Our Federal Policy “Asks” for a Resilient Food System
The small but mighty 2021 Food and Ag Cap-to-Cap Team is back prepping for the Metro Chamber’s annual regional advocacy program, which will be held virtually during the last week of October. As America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, the Team strives to elevate the importance of the $12 billion+ food and agriculture economic cluster, highlighting innovations and initiatives across our food system, and leveraging federal policies, programs and investments.
After the Spring 2020 Cap-to-Cap visit was postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team continued to work with regional, state and federal partners on issues that have even more urgency than before – strengthening the resiliency of the regional food system, and ensuring a strong workforce. Our third big issue – broadband connectivity, access and adoption, which focused on supporting our rural economies and driving adoption of agri-food technologies – has broadened to a high overall regional priority, given all the impacts from the pandemic. We’re grateful to the Cap-to-Cap Economic Development Team for taking on this issue, linking to it as one of the region’s key infrastructure strategies.
To strengthen the region’s resilience, one Cap-to-Cap priority is to target institutional procurement policy changes that will expand local purchasing and supply chains and support local growers, food processors, distributors, and more. We are seeking increased flexibility in the USDA National School Lunch Program’s procurement regulations so local school districts can receive Cash in Lieu of Commodities – meaning school districts can use funds to purchase local goods instead of having to obtain food products from outside the state. This is a true Farm-to-School approach. As we have for many years, we continue to support the development of food system infrastructure such as food hubs, central kitchens at schools, and other facilities and equipment to increase opportunities for farm-to-institution procurement, including for hospitals. We have excellent examples of local procurement initiatives such as with Sacramento City Unified School District’s Nutrition Services and UC Davis Health system that have greatly expanded local purchasing, supporting the local economy and also delivering more than 65,000 fresh and healthy meals daily prepared by our local chefs. We also have a goal to address SNAP eligibility requirements for food insecure college students across the region.
Our other Cap-to-Cap priority is supporting the food and ag cluster’s workforce. Pre-COVID, there was already a skills gap and a pipeline gap across the economic cluster. With the average farmer being 57.5 years of years of age and the average skilled manufacturing (food processing) worker being 55 years of age, we now face a new challenge of worker retention, along with increased demand for digital and agri-tech skills across the entire industry. And of course, we want to ensure that our farmworkers and other front-line workers who kept the regional food system and supply chain going – through health crises and climate challenges, to ensure safe and healthy food for all of us – have safe working conditions and opportunities for income mobility. The Team supports increased federal investments in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, including for training, industry partnerships, and apprenticeships among others, to reskill, upskill, retain, recruit and grow the next generation of farmers, food entrepreneurs and food system workers. We also support legislation to provides certified agricultural workers with a path to help achieve earned legal status.
The Cap to Cap team is led by Honey Agency, Sacramento City Unified School District Nutrition Services, Valley Vision and Wilson Vineyards. Valley Vision is excited that this year’s program also will benefit from the update of the Food System Action Plan from 2015, prepared in partnership with the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, and the new Food System Resilience Poll, conducted in partnership with Sacramento State Institute for Social Research. These linked reports will be released in early October, giving us new insights for our food system. It will help drive the success of our Greater Sacramento Region Prosperity Strategy, in which food and agriculture is one of our three competitive advantage clusters. We’re also excited that Cap-to-Cap will provide the opportunity to work with our supportive Congressional delegation and new leaders at USDA and other agencies who hail from the region. Please join us to lend your voice and expertise to our food and ag mission!
To continue staying up to date with efforts to strengthen our regional food system, subscribe to Valley Vision’s Food for Thought email newsletter!
Trish Kelly is Valley Vision’s Managing Director, leading its food, agriculture, workforce, and broadband initiatives.
Recap: Challenges and Opportunities in Our Region’s Food System
Valley Vision is proud to be researching and working alongside partners to support investment in the region’s food system.
Last month, as part of the 2021 Food System Action Plan update, Valley Vision hosted a series of Listening Sessions in topical areas as an opportunity to identify funding, capacity, and resource needs in the region’s Food System. We were joined by almost 200 participants who shared their expertise in workforce development and career pathways; viability of agriculture and land preservation; environmental sustainability and climate change; health and nutrition education; healthy food access and food security; and food economy and local market development.
