Lowering the cost of eating local

Soil Born Farm and the Food Bank of Yolo County ease the valley’s food insecurity

Despite living in one of the richest agricultural regions in the world, many Sacramentans cannot afford the taste or nutritional value of the produce that grows practically in their backyards. According to a 2005 study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, 2.9 million Californians lack the resources to put food on the table regularly—let alone pay six dollars a pound for organic asparagus.

Organizations like Soil Born Farm and the Yolo County Food Bank are determined to change this irony by bringing healthy, local produce and education to underserved, “food insecure” families.

“It is one of the main reasons we started the farm,” said Shawn Harrison, Executive Director of Soil Born Farm. “We felt like there were disparities in our food system and lack of access to healthy food among lower-income people.”

Three years ago, Soil Born started a small, summertime Certified Farmers’ Market at the Robertson Community Center in Del Paso Heights. About ten vendors, most of them Hmong, sell their produce every Saturday, and Soil Born staff and volunteers offer cooking demonstrations and classes, nutritional information and recipes. The produce sells for about one-third of its regular price and customers can buy with EBT (electronic benefit transfer) and WIC (women, infants and children) cards.

“The food is really affordable,” said Harrison. “It’s culturally appropriate and is grown by people who live in the neighborhood.”

Through after-school and in-school programs with Jonas Salk Middle School, Soil Born encourages students to draw connections among food, health and the environment that impact the way they act, think and eat. Students in the after-school program visit the farm each week to plant, cultivate, harvest, cook and distribute food, among many other activities.

“We want to facilitate access [to fresh produce] but we want them to change behavior, too,” said Harrison. “They can only do that through repeat interactions.”

Yolo County Food Bank CEO Jose Martinez had a similar vision when he created the Moveable Market to bring locally grown produce to 17 sites each month. The Food Bank buys produce from local growers and distributes one bag of it to each family, along with recipes and nutritional information in English and Spanish.

“The idea is not just to provide the produce but to get them to think about food and realize it’s better to eat produce than processed foods,” Martinez said, adding that many of the distribution sites were selected to reach children. “The sooner we reach people in terms of their nutritional intake, the better long-term effects we have as a result of the interventions.”

Both Harrison and Martinez say the biggest obstacle to reaching more underserved families is a lack of funding.

“It costs money to grow and distribute food, but we know that a large part of our population doesn’t have the means to buy food,” Harrison said. “With individual support and community dollars we can offset the price of production, and then sell it a very affordable price or in some cases, free.”

While money may be scare, interest in eating healthy local produce is not.

“There is a lot of interest now in putting good food back into our diets, and that crosses economic levels,” Harrison said.

“The response has been tremendous,” Martinez said of the Moveable Market. “People are promoting it to other family members. Every month we end up giving more produce to more people.”

Soil Born Farm is located at 3000 Hurley Way. Call (916) 486-9687 or visit www.soilborn.org for more information. The Food Bank of Yolo County is located at 1244 Fortna Avenue in Woodland. Call (530) 668-0690 or visit www.foodbankyc.org for more information.