Monthly Archives: July 2016

CDFA Office of Farm to Fork Annual Report Released

Little Rusted Ladle photo

As Californians, we are lucky to live in one of the most agriculturally productive places in the world, producing the variety we need for a well-balanced diet. We are constantly reminded of this as we travel through the diverse micro climates of the state and witness everything from tomatoes to roaming cattle to almond orchards.

Yet despite this bounty, many Californians remain food insecure, with hunger and proper nutrition remaining a pressing anxiety. The Office of Farm to Fork was established to address these needs and works to improve access to the healthy foods produced in our state.

This annual report chronicles the programs and tools developed by the Office of Farm to Fork over the past year. From creating the California Farmer Marketplace – an online tool making it easier for schools to procure California foods – to introducing the next generation to agriculture, this program strives to not only increase food access but also awareness of the state’s rich agriculture heritage and production.

I am proud of the accomplishments of the Office of Farm to Fork over the last year and look forward to much success in the future!

Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture

Annual Report


Lowering Milk Prices with Collective Buying Power

Glass of milk

More school districts are leaning toward purchasing collectively and acting as a buying collaborative to lower prices and increase local purchases, but some groups are taking it a step further and releasing joint requests for proposals (RFPs). RFPs allow districts to continue the savings past a single group purchase and lock in lower prices for an entire school year. Eight districts in Contra Costa County, representing 69,000 students, released a joint dairy RFP this spring and awarded the contract to Crystal Creamery for the 2016/17 school year. Using a single spreadsheet that recorded usage totals for dairy products, school nutrition directors from Pittsburg Unified School District, Walnut Creek School District, Brentwood Union School District, Byron Union School District, Liberty Union High School District, Oakley Union Elementary School District, Mount Diablo Unified School District, and West Contra Costa Unified School District all contributed the amount of each product they needed, as well as their delivery locations and schedules.

The group, along with Antioch Unified School District and guidance from the California Department of Food and Agriculture Office of Farm to Fork and the Center for Ecoliteracy, are in the process of forming a Joint Powers Agreement to legally strengthen their ability to purchase together beyond acting as a buying collaborative. The directors saw dairy as a great place to start joint purchases as all public districts are required to serve milk daily. The contract includes milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, and other miscellaneous dairy products.

Working together significantly lowers the price for small districts that benefit from being included in the group along with large districts like Mount Diablo and West Contra Costa.

“Brentwood Union is very thankful to have the support of larger districts when it comes to purchasing. Our district serves about 5,000 meals per day. Next year we anticipate saving about $8,000 because of the Co-Op, not to mention the legal costs involved in reviewing the RFP/ bid documents and labor costs,” remarked Allison Mayer, Food Services Coordinator for Brentwood Union School District.

Angelia Nava, Director of Child Nutrition Services at Pittsburg Unified School District commented that pricing is similar to what they received individually but the group proposal and contract lays the groundwork for buying other products collectively. This summer the group will release another RFP focusing on seasonal fruits and vegetables, targeting items that are often financially out of reach, such as local strawberries and tomatoes. For many of the students their only exposure to seasonal fruits and vegetables will be through the free or reduced price meal served at school. The directors hope their efforts will aid in creating life long healthy eating habits and a knowledge of the array of agricultural products California has to offer.

The joint dairy contract is a stepping stone for introducing more California produced products to school meals. The districts hope their efforts can be replicated across the state by other counties, looking to lower prices, improve quality, and increase the variety of products offered to students.

Fighting poor nutrition among California seniors – with a food truck

seniorsfood turck_blog

By Marisa Agha, Special to The Bee

VISTA–John and Roberta Koch rarely eat out anymore. The prices are too high for retirees on a fixed income, and the taste doesn’t always measure up to the cost.

The Vista couple does enjoy coming to a weekly lunch at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in this northern San Diego County city. As they awaited their order of two teriyaki burgers with pineapple, Roberta Koch, 74, picked up some fresh carrots, beets and green beans from a side table. She planned to use the carrots for a beef stew for dinner.

“We were raised on fresh vegetables and nutritious food,” she said. “You can’t even get them in the store this fresh.”

Her husband, John, a 78-year-old retired Marine, said he likes the companionship and atmosphere of meeting other area seniors regularly at the Wednesday lunches.

But many older Californians simply don’t have enough to eat. California is a leading state in which seniors have become among “the hidden poor,” according to a 2015 study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

Nearly 1 in 5, or about 772,000, of California’s adults older than 65 cannot afford basic needs such as food, housing, transportation and health care, but often do not qualify for public assistance, the study found.