Supported by the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, the 2021 Food System Action Plan (FSAP) is a regional food system investment strategy that will identify best practices, priorities, prevailing challenges, opportunities, and funding recommendations related to the region’s food system for the communities of El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, and Yolo Counties. The goal is to increase the vitality of the region’s food system and to identify financing strategies and mechanisms to support a more equitable, health-promoting and accessible food system for all residents of the Greater Sacramento Region. The report will be released this Fall, and excitingly, for the first time, the report will be paired with a Food System Resilience Poll, in partnership with the Sacramento State Institute for Social Research (ISR) and Capital Public Radio. The poll covers similar topics related to the food system and will inform the Food System Action Plan. Both of these reports are slated to be released in Fall 2021.
If you weren’t able to attend the listening sessions, below is a brief summary of each session:
- Session #1: The participants in the Careers in Food and Agriculture session discussed the manufacturing, processing, and distribution networks of the food system, illustrating the diversity of farm operations in the region. Although the session reminded us that the region has many successful Career Technical Education (CTE) programs in food and agriculture-which prepare high school students for college – challenges remain in sustaining, building, and retaining a local workforce, including the next generation of farmers and food producers. Lack of awareness of workforce opportunities and less than positive image were also challenges.
- Session #2: Land, capital and broadband access, agriculture technology, local markets, and land preservation were constant themes in the Viability of Agriculture session. Despite land conversion being a threat to agriculture’s viability, our region is doing better than others in the state; however, access to land to start a farm or a community garden remains a challenge. Workforce is another challenge.
- Session #3: During the Environmental Sustainability session, participants discussed local food production, food waste, edible food recovery, and the impacts climate change has had (and will have) on the food system, as is manifesting now. Although food hubs were discussed in some fashion in every session, in this session they were discussed extensively as a mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation of produce and international trade and to provide additional capacity for packaging, processing and distribution of local produce for local consumption.
- Session #4: The Healthy Food Access and Food Security session showcased the strong network of nonprofits in the region, especially those in the emergency food system, who work to provide access to fresh, local, and nutritious food to under-resourced communities. In spite of the increased impact on this sector due to the pandemic, participants shared that consistent and expanded funding for infrastructure, organizational capacity and growth to manage the increased levels of clients and food remains a challenge.
- Session #5: In the Health and Nutrition session, the importance of family-based nutrition education and supply chain awareness was emphasized. A number of participants mentioned that most people are not aware of the correlation between food, health, and eating habits, and that robust educational support is needed to help promote healthy eating and nutrition literacy.
- Session #6: The Food Economy session focused on institutional purchases, entrepreneurship support, and local procurement partnerships. There are a significant number of small farmers in the region, but corporate producers can produce food for a lower price, making local food procurement and local economic development challenging. There are innovative efforts through schools and hospitals that can be models for increased local procurement and purchasing partnerships, support local producers and keep more dollars local.
The listening sessions revealed what most of us already know: As America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, we have a lot of work to do but we have the infrastructure and the strong networks to do it. If we are organized as a region, we can better promote, support, and partner with one another to bring additional funding to the region. We look forward to sharing additional challenges, opportunities, and funding recommendations in the Fall when we release the 2021 Food System Action Plan.
The full recordings and presentation slides are available on Valley Vision’s website. If you weren’t able to attend the sessions and would like to provide comments for the FSAP, we have created a survey to gather additional input. Please reach out to Grace Kaufman (Grace.Kaufman@valleyvision.org) should you have any questions.
To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance livability in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our monthly Food and Ag newsletter!
Grace Kaufman is a Valley Vision Project Manager working in the Food and Ag and Clean Economy impact areas
New Study of Region’s Food System – and Prevailing Gaps – to Launch
SACRAMENTO, CA – MAY 19, 2021: The Sacramento Region Community Foundation (Foundation) and Valley Vision announced today a new research study being jointly launched on the region’s food economy and prevailing gaps in the greater Sacramento region’s food system. The research will inform recommendations for investment strategies to strengthen the region’s food system capacity and resiliency.
