If the past few years have taught us anything, we must now admit that disasters happen close to home. Wildfires, drought, flood and the Covid-19 pandemic have given us many opportunities to help our neighbors and reevaluate our assumptions about where to turn in times of need.
Supply system disruptions, extreme weather, and rising food prices point to the fact that our local (and global) food system is fragile. When grocery shelves empty out, we are reminded that no need is more basic than food; yet our food supply in Butte County is far from secure.
Butte County agriculture is an important industry, with over 3,300 local farmers providing about 15% of the county's jobs. Commercial agriculture's four top crops, rice, walnuts, almonds, and prunes, provide 75% of production value. While the county exports 98% of the food crops grown here, this food production supports people in 67 countries and 29 states within the United States.
At the same time, 18% of Butte County residents are food insecure: one in five families with children do not have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food, and that percentage is higher than the state average. In fact, 28% of Butte County residents live in areas considered to be “food deserts” with no access to food within a reasonable distance.
Considering the current percentage of food deserts in our county, what would happen if a disaster caused widespread disruption of the food supply? Right now Butte County does not have a Food Disaster Plan to ensure food and water are accessible for all residents if resources from outside the area (like energy and transportation) are unavailable.
The Executive Summary lists five goals or action areas to promote food sovereignty in Butte County. They are: 1) decrease the number of people who are food insecure; 2) increase awareness and access to locally produced food; 3) increase local food in distribution, retail and food service; 4) promote sustainable agriculture production; and 5) prepare for disasters.
The benefits of investing in local food are many. Locally and regionally produced food stimulates the economy, creates jobs and returns three times the amount of money back to the local economy as chain retailers. Local food is fresher, and, when grown regeneratively, has a lower carbon footprint, can save water and helps the environment. Local food strengthens connections in our communities via personal, community and school gardens, through urban farms, CSAs, and farmers' markets. Plus a robust local food system preserves rural farmlands and livelihoods.
There are 42,000 acres of land in Chico, Oroville, Paradise and Gridley, and over a million acres in Butte County as a whole. The goal of 1,000 Acres More is based on the assumption that with 1,500 acres devoted to local food production, there would be enough food to feed every person in Butte County, and this could be accomplished by utilizing land that we already have within our control: our homes and backyards, as well as businesses, schools, churches and other communal spaces.
Anyone can participate in 1,000 Acres More. No garden is too small; even tomato plants in pots can be counted! You can get started by registering your garden on the Butte County Local Food Network's 1000 Acres More webpage so that it can be counted toward the 1,000 acre goal (you are not required to list your address).
No garden? Start one. If you don't have backyard space, consider turning your front lawn into a vegetable garden. Front-yard food gardens generate a lot of interest, and it's likely that if you start one, some of your neighbors will be inspired to follow suit. If you're not a confident gardener, the BCLFN website lists many resources to help you get started and be successful, including advice from UC Master Gardeners of Butte County.
To spread the word, share information about the 1,000 Acres More project with people you know. Those who feel committed to the cause of local food security can become 1,000 Acres+ Ambassadors.
Ambassadors take on the role of getting neighbors together to talk about growing food. This can be done by having a front yard get-together of some kind (perhaps a potluck), and inviting your neighbors. If you're shy about approaching them, BCLFN offers a printable door hanger which you can use to invite people by hanging it on their front door knob.
As BCLFN Director Pamm Larry states, “There's a tremendous amount of resistance to getting to know your neighbor,” yet in the uncertain times we live in, there's real value in being friends with those who live close by.
Fall is a good time to hold a community seed-cleaning event. Cleaning and saving your own seeds is cheaper than purchasing them, plus the seeds become increasingly adapted to our area the more we save and grow them. Saving seeds helps maintain the genetic diversity of our food supply, possibly helping plants adapt to new pests and diseases as well as changes in climate.
1,000 Acres More offers the opportunity for us to start working together now toward greater food security. The need is great, but Butte County has the potential to become self-sufficient in feeding our entire population, year-round, if we take up the challenge.
BCLFN is excited to announce their new Garden Brigade, consisting of 20 College Corps Fellows from CSU Chico who are eager to work on food security in Butte County!! This able-bodied crew is available to help with projects like putting in or expanding your food garden, getting your winter garden ready for more cold weather, or gleaning the excess on your fruit trees and making sure it gets distributed to the community. Sign up and let the Garden Brigade know how they can support you and your family in making us all more food secure in the coming years (1000 Acres More). Also, Garden Brigade Team Captains are needed to expand this project's reach by helping the teams of Fellows get into more gardens. No huge expertise is needed, just knowledge and experience in growing food successfully. To sign up, Email email@example.com.
BCLFN is dedicated to creating and supporting local food systems that are good for the planet and for people, and that foster community connection and belonging, so whenever the next disaster occurs we can face it confidently, neighbor helping neighbor.
UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, email the Hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a phone message on our Hotline at (530) 538-7201. To speak to a Master Gardener about a gardening issue, or to drop by the MG office during Hotline hours, see the most current information on our Ask Us Hotline webpage.
“Butte County Baseline Food Assessment.” Butte County Local Food Network, July 2022
“Executive Summary - Butte County Baseline Food Assessment.” Butte County Local Food Network, 22 Feb. 2022