Food security, water and climate change

Looking back at last year through the lens of sustainability

In October, Chico State professor Mark Stemen noted that humans “are changing the climate, and it’s not going to be good, and it’s going to last a long time.”

In October, Chico State professor Mark Stemen noted that humans “are changing the climate, and it’s not going to be good, and it’s going to last a long time.”


Pillars of sustainability:
Go to to read the outcome document of the United Nations’ 2005 World Summit, at which the three pillars of sustainability—environmental, economic and sociopolitical—were established.

So much—good and not-so-good—happened last year on a local, regional, national and international level when it comes to sustainability issues. An attempt to be comprehensive would be impossible in such a small space, but suffice it to say that the topics of environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and social equity—the three pillars of sustainability, as outlined at the United Nations’ 2005 World Summit—got plenty of media time.

Economic sustainability got a much-needed shot in the arm early in 2013 here in California when Assembly Bill 1616—the California Homemade Food Act—took effect on Jan. 1. AB 1616 allows a cottage-food operation—a food-preparation enterprise in a private home—to prepare certain “low-risk” packaged foods requiring no refrigeration for sale to consumers. Baked goods that do not contain cream, custard or meat fillings, and granola, trail mix and popcorn are a few of the foods that qualify under the new law.

Brad Banner—Butte County Public Health’s forward-thinking environmental-health director—helped with the passage of the bill. “I worked for it,” he was quoted as saying in a Jan. 31 CN&R article (see “Exactly like homemade,” Greenways). “I’m excited because it’s part of the local food movement and I think that’s a really good thing.” (Banner also got on board last year as overseer of BCPH’s Composting Toilets and Graywater Systems pilot study, which may result in water-saving gray-water systems and composting toilets being OK’d for Butte County residences in the not-too-distant future.)

Also, in December, Stephen Tchudi and Nea Edwards, of the Chapmantown: Good Food Now! project, held two free AB 1616-related workshops called “How to Start a Cottage Industry,” which included information on how to become a vendor at the Chapmantown Farmers’ Market.

On the subject of food, native foods (and edible weeds)—acorns, manzanita, pokeweed, the sticky evergreen shrub called yerba santa, and so on—gained a higher profile this year as people increasingly looked to locally sourced foods. The Friends of the Chico State Herbarium’s February workshop—“The Wild Dessert: Preparing Food from Native Plants”—presented by author, herbalist and wild-food advocate Alicia Funk was a hit. Participants came away with knowledge of how to make such native-plant-based confections as Oak Nut Bliss Bars and yerba santa ice cream.

In fact, Chicoans couldn’t seem to get enough locally sourced, healthful food. The Saturday-morning downtown farmers’ market (despite its long-term status at Wall and East Second streets becoming uncertain as of last year) continued to rock all year long, with its vendors doing a robust business selling all manner of fresh fruits, veggies, prepared foods, drinks and craft items. Heartseed Community Farm sprang up in the vacuum-of-sorts left at the GRUB Cooperative after the GRUB CSA Farm relocated to West Sacramento Avenue—giving consumers of healthful organic produce even more goodness to choose from (see “Farming with heart,” CN&R, June 6). And the new Veterans Garden Project, in the heart of the Humboldt Community Garden on Humboldt Road, offered free vegetables and therapeutic gardening experience to the vets involved with it (see “‘Veggie barracks,’” June 27).

Chicoans were taught how to make ice cream from a native plant called yerba santa at a February workshop sponsored by Friends of the Chico State Herbarium.


A number of canning workshops (at the Chico Grange Hall and at Hodge’s Nursery & Gifts in Durham) were held last year, as were other food-security-focused workshops, such as Cultivating Community North Valley’s Vegetable Rotation Design workshop held in March at Chico State’s Organic Vegetable Project. Sherwood Montessori K-8 charter school weighed in on the food-and-sustainability front with its purchase of a new solar oven for use in the school’s cooking classes, and its hosting of a “kitchen-garden clinic” in October for students of Rose Scott Open-Structure School.

The Chico Seed Lending Library (located at the Chico branch of the Butte County Library) came into existence last year as well, promising to be a robust, growing source of seed security for years to come.

But you can’t germinate seeds without water, and water, unsurprisingly, was a much-discussed topic here in the North State last year (and promises to be even more so in 2014). California’s planned twin-tunnels project—featuring two multibillion-dollar, 40-foot-diameter tunnels designed to transport precious North State water south—dominated headlines last year, including here in Chico, where the Butte Environmental Council worked year-long to bring information about the project to local citizens via its Code Blue series of water-outreach events.

As Nani Teves, BEC’s water-outreach coordinator, noted in a Dec. 19 CN&R guest commentary, “Building high-capacity tunnels to remove large amounts of fresh water from the [Sacramento-San Joaquin] Delta will destroy the Central Valley ecosystem as well as as fisheries, recreational opportunities and the agricultural economy of California.” BEC is not alone in opposing the pricey project—local water-watchdog group AquAlliance and Stockton-based Restore the Delta are just as vocal.

Perhaps the most prominent sustainability-related topic of last year (and, like water, sure to be an even more prominent issue this year) was climate change due to rampant greenhouse-gas emissions. Around the world, glaciers are melting, and rain- and snowfall are dwindling in some areas, while in others, massive storms and flooding are wreaking havoc. Wildland-fire season is starting earlier and ending later each year, with the trend expected to continue. Iconic destinations such as Yosemite National Park and Yellowstone National Park are suffering under drought conditions that are likely to bring more fires and habitat loss for wildlife living there.

Chico State professors Jim Pushnik and Mark Stemen weighed in on the impacts of climate change in the CN&R in October (see “‘Climate shifts,’” Oct. 24), on the heels of the issuance of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment report.

“All fingers point to human activity, that we are changing the climate, and it’s not going to be good, and it’s going to last a long time,” Stemen was quoted as saying.

Along similar lines, Scott McNall—the former executive director of Chico State’s Institute for Sustainable Development—and co-author George Basile wrote a CN&R Greenways feature story (“A climate narrative,” Nov. 28) calling for a more expansive, community-focused approach to dealing with climate change.

Quoting environmental heavyweight Bill McKibben, Basile and McNall left us with these thoughts: “Live anywhere there is s strong community” and “You will find such strong communities by creating them.”