“The region’s food system is dynamic and complex,” said Linda Cutler, CEO of the Sacramento Region Community Foundation. “While the overall food economy has advanced in recent years through dedicated efforts like new job creation, workforce programs, institutional procurement, and food literacy, disparities persist around food access, security, and system capabilities that have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The study will build upon earlier work highlighted in the Sacramento Region Food System Action Plan (FSAP), a seminal study conducted by the Foundation in partnership with Valley Vision in 2015. The FSAP laid the building blocks for a regional roadmap and identified an actionable role for the Foundation that it has worked to implement since.
Valley Vision conducts public opinion polls in partnership with the Institute for Social Research at Sacramento State and will field this new poll in June to collect data on residents’ experiences, perceptions and needs related to accessing food. The Food System poll, in addition to other engagement and data inputs, will provide the Foundation with invaluable information that will be used to update the 2015 FSAP.
“The ultimate goal of this research is to ensure the viability of the food and ag economy at all scales,” said Valley Vision CEO Evan Schmidt. “This includes increasing the amount of locally grown food distributed within the regional food system, increasing access to fresh, affordable produce, especially in underserved communities, and increasing consumption of healthy foods through access to nutrition education.”
The research findings will support meaningful collaborations among food system partners and improve alignment of system activities and investments. Findings will also help identify compelling short- and longer- term priorities and establish a baseline for future progress.
“This is incredibly important work for our region,” said Kate Stille, Sacramento Region Community Foundation Board Chair and Chief Impact Officer for Nugget Markets, Inc. “We can point to real and tangible results born out of the 2015 FSAP, which has dramatically improved food security in underserved communities by strengthening the emergency food distribution network.” The 2015 FSAP inspired a partnership between the Foundation and Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services to form the Neighborhood Food Access Networks, which today serve hundreds of thousands of people by networking together more than 200 emergency food distributors across Sacramento neighborhoods.
The work to strengthen the food system is all-the-more critical given the COVID-19 pandemic, which greatly impacted health and economic disparities in the local community. High unemployment has increased the level of need for food. Local food banks, schools, restaurants, and many others have created new distribution mechanisms to respond to the crisis. The FSAP is a blueprint for action that will help shape these types of strategic initiatives, as well as to inform local leaders and the community on how to engage in meaningful solutions and catalyze investments in our vital food system.
“A systems approach centered on equity is needed,” said Schmidt. “Understanding food access and security issues is paramount to ensuring a health-promoting and accessible food system that can serve the needs of those who live in the region as well as those who benefit from our rich agricultural valley nationally and globally.”
The public opinion poll will go into the field in June and findings are expected to be published in September.
About the Sacramento Region Food System Action Plan (FSAP): FSAP was a seminal study conducted by the Foundation in partnership with Valley Vision in 2015 and provided a common framework along with integrated goals, strategic priorities, and recommended actions to strengthen the food system for the region. Intended to serve as a roadmap for food system development, function, and investment, the FSAP identified several disconnects in the food system, including the gaps between great food abundance and a vibrant economic sector, high levels of food insecurity, poor food-related health outcomes, and missed opportunities for local food sourcing and markets.
About the Sacramento Region Community Foundation: For over 35 years, the Sacramento Region Community Foundation has been the capital area’s trusted steward of charitable assets and champion for impactful philanthropy. The Foundation’s mission is to transform the capital area through focused leadership and advocacy that inspire partnerships and expand giving.
About Valley Vision: For more than 25 years Valley Vision has used research to help governments, businesses, foundations and community groups better understand the issues facing our region. We believe that knowing and understanding the facts is the best way to establish a common working foundation for collaborative problem-solving. That’s why Valley Vision conducts, produces and interprets research including scientific public opinion polls, focus groups, community needs assessments, best practice studies and other research tools to bring to light the information local leaders need to improve our communities.
“This Is Not Goodbye, But Thank You”
Being a part of Valley Vision was a turning point in my career. I have waded through non-profit jobs for most of my professional life, picking up different roles every year, finding new ways to expand my skills, but nothing ever felt “right.” After graduating from college, like many young adults, the degree that I spent so many years working to achieve, I thought, was a ticket to that “grown-up job.” The problem was, I had no idea what I wanted to do or what I was genuinely passionate about pursuing. I had spent so much time working to finish my education, I forgot to plan for the rest of my post-academic life.
