As students filled bags with fresh produce nearby, Santa Barbara County’s first Food Action Plan was unveiled at Allan Hancock College Tuesday morning, culminating a two-year community effort aimed at assessing how food is grown, distributed and consumed while protecting it in the future.
The Santa Maria event was followed by a similar session in Santa Barbara to reveal the results of 1,200 volunteer hours by more than 200 people representing a cross-section of the community.
Foodbank of Santa Barbara County CEO Erik Talkin said he knows not everyone has access to the wealth of food produced locally. The organization provides food to 300 partner agencies and programs that serve one in four people in Santa Barbara County.
But the county’s abundance isn’t guaranteed into the future due to a number of factors, including the fact the population is expected to grow by 100,000 people in the next 25 years, putting pressure on agricultural lands, water supply, waste processing, open space and more.
“Those are things that are coming down the pike that really need some new thinking. So we’ve tried to address some of these issues in a positive and a creative fashion within the food action plan,” Talkin said.
“We really looked at how we future-proof what we’re doing against things that are going to happen in the future that we can’t really plan for.”
While Santa Barbara County is in the top 1 percent of agricultural-producing counties in the world, it’s in the bottom 14 of California counties regarding to food security. The Food Action Plan recognizes the food system is critical to the public health, economic vitality and environmental resilience, supporters said.
“We need to make sure that those who help keep us fed, whether they’re farm workers or food service providers, can really afford to have access to enough nutritious food, and just as important, the food literacy skills to make good use of that food,” Talkin said. “So we want everyone in the county to enjoy good and food is really recognized as one of the most effective ways of achieving this.”
Erik Talkin, chief executive officer of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, talks about the newly released Santa Barbara County Food Action Plan. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
The action plan assesses how food is grown, packaged, distributed, consumed and disposed of, identifying steps to improve policies, programs and individual actions guiding how food moves from farms to tables.
“What resilience is all about, more than anything else, is a community thinking about its future and having the audacity to actually want to write that future, to form that future, as opposed to always having to clean up the messes of the hand we’re dealt,” said Ron Gallo, CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation.
The Food Action Plan calls for four steps which are:
» Invest in the food economy, including supporting a diverse generation of food and farming entrepreneurs with training, education and preferential purchasing policies.
» Invest in health and wellness, addressing diet-related challenges by creating a network of neighbor-to-neighbor support and engaging employers, teachers and physicians to promote health eating.
» Invest in the community, calling for more a effective delivery of safety net services, increasing self-sufficiency in food production and boosting housing availability for food system workers
» Invest in the foodshed, by protecting farm land, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, cutting food waste and encouraging best practices for managing natural resources.
Other community food action plans led to updated land-use codes to support urban agriculture in Seattle, created diversion for food scraps statewide in Vermont and boosted the number of neighborhood food assets by 30 percent including farmers markets, community gardens and community kitchens.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he was drawn to the project by the public-health aspect.
“Some of the numbers are pretty sobering,” Lavagnino said.
One in five children in Santa Barbara County lives in poverty and a child living in a food-insecure home has a 30 percent chance of hospitalization, he said. Developmental delays also are likely and will continue through life.
More than half of the adults in Santa Barbara County are overweight, he said. And 50 percent of the deaths in Santa Barbara County are related to diet, including heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
Lavagnino served as a co-chair of the plan with First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, proof of the collaborative effort involved in the effort.
“This is not a North County food action plan; There’s not a South County food action plan,” Lavagnino said. “We all came together. … Everybody’s coming together because we understand there’s a problem and we want to do something about it.”
The Food Share Because We Care program is held twice a month at Allan Hancock College to help struggling students. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
The Foodbank and the Community Environmental Council spearheaded the projects with the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Orfalea Foundation.
Development of the 102-page Food Action Plan involved lawmakers, growers, environmentalists, nonprofit organizations, school, health care, businesses and more.
As the Santa Maria event unfolded, Hancock College students picked up produce under the Food Share Because We Care, a program launched in February for students experiencing food insecurity.
Since its start, the twice-a-month-program funded by the Allan Hancock College Foundation has delivered 25,633 pounds of food to 1,581 students. The Foodbank assists the college with the program, which is run by student government members.
“This Foodshare program has been remarkably popular,” Hancock Superintendent/President Kevin Walthers said.