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Crossing Continents to Address Food Insecurity

By Adrian Rehn

It’s not every day that you get to discuss food security with a delegation of experts from across the world, but on Monday, March 25th, we did.

Valley Vision staff members Adrian Rehn, Emma Koefoed and Chloe Pan (myself) had the honor of hosting a group of food system experts from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and 12 other countries as part of a visit organized by the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program in partnership with the Northern California World Trade Center. A cross-section of leaders from the science, education, NGO, and government realms from nations such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Thailand came to our Oak Park office to hear about how the Sacramento region is collaborating to address food insecurity and nutrition.

We were at first hesitant about how to frame this discussion. We were going to sit down with people whose countries have not only been struggling with the effects of natural disaster on food security in real time, but it’s become a fact of life for more than half of their total population for months and even years afterwards. Imagine: hundreds of thousands of people without food or water and the destruction of roads and bridges impeding emergency response. Cyclone Idai ripped through Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi in mid-March, and while these residents were gathering together to make sense of this disaster amid the rubble of their former lives, Ms. Claudia Amelia Nunes Lopes and Ms. Prisca Nyagweta found themselves walking into our office to discuss food insecurity.

Project Manager Adrian Rehn briefs the delegation on Valley Vision’s work

Ms. Lopes is the Director of Policy and Planning at the Technical Secretariat for Food and Nutrition Security in Mozambique (SETSAN). 80% of the country’s 28 million citizens cannot afford an adequate diet and as a result, 43% of children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years are affected by chronic malnutrition. The effects of this are aggravated by limited hygienic conditions and the lack of access to health services and potable water. Ms. Nyagweta is the Projects Coordinator and Area Manager at Linkages for the Economic Advancement of the Disadvantaged (LEAD), a nongovernmental organization whose mission is to build the dignity of disadvantaged communities in Zimbabwe through economic empowerment initiatives. 63% of their 15.6 million population live below the poverty line and 27% of children have stunted growth because of malnutrition.

With this in mind, we organized a panel of our regional nonprofit partners in the food space to share information on our ongoing work and the challenges we face here in the greater Sacramento area. Brenda Ruiz from the Sacramento Food Policy Council, Karen Strach from the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, Davida Douglas from Alchemist Community Development Corporation, Shannon Hardwicke from Soil Born Farms, and Jaime Wilson from the Food Literacy Center each gave presentations to the international delegation about their work and role in advancing food access and equity.

Jaime Wilson explaining the Food Literacy Center’s nutrition education work

According to the Sacramento Food Bank, 1 in 6 residents of Sacramento County are food insecure and few of them eat balanced meals, which directly impact these residents’ health statuses. We learned that unlike our visiting countries, our region does not have as much of a food deficit, but rather has difficulties with effective food distribution. To combat these barriers to food access, our local experts were able to discuss how all of our organizations’ missions are intertwined to provide healthy food and educate our communities on local food production, beginning in early education. Their immediate reaction was surprise at how well our region collaborated to elevate this work, but also the fact that a country as wealthy as the United States still had populations that struggled with food access like their own nations. Although the frameworks in which we view our comparative food security vary greatly, this was a unique opportunity to discuss our shared dedication to work that matters.  

This visit made me even more grateful for our amazing network of partners in this region, collaborating to make sure that this basic right to food is provided to our residents. From hands-on agricultural education to farm-fresh food distribution at local elementary schools and all the way to our policy-makers at the Capitol, we have passionate leaders that are championing our communities’ access to healthy food. Our food and ag economy makes up a large part of our regional identity and as proud as we are to have title of the Farm-to-Fork Capital, we know that we still have work to do to help everyone feel this privilege, as well. 

If you’d like to learn more about Valley Vision’s work in the food and agriculture economy, please visit our website. Further, reach out to Emma Koefoed if you’d like to partner with us on our ongoing 2019 Farm-to-Fork Live Speaker Series!

Chloe Pan was Valley Vision’s Executive Assistant to CEO Bill Mueller and Project Lead for the EPIC Trail.