- Author: Wendy Powers
Former California Secretary of Agriculture, A.G. Kawamura, and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, were the speakers for a webinar last week addressing what COVID-19 has revealed about our food system. Their message: We are in our 'ah-ha moment' where we can look back to better see forward. Other countries that had gone through SARS or other pandemics were better prepared than the U.S. and experienced less disruption and better containment. Now, the U.S. has an opportunity to appreciate the importance of food production and the need for expanded food access so that we are not in a position of disproportionate impact when the next pandemic or crisis occurs. When asked what he would want to see as a stimulus package's priority, Secretary Vilsack responded that an increase in SNAP benefits without barriers to access would be his top priority.
Regarding food production and processing, Secretary Vilsack stressed that we need to think about building a system of resiliency and give that attribute as much attention as we have provided to efficiency. A resilient system may be less efficient, but it will ensure food access during crises. The resilient food system doesn't completely replace what we have now, but adds another layer with a complimentary food system that collects, processes, and distributes locally produced food. This system may not be as efficient, which typically means more cost to the consumer. However, as part of a national food resiliency plan, the government could choose to subsidize the complimentary system.
Secretary Vilsack addressed the need for more public funding for research and repeated what I have heard from others. Like NIH, who justifies their need for more funding by stating that they can 'cure cancer,' agriculture needs to make a bold statement about preventing cancer or eliminating hunger to access more substantial funding. Secretary Kawamura talked about the need to re-think the role of each sector, including Cooperative Extension. He indicated that the university plays an essential role in moving us from our current ‘old structure' to ‘new structure' that emphasizes food system resiliency and equitable food access. Cooperative Extension continues to play a role in bridging discovery and implementation.
UC ANR is well-positioned to lead this conversation. In addition to a current effort, led by two of our Strategic Initiative Leaders, to imagine our food system in a food-secure world, we have demonstrated our programs' impact on increasing food security. Here's one example of the impact statements reported this last year that we shared with our NIFA partners:
- Of the 187 EFNEP graduates in Tulare and Kings Counties, 81% of participants showed improvement in food resource management practices. Additionally, results from 83 participants indicated $70.70 in average monthly cost savings, suggesting that making informed food decisions can help families improve nutrition and food resource management behaviors essential to maximizing the use of limited resources, supporting a healthy diet, and improving food security. (Deepa Srivastava)
As we wind down June, we recognize that several members of the UC ANR family are preparing for their next life adventure. Congratulations to all of our retirees. And, thank you, for all of your contributions and effort during your time with UC ANR! We wish you well, and we will miss you. Please, check-in often.