As I floated in and out of the professional world, I juggled my interest in food systems, agriculture, and community development, trying to find ways to apply all this information I had in my brain to constructive use. I dabbled in the restaurant industry, farmer’s markets, marketing, event planning, university institutions, but nothing seemed to ever fit. Finding Valley Vision was like finding the light at the end of very long tunnel. This was an organization that had not just a fantastic reputation in civic engagement – and food systems – but had a leadership interested in developing and engaging with young professionals. I finally was in a space where I was treated as a qualified individual, and not as a nuisance, but a respected colleague.
Over the last three years, I was given opportunities far beyond what I ever expected, from managing the Farm to Fork Steering Committee to producing conferences like Future Focus to planning and organizing Valley Vision’s 25th Anniversary event. I engaged with regional and national leadership, developed real genuine relationships, had a voice at the table to help solve critical issues, helped provide solutions to issues I was passionate about, and learned about challenges facing communities not just here in the region, but throughout California.
I do not consider my departure from Valley Vision an ending. That is not the Valley Vision Way. Not only will the professional education I was afforded be long lasting, but the relationships built among my mentors and colleagues will be for a lifetime. I probably can never express how much appreciation I have for my time at Valley Vision, but I know that it is because of Valley Vision, its employees, its mission, and culture, that I have the confidence to move forward into this next chapter.
Emma Koefoed was a Valley Vision Project Manager staffing the Food & Agriculture Impact Area and leading Valley Vision event planning from 2017 until the end of 2020. She is the new Manager of Communications & Marketing at the SMUD Museum of Science & Curiosity.
A Crash Course in Community-Building
I moved to Sacramento in 2012 with every intention of building a career for myself that focused on helping people. As a Filipina-American I initially thought that my service would be through nursing, but my love of science couldn’t change my disposition in hospitals. I had a limited perspective of what service for my community meant, but Sacramento State taught me the importance of mentorship; Food Literacy Center exposed me to community development and Sacramento’s strong nonprofit system; and Valley Vision gave me the background and foresight to envision a better community across all systems.
Valley Vision has broadened my perspective and taught me that helping people takes more than single-handed transactional services. It requires collaboration, patience, and trust – all easily stated, but not so easily achieved. Yet this small, but mighty team takes on that task wholeheartedly! Valley Vision brings together workforce, education, employers and partners to align workforce initiatives; guide digital inclusion and broadband initiatives to connect our communities; and lift the voices of people throughout our region by advancing public opinion polling data. My experience at Valley Vision was a crash course in the expansive and unique systems that make up our community, exposing me to incredible organizations and populations that make Sacramento home to so many. Content expertise alone though is not enough to ensure collaboration or trust among these entities. In turn, Valley Vision is filled with devoted, adaptive, and compassionate individuals.
I am forever grateful to have learned from and worked alongside this team. It has been an honor working on our workforce and broadband initiatives and my experience at Valley Vision has helped guide my path towards education. I am looking forward to advocating for digital inclusion in a new capacity as a teaching assistant, and later teacher, integrating what I have learned from Valley Vision’s future of work and regional digital skills initiatives into the classroom.
Yzabelle Dela Cruz was a Valley Vision Project Associate supporting the 21st Century Workforce, Innovation & Infrastructure, and Food & Agriculture impact areas.
Valley Vision Continues to Support a Food System For All
In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has created extraordinary challenges for our food system as food and economic insecurity has sky-rocketed. In recent days our country and our community have experienced significant pain and grief over the manifestations of systemic racial, economic, and social injustice. As our region joins together to face the challenges of COVID-19, we also strive for a food system that works for all, as a vital part of equitable, inclusive, healthy communities.
There has long been a connection between food access and economic, social, and racial justice sought by black and brown communities. In fact, in 1968, one of the earliest and most successful actions of the Black Panthers movement was the creation of the Free Breakfast for Children Program.