“If you’re running out of money at the end of the month … the easiest thing is to cut down on food or eat food that is inexpensive or not nutritious,” said Steven Wallace, associate director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and co-author of the report.

Food insecurity is rising among California’s low-income seniors, according to the California Health Interview Survey, also conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

In 2009 and 2010, 21 percent of Californians age 65 and older whose income was less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level reported being unable to afford enough food compared with 27 percent in 2013 and 2014, the survey found.

That’s a serious problem because many seniors need medications that must be taken with food, and the risk of diabetes increases with age, Wallace said.

Concern about senior poverty grew nationwide after the financial downturn of 2008, when many people near or at retirement age lost their jobs or homes, saw savings wiped out or pensions cut, and as baby boomers started to retire.

“What we’re seeing now is people who were middle class when they were of working age. Now, they’ve become poor just in their older age,” said Kevin Prindiville, an attorney and executive director of Justice in Aging, an Oakland-based legal advocacy group devoted to fighting senior poverty through law. “What’s different about being old and poor versus young and poor is you have fewer options.”

State lawmakers in June passed a slight increase for the state portion of Supplemental Security Income funding, money that helps the disabled and low-income elderly, but the funding still falls below what it was before cuts in 2009.

The food at St. Francis of Assisi arrived in a green and white food truck that stopped by the church’s entrance. Soon, the smell of chicken and beef cooking wafted from the mobile kitchen as volunteers began to unload fresh broccoli, bananas and more.

Besides the Vista church, the truck stops at mobile home parks in Oceanside and San Marcos on other days of the week. The aim is to help feed a growing number of the region’s older adults with healthy, affordable meals and combat leading problems facing seniors such as poor nutrition and social isolation.

To improve access to services for a vulnerable population, the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, along with the nonprofit Dreams for Change and Interfaith Community Services, launched the North County Seniors Connections program in 2014. The foundation bought the food truck for $32,000 and will provide $750,000, through its funds and other donors, over three years for the program.

Seniors can pay $2 for lunch or eat free with a CalFresh card. Additionally, Interfaith provides speakers, classes and sometimes music for the group. Dickinson Farm of National City donates free produce such as beets, carrots, kale and turnips for seniors to take home.

“It basically becomes a senior center on wheels,” said Debbie Anderson, programs director for the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation.

The food truck idea grew out of a study the foundation commissioned from the University of San Diego’s Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research. The study found that many seniors in the region were not using services because of lack of access. While the target group is ambulatory seniors, people like to go to places that are familiar and not too far, such as their church or the community room of the mobile home park where they live, Anderson said.

And there are many low-income seniors in northern San Diego County. In Vista, about 24 percent of the city’s 65 and older population have incomes that are less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, the study found. The percentages are higher in Oceanside and San Marcos.

Helping to create “a more dignified experience,” seniors can choose what meal they want from the menu, and the food is prepared on the truck, said Teresa Smith, CEO of Dreams for Change, which runs the food truck.

Austin O’Malley, 82, of Escondido said he comes to lunch at his parish to see friends – part of his prescription for a long, healthy life.

“My day started at the beach, walking. Then I did yoga, played golf,” said O’Malley, a retired construction worker. “It all helps my brain. I deserve to be happy and I work at it all the time.”

The social component also draws Charlene Fretwell, 89, a retired federal service clerk who lives in a mobile home park in San Marcos. She recently lost the last of her three children.

“I like the company,” Fretwell said. “Every day, I need to do something. If I stay at home, I’ll sit in the chair and watch television. I don’t want to do that.”

Alicia Enriquez, 67, is a retired caregiver who relies on SSI. She is diabetic and struggles to pay her mortgage, utilities and car expenses each month. The lunches at the church help because they’re healthy, she said.

“I survive on $645 a month,” Enriquez said. “I hope my car doesn’t break down. … That’s a lot of stress.”

NorCal chefs join effort to reduce food waste – from the Sacramento Bee

plums and cucumbers

By Cathie Anderson

Chef Patrick Mulvaney and his team at Mulvaney’s B&Lrestaurant in midtown Sacramento regularly butcher whole hogs themselves, carefully ensuring that they use every element of the animal, because food waste translates into lost revenue in the restaurant business.

So the cost-conscious restaurateur was stunned when he received research showing that 10 million tons of food goes unharvested or gets discarded on U.S. farms annually, even as one in seven Americans are insecure about where they will find their next meal. Here was a situation that Mulvaney – and indeed other chefs across the nation – wanted to help change.

