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Food advocates come together for change

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Mark Winne, author of Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty, opened Thursday morning’s Sacramento Region Food Collaborative (RFC) conference with a powerful message of hope.

“The loss of land, hunger, insecurity, obesity are real…but so is the opportunity for change," he said.

The guest list for the four-hour brainstorm session, coordinated by Valley Vision, included more than 70 movers and shakers in the food and urban agriculture industry plus representatives from congress and environmental agencies.

Held in TV station KVIE’s community room, Winne began the collaborative by asking the audience for general feedback, both positive and negative, on the state of Sacramento’s current food system (see below for highlights).

Winne, the headlining speaker for this month’s meeting, is a nationally recognized leader in food policy, local agriculture and hunger and food insecurity. He has co-founded a number of food and agriculture policy groups across the nation and is a recipient of the 2001 U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary’s Plow Honor Award.

Throughout his presentation, “Leadership for Healthy Communities: Advancing Policies to Support Healthy Eating and Active Living,”  Winne discussed existing successful food policies, community projects and strategies that can be used as models for our region and solutions to putting talk into action.

Many attendees echoed a common frustration of the pace of action taking place in the region, with some having devoted almost their entire lives to food policy and providing healthy food choices to the community. One audience member aptly described it as “pushing a rock uphill.”

Winne acknowledged that change might occur slowly, but reassured the audience, saying, “I maintain that you have the expertise in this room to solve most of the food problems in the region.”

Two of the strongest themes that emerged from the convention were the need for greater education efforts and access for communities to various food programs throughout the region. Some of the solutions that Winne suggested that could build steps toward an improved food system included:

-Zoning laws, buffer zones around schools
-Not just providing healthy food choices but equipping children and adults with education to make them
-Example: Happy Kitchen adult cooking program
-Focus on change at a local level
-Community development as area for opportunity
-Example: Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing, which added 2,500 new jobs
– Farm-to-school programs (currently 10 percent of nation’s schools involved)

During last month’s RFC, Valley Vision surveyed attendees to get an idea of their priorities and focus. A list of 15 priorities was formed, the number one priority being “taking action to overcome policy barriers to local food access” . Bill Mueller, this month’s RFC facilitator, accepted critique of the survey and, based on a majority of comments, fine-tuned the results to include that education and communication should always be a cornerstone of the project in addition to other priorities.

To close the meeting and prepare for September’s conference, facilitators asked that audience members review a spider chart of stakeholders in the RFC project, grouped into categories like community development, social economy, charity and policy advocacy. Attendees were asked to consider who has been left out and to leave suggestions of additional targets of the project.

As outlined in a one-year meeting plan timeline, RFC has developed an action plan and is currently in the "convening/agenda setting” stage. Beginning with September’s planning meeting, the collaborative will enter the "action” stage that will continue through a series of priority action meetings until February 2010.

Based on the discussion and exchange of ideas that took place Thursday morning, attendees are more than equipped with not only the passion but the tools, power and innovative thinking needed to improve Sacramento’s food system.

Valley Vision’s Bill Mueller closed the collaboration with a reminder that the power for change lies in the hands of the attendees.

“At the end of the day, this is your project, and we‘re the container," Mueller said.

RFC gatherings began in May and will continue on a monthly basis. For complete information about the project, visit valleyvision.org.

To learn about future collaborative meetings, contact Robyn Krock at robyn.krock@valleyvision.org

Current food system audience commentary highlights (positive)

  • -Sacramento is one of the best stone-fruit agriculture regions in the nation
  • -A vast number of farmers markets in area
  • -Many farmers markets and stands accept Electronic Benefit Transfer cards
  • -Programs like Meals on Wheels offer healthy food choices to seniors
  • -Many marketing opportunities available for food programs

Current food system audience commentary highlights (negative)

  • -Sacramento is a food “desert” (Read USDA’s study on this theory)
  • -Lack of education and access in certain communities (example Oak Park)
  • -Price per dollar of fruit and vegetables at markets is on the rise
  • -There is still a lot of room for improvement with marketing methods
  • -Only around 2 percent of area residents attend farmers markets
  • -Regulations sometimes make it difficult to run stands or markets
  • -More focus is needed on children making healthy choices
  • -Many neighborhoods are forced to choose supermarkets and fast food because of lack of options

Take Action, Get Inspired: Programs and Resources

Mark Winne: mark@foodsecurity.org

Community Food Security Coalition

Farm to School Network

Oakland’s People’s Grocery

Leadership for Healthy Communities

Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Cleveland’s City Fresh program

Philadelphia’s Food Trust

Food Policy Council


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