The program was so impactful that, during a 1969 U.S. Senate hearing, National School Lunch Program Administrator Rodney Leonard admitted that the Panthers probably fed more poor school children than the State of California. However, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover vehemently disapproved of the Black Panthers and worked adamantly to squash the movement. He branded the Breakfast Program not just a “tactic” but a “threat” and authorized raids and destruction of any churches or community centers that were participating. By the early 1970s, the Black Panthers Breakfast Program ended. However, due to their efforts, Congress could not ignore the program’s critical role in the lives of students and their families, and in 1975 established The School Breakfast Program. Since then, funding has dramatically increased for both the National School Lunch Program, as well as the School Breakfast Program – the legacy of the Black Panthers. In 2019, over 100,000 schools received funding to serve over 33 million students breakfast and lunch at free or reduced prices. For many, school-provided meals remain these students’ primary source of nutrition.
Valley Vision has always been committed to securing an equitable food system in our region. In 2015, along with the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, published the Food System Action Plan. The report, developed in partnership with numerous leaders and community stakeholders, assessed the status or the entire region’s food system and gave specific actionable policy recommendations and strategies to strive for a sustainable and equitable food system. While investigating the status of programs targeting food equity and food accessibility, Valley Vision discovered that in the Sacramento Region only 71% of the 205,000 students eligible for the National School Lunch Program were participating, and an even smaller percentage of those eligible were enrolled for the School Breakfast Program. The same statistics were also true for families eligible for CalFresh and SNAP programs. The impact, aside from a growing number of food-insecure residents, was an estimated loss of $215 million in potential revenue for the region from farmers and distributors supplying fresh and nutritious foods to the community.In May 2020 Valley Vision, along with Greater Sacramento Economic Council (GSEC), Sacramento Metro Chamber, Sacramento Asian Chamber, and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), co-published the region’s new prosperity strategy along with Our Path Forward: The Prosperity Strategy, a bridge to economic recovery.
The framework bolsters the Greater Sacramento region’s food and agriculture cluster, a deep supply chain that extends from research to commercialization of technology, to production, processing, distribution, and consumption. The report recognizes the vital importance of our food and ag economy and the imperative for a sustainable and equitable food system.
Guided by the Food System Action Plan and our projects over the years – and with the new imperative of dealing with the crisis created by COVID 19 – especially with the dramatic increase in hunger and food insecurity and the impact on our farmers, food distributors and restaurants in particular – Valley Vision will continue to advocate for and drive efforts that invest in our regional food system. We are working with partners at the local, state and federal levels on strategies to increase institutional procurement of locally grown foods by schools, hospitals, and others; support school wellness and student nutrition policies; expand food and beverage manufacturing, including healthy new foods of the future and workforce pipelines; drive food and ag innovation and entrepreneurship; accelerate rural broadband initiatives to support AgTech and rural communities; and strengthen the nonprofit sector, especially in areas of food access and literacy.
With the Food System Action Plan at a five-year benchmark, we hope to update the key facts on food security and access that were identified in 2015, and work with the Community Foundation, stakeholders and the community to update and act upon the Food System Action Plan’s strategies and recommendations.
If you are interested in learning more about Valley Vision’s involvement in the Food and Ag space please contact Emma Koefoed at Emma.Koefoed@valleyvision.org.
Farm-to-Fork LIVE Hosts Webinar on Regional Emergency Food System Response
Since the start of COVID-19, families have been facing an uncertain and precarious new reality. From lost jobs to lost income, many worry about how they are going to provide for their families and put food on the table. What has not been uncertain, however, is the vigilance and drive of our region’s leadership that have joined together to make sure communities are taken care, of especially when it comes to addressing food insecurity and food access.
On April 17th, We Are Farm to Fork hosted its second Farm-to-Fork LIVE Webinar focusing on the emergency food system response. Speakers included Julia Burrows, City of Sacramento Mayor’s Office; Blake Young, Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services; Joy Cohan, Yolo Food Bank, Dave Martinez, Placer Food Bank; Andrea Lepore, Solomon’s Deli. Emma Koefoed, Project Manager at Valley Vision, moderated the discussion that focused on how each is addressing the needs of low-income families, elderly citizens, students, refugees, the medically fragile, homeless, and those transitioning into food insecure situations for the first time.
The City of Sacramento and the Mayor’s office have been extraordinary in launching initiatives to support the community. With so many people in need, Julia Burrows, Senior Policy Advisor to Mayor Darrell Steinberg, ensured that the City remains committed to three main objectives during this time. The first is to convene leadership as a way to match available resources to those who are seeking specific support. The City staff has since started facilitating weekly calls among community-based organizations, non-profits, and partners in the food space. Secondly, they are working on fundraising efforts to provide financial assistance back to the businesses. In partnership with Councilman Schenirer, Donate4 Sacramento was launched as an initiative to provide support for local families, individuals, non-profit, and small businesses struggling through the crisis. They have raised 1.2 million dollars thus far. Another example is the collaboration with the Family Meal Program, a project launched by local chefs, who are now able to distribute daily meals to 11 senior and assisted living facilities with the support of Paratransit, an achievement made possible through these partner relationships. Third, using the Mayor as a vessel to communicate information back out into the community and as an advocate for policy changes at the state and federal level.
Similarly, Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services (SFBFS) is working with the City to collaborate on ways to extend their reach into the community. Before COVID-19, SFBFS served about 150,000 individuals from 220 locations per month. Beginning in March, they, like many other food banks, had several distribution locations close due to the fact that many of their volunteer staff are senior citizens. Since then, they have centered operations on 30 locations that they identified to have the capacity to manage the increase of food distribution needs. With the support of the California National Guard and Conservation Corps, they have ramped up their efforts with two mega distribution drive-by pick up locations and continue to move food out the door. Blake Young, CEO of Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, noted that with public support, donations, and partnerships, like with the City of Sacramento and companies like Raley’s Food For Families Program, they have been able to continue their mission and serve the growing communities need. To find distribution sites closest to you use the Food Finder online tool.
Yolo Food Bank (YFB) serves more than 52,000 people in 19,000 households every month to help end hunger and malnutrition. Joy Cohan, Yolo Food Bank Director of Philanthropic Engagement, outlined with a majority of their clients residing in rural areas, reaching those in need already had its built-in challenges. On top of continuing to serve their normal clients, they are the leading effort on food response for Yolo. With the help of the Yolo Office of Emergency Services, the Yolo Food Bank has developed a delivery model targeting at-home seniors. In the last five weeks, they have served 2,000 households and 4,200 individuals. In another partnership with the County of Yolo, they are also providing three meals a day to homeless populations that are sheltering in local hotels. These meals are being prepared by staff at the Food Bank and delivered by Yolo Bus; as most public transportation is currently out of service or on reduced routes. Yolo Food Bank acknowledges that they still face an uphill battle, as funding remains a critical need to carry out these programs as residents continue to adhere to stay-to-home orders.
Dave Martinez, Executive Director for Placer Food Bank, helps serve over 80,000 individuals living in El Dorado, Nevada, and Placer Counties. Facing a 25% uptick service needs, so far, they have been able to manage the increase but could potentially start facing food shortages in 3-4 weeks. Currently, operating through 70 partner sites, Dave was pleased to report little disruption to his daily operation as his networks have remained resilient. Still, he gave credit to local churches in which have been assisting with deliveries to seniors after they also saw a significant drop in the number of their volunteer services staff. Placer Food Bank is now gearing up to facilitate mass distributions, similar to what SFBFS is doing at Christian Brothers and Encina High Schools, to help reach as many in the community as possible.
In an innovative approach to prevent further outbreaks of COVID-19 among the most vulnerable Solomon’s, Sacramento Covered, Sutter Health, and the City of Sacramento partnered to provide meals for the elderly, unsheltered and medically-fragile individuals. Within 24 hours of shuttering the doors due to the virus, a small kitchen crew was brought in to plan, prep, and cook the meals from scratch. Sacramento Covered’s Community Health Workers help deliver meals to 25 sites daily and have distributed approximately 10,000 meals. Moreover, Andrea is well aware Solomon’s will still face a new normal when things come back online, assessing that it will not be like “turning on a light switch”. It is projected that 80% of the nation’s restaurants could face permanent closures; with limited access to small business loans and financial aid, Andrea, like others, is strategizing simultaneously on projects and plans to address near term and long strategies to keep the doors open and her staff employed.
Valley Vision will continue to highlight the important work that our food system partners are doing to support food access and recovery programs. Please sign up for our Food For Thought Newsletter to receive up to date information and announcements about what is happening in our region.
Emma Koefoed is a Valley Vision Project Manager contributing to the 21st Century Workforce and Food and Agriculture impact areas.