“Everybody says there are going to be 9 billion people in 2050, and four or five years ago, people were saying, ‘We’re going to have to grow 40 percent more food to feed those 40 percent more people,’ ” Mulvaney said. “This (research) changes that conversation. Now people are saying it’s a problem with distribution, not a problem with growth, because we have enough calories.”

The research comes from ReFED, a group of more than 30 business, foundation, nonprofit and government leaders who took a look at food waste in the United States and analyzed how to reduce it not just at farms but at every level of the food chain. ReFED, an acronym for Rethinking Food Waste through Economics and Data, offers a road map for change that enlists farmers, grocers, restaurateurs, investors, consumers and government leaders.

The James Beard Foundation and the nonprofit Chefs Action Network have encouraged chefs known for emphasizing sustainability to get involved with raising awareness of the ReFED report and advocating for legislative changes that will encourage existing businesses, budding entrepreneurs and investors to find new uses for food that is going to landfills or rotting in fields.

Mulvaney recently joined other restaurateurs such as Chef Mourad Lahlou of San Francisco’s Azizaand Mourad in lobbying for changes with legislators in Washington, D.C.Some actions don’t require legislation, however, Lahlou and Mulvaney said. Their farm-to-fork restaurants have always encouraged growers to sell them fruit that is too ripe to survive a lengthy trip to grocery stores. They and other chefs now have begun encouraging farmers to also sell them their ugly produce – sunburned squash or cracked tomatoes – that they can’t get wholesalers to market.

“We find that some of our farmers have trouble recognizing that we want that ugly produce,” Mulvaney said. “If you’re not going to sell it, give it to me – sunburned or damaged squash. I’m good with it. It’s going in ravioli, so it doesn’t matter. If the peaches are a little soft, they’re going into jam. That’s great. Let’s make sure you get as much value out of your fields as you possibly can.”

The chefs hope institutions such as hospitals, prisons and schools also look for ways to make use of farm-fresh produce that is slightly damaged. All too often, wholesalers refuse to distribute it to grocery stores because consumers see the product as inferior. Suzanne Peabody-Ashworth, the owner of Del Rio Botanical in West Sacramento, told me that she recently had some early season tomatoes that she couldn’t sell simply because they had green shoulders and were cracked. Her staff and her flock of chickens consumed some, but others went unharvested.

Recognizing this flaw in the system, entrepreneurs at Emeryville-based Imperfect have begun to market imperfect produce to grocers at discounted prices. West Sacramento-based Raley’sis among the chains trying to develop a consumer market for these less-expensive fruits and vegetables. The Imperfect team said about 6 billion pounds of such produce is discarded annually in the United States, with California accounting for half of that.

Lahlou and Mulvaney say the Food Recovery Act, sponsored by Maine farmer and Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, provides tax incentives to make it more affordable for farmers to harvest and donate this imperfect produce to food banks. It also provides liability protection for those that donate wholesome food. The chefs are hoping that provisions in this legislation will become part of the 2018 Farm Bill.

This bill and the Food Date Labeling Act also are aimed at combating confusion about expiration dates, Lahlou said, because it turns out that the dates vary widely from state to state.

“We want to get all the states in America to agree on a reasonable date when things will expire, whether it’s milk, eggs or whatever it is,” Lahlou said. “We just want to make it realistic and make sure food does not get wasted. The date labeling initiative is really crucial.”

If a carton of milk at his restaurants is even one day over its expiration date, Lahlou said, he must toss it out because if anyone gets sick, he could be sued and put out of business. For the same reason, he said, he can’t allow employees to take the milk home. Instead, he said, it goes down the drain, even though everyone knows it’s still edible.

Many consumers, he added, are tossing out milk because they think they will get sick just because the expiration date has passed. They don’t smell it or taste it to see if it’s still good, he said.

“It really depends on how good your refrigerator is,” Lahlou said. “Some people have really strong refrigerators. They’re accurate and calibrated, so that milk is going to last a lot longer. If your refrigerator is 20 years old and it’s not working as well, even if the expiration date is a week away, if that milk smells bad, you’re going to throw it away. You’re not going to go by the expiration date.”

The ReFED road map offers up 27 solutions to food waste, some of which are included in Pingree’s legislation. Some, however, depend on existing and startup businesses taking a risk on developing markets for their products. It’s what Imperfect is doing in Emeryville, and it’s also what Capay Valley’s Full Belly Farm has done.

Second-generation farmer Hallie Muller said: “We actually have built now a kitchen where we’re using soft produce for jams and jellies. We’re pickling things that we otherwise would not be able to sell. That whole aspect of our farm is really growing in the last couple of years. We feel like there is so much opportunity there.”

Full Belly Farm sells these so-called value-added products at both stores and farmers markets, Muller said.

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