We wanted to know this: what are the networks and relationships that FPCs are a part of? And how do these networks and relationships influence what a FPC is able to achieve? As UCCE researchers ourselves, we were especially interested in understanding the nature of relationships between FPCs and university researchers, including UC Cooperative Extension.
To answer these questions, we interviewed more than 60 FPC members from food policy councils across California. We asked them about the work they were doing within their councils, their relationships with other players in the local food system, and the way they find information relevant for their council's priorities. We also led focus groups with members exploring the same questions. In addition, we analyzed documents produced by and about FPCs. We also engaged in “participant observation” — researcher lingo for the process of engaging with groups and individuals as a way to learn first-hand about what they do. Lastly, we combined the stories we heard from our interviewees with numerical data from a survey of nearly all of California's known FPCs. We hoped by doing this to develop a better picture of FPCs' strategies for gathering relevant information, networking and creating impact.
Our Research Findings
A full report of our findings can be found on the UC SAREP website, but here we share some key takeaways and strategies for FPC success:
- Respondents see information sharing as the most valuable FPC activity. It encourages collaboration and shifts participant thinking towards a more holistic view of food policy work.
- Members who are “knowledge brokers,,” including Cooperative Extension advisors, are connected to many different knowledge sources and are able to draw on these different sources to provide data and information that match their council's needs.
- Real-life experiences are often as compelling with policy-makers as statistics. FPCs cite the value of integrating information from numbers (i.e. quantitative data) and stories (i.e. qualitative data).
- There is no one-size-fits-all approach to FPC membership. Some FPCs view food system change as a process that involves a broad and inclusive consortium of stakeholders. They try to bring stakeholders with diverse values together (i.e., a “big tent” approach). Other FPCs emphasize attracting allies who share core values and a commitment to advocacy on behalf of food systems change (i.e., a “small tent” approach).
- Small sub-groups within FPCs can achieve significant policy change. A targeted sub-group of the FPC (i.e. working group; task force, campaign) can work with key allies to push forward a particular policy priority—the entire council does not necessarily have to be entirely involved.
- Effective FPCs have strong leaders. These leaders have deep experience and connections in the community and a good feel for the nuances involved in effective political organizing.
Overall, we found that the work of FPCs at the local and state level is making a significant difference in our state, providing a meaningful way to pursue food systems policy and change. Our recent article in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development specifically highlights how local government and FPCs collaborate to shape food policies and programs in different local contexts. Stay tuned for more results from our work.
We would love to hear from you about whether our findings resonate in your own food policy council, or if you have ideas for next research steps.
Want to get involved in local food system policy-making? Join a food policy council! See reports by Food First or Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future's Food Policy Networks for additional information.
Clancy, K., Hammer, J., & Lippoldt, D. (2008). Food policy councils-past, present, and future. In Remaking the North American Food System: Strategies for Sustainability (pp. 121-143). University of Nebraska Press.
Borron, S.M. 2003. Food Policy Councils: Practice and Possibility. Congressional Hunger Center Hunger-Free Community Report.
Fox, C. 2010. Food Policy Councils: Innovations in Democratic Governance for a Sustainable and Equitable Food System. Los Angeles Food Policy Task Force unpublished report.
Harper, A., Shattuck, A., E. Holt-Gimenez, Alkon, A., and F. Lambrick. 2009. Food Policy Councils: Lessons Learned. Food First: Institute for Food and Development Policy.
- Author: Lucy Diekmann
Silicon Valley's culture of innovation, diverse culinary traditions, fertile soils, and Mediterranean climate offer unique food system opportunities. In addition to large tech companies, these two counties are home to roughly 1300 farms with agricultural production valued at more than $450 million. Yet high land values make it difficult for farmers to find and keep land. The high cost of living also contributes to many families' struggle to put healthy food on the table. According to Second Harvest Food Bank, one in three children in Silicon Valley are food insecure. Many of those who are hungry are employed, but don't make enough to cover basic expenses in what has become the country's richest region as well as its most expensive.
Despite these challenges, this is an exciting time to work on food and agriculture in Silicon Valley. Santa Clara County is in the process of implementing the Santa Clara Valley Agricultural Plan to preserve agricultural lands and support a vibrant agricultural economy. The nonprofit organization SPUR is piloting a program to make California-grown produce more affordable for low-income families at grocery stores in San Jose and Gilroy. Civically engaged residents successfully advocated for Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones in the City of San Jose, creating new opportunities to put vacant land to productive use. The region's urban farms are involved in growing food for school cafeterias, developing a food entrepreneurship program, and educating students and the general public about food and agriculture, among many other activities.
Originally from Maine, I relocated to the Bay Area 15 years ago to pursue a PhD at UC Berkeley. For the past eight years, I've been working and raising my family in the South Bay. If you'd like to learn more about my work or Silicon Valley's food system, please be in touch. You can find me here: http://cesantaclara.ucanr.edu/Programs/contact/?facultyid=40005.