Solomon’s Provides Healthy Meals to Sacramento’s Most Vulnerable Communities
In an innovative approach to help prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 among the most vulnerable in Sacramento, Solomon’s and non-profit organization Sacramento Covered partnered to provide healthy and hearty meals for elderly, unsheltered and medically-fragile individuals in our community.
Within 24 hours of shuttering the doors due to the virus, Solomon’s co-founder Andrea Lepore (and our partner in The Food Factory project) enlisted a kitchen crew of four to plan, prep, and cook the meals from scratch. Sacramento Covered’s Community Health Workers deliver the meals to 25 sites daily and to date have distributed approximately 10,000 meals, using ingredients from local farms and purveyors including Reed’s Quality Meats, such as Chicken Curry, Chile Verde, Pasta Bolognese, and Carnitas Burritos.
The Sacramento Metro Chamber’s Metro Edge program highlighted these efforts this month as part of their Business Response Spotlight.
Sacramento Covered’s partners funding the Community Kitchen include Dignity Health, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, UC Davis Health System, The California Endowment, and Union Pacific, all contributing to the hard costs of food and labor to prepare the meals.
Solomon’s honors Tower Records and local founder Russ Solomon and the first location was a historic preservation project and created a community gathering place where music and culture is celebrated and everyone is welcome.
Andrea Lepore is Principal of Lepore Development, Co-Founder of Solomon’s Deli in downtown Sacramento, and a Valley Vision collaborator.
An Integrated Approach to Innovation
On January 22, 2020, The City of Woodland, along with partners representing Food and Ag innovation, including Valley Vision, University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR), Greater Sacramento Economic Council (GSEC) and UC Davis, presented its second Ag Innovation Forum – Ag, Food & Health: An Integrated Approach to Innovation. This event highlighted Woodland, and the Greater Sacramento Region’s, critical role in integrating food and Ag entrepreneurship, industry, academia, and policy for a healthy and sustainable future.
The discussion focused on the Region’s opportunity to align and mobilize its world-class assets to build a state-of-the-art Research & Technology Park. The planned site will become an epicenter for research, as well as a Global Ag, Food & Health Center – a proposed public-private partnership integrating science and technology innovation for agriculture, food, and health, similar to proven models in Texas, New York, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Situated close to the University of California Davis and complementary to the planned Aggie Square development in Sacramento, Woodland is recognized for its agricultural innovation, food and plant science, food processing, as well as its investments in startup ecosystems. Its unique geographical location has made Woodland the perfect candidate for this endeavor. Secretary Karen Ross spoke to the importance of Woodland and its agricultural assets and contributions to the state’s economy. With the effects of climate change becoming more prevalent, especially in agriculture, innovation for our regional food and farming industries is critical.
The Secretary, and Lenny Mendonca, Chief Economic and Business Advisor at the State of California, both agreed that adaptation and investing in resiliency across agricultural production to adjust these major disruptors (i.e. floods, droughts, fires), is imperative. They also affirmed that research and development in new technologies that enable farmers can address these changes must be a top state priority. Furthermore, aligning the Region’s industry goals will allow the right capital and the right people the chance to work together to lead us on the path to “durable, equitable, profitable solutions.”
A moderated panel discussion led by Lon Hatamiya, The Hatamiya Group, continued the discussion with leaders supporting initiatives for our food and agricultural industries. Santana Diaz, Executive Chef, UC Davis Health, Trish Kelly, Managing Director, Valley Vision, Gabriel Youtsey, University of California Ag and Natural Resources, and Adam Englehardt, Englehardt Agricultural Services, and Tim Schaedler, Panattoni Development, all echoed the importance of expanding region’s innovation ecosystem through investments like the Woodland Research Technology Park, institutional procurement, and comprehensive financing programs, to uplift our regional food and ag economy.
Extending the Table
On February 24th, WomenUp Network, Uptown Studios, and Slow Food Sacramento hosted “Extending the Table” a discussion with local women leaders in the farm-to-fork movement. These inspiring women spoke on the exciting developments in the local food scene, their careers, challenges they had faced and shared advice on what it is like to lead a woman in this industry. Jodie Chavious, Slow Food Board Member, Charmaine Magale, Legado Spirits, Gerine Williams, Neighborworks/Oak Park Farmers Market, and Rachel Wallace, Echo and Rig, all participated in the wildly exciting and informative discussion. Tina Reynolds, from Uptown Studios, moderated the discussion.
The evening kicked off at Uptown Studios, with a wonderful spread of local foods prepared by Brenda Ruiz and Jodie Chavious, Chefs and Slow Food board members. Citrus shrimp ceviche, braised meatballs, fresh rye bread from Faria Bakery, cheese, and charcuterie, KC Kombucha, and other cocktails from Drinks by Dru were all on the menu. Truly delicious.
The panel discussion, lead by Renyolds, focused on the highlights and challenges these women faced as they journeyed through their careers. Each speaker addressing how she had chosen to balance or blow past the barriers placed in front of them.
In September 2018, Charmaine Mageale and her partners founded Legado Sprits, a “ bold new American whiskey crafted to deliver incredible flavor, developed by the female palate.” Magale revealed that many times she found her passion, knowledge, and business partners being questioned simply for not being “white, a man, and old.” But she refused to be deterred from the nay-sayers and skeptics, setting aside society’s expectations of a whiskey connoisseur, and instead became obsessed with creating a phenomenal product.
Touching on her life-long experiences as a chef, Jodie Charious came up the ranks, rather unscathed by many of the stories we see across headlines today, but very aware of the existence of unfair and sexist practices. Charious noted, “I was very fortunate” but her career did not come without struggle, admitting “Today, I don’t have any shame in asking for help, reaching for something on the top shelf, cutting through a bone of animal I’m breaking down.” The need for thick skin in this industry is imperative; being emotionally tough is a basic requirement, but with the leadership from chefs like Chef Charious, culinary communities are stepping into a new era.
Gerine Williams, spoke to the trends of Sacramento’s food and culinary community and the importance of supporting new, small, and entrepreneurial business. She emphasized that smaller producers need to be empowered to get their businesses off the ground. For too long, “the same people seem to get the same shot, over and over.” The result, the same business owners, the same style of foods, and the same price points, continue to pop up. This means communities lose out on having a diverse range of options. Williams followed up asking “How many places in Sacramento can you get a Fried Chicken Sandwich? Let’s get real”. Putting her words into action, Williams tries her best to provide opportunities through the Oak Park farmers market and in her personal life – going as far as purchasing food from smaller homemakers off Facebook Marketplace as a way to support entrepreneurs in her community.
After being pushed into a pastry position early in her career, like many women in the culinary space, Rachel Wallace dedicated herself to breaking through that traditional position where women often find themselves. “It’s typical to place women in Pastry, which isn’t a bad thing. There are some badass women pastry chefs out there” but it’s not where she saw herself staying. Wallace was determined to break out of that space and prove her skills as a chef. Today Wallace is the Chef de Cuisine at Echo and Rig, working alongside a team that promotes and advocates for a healthy workspace for everyone. “Be confident, own your space, and don’t let people say you don’t belong” were some of the characteristics she believes are imperative for women if they are going to enter the culinary workforce.
This event was supported by Slow Food Sacramento, WomenUp Network, Uptown Studios, SMUD, Tri-Counties Bank, Rani Pettis, Charles Vincent McDonald Photography, Crooked Lane Brewery, Drinks By Dru, Faria bakery, GoldLineBrands, Haarmeyer Estates, KC Kombucha, Legado spirits, Macy’s, Real Pie Company, Revolutions Wine, and Sacramento Natural Food Co-Op.
Valley Vision continues to support Farm to Fork efforts, and work being done to uplift the Sacramento Region’s namesake as America’s Farm to Fork Capital. We are excited to see events like “Extending the Table” taking place and being well-attended and supported by local businesses.
Subscribe to Valley Vision’s Food For Thought Newsletter to learn more about Food and Ag events and stay up to date about other work happening in our region!
Newsom and First Partner to Support Farm to School Programs
Governor Newsom has proposed a $600 million dollar budget that includes funding support for initiatives that will enhance student nutrition and school meal programs.
First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who has been engaged in supporting Farm to School programs, will be championing these efforts. Most recently, Ms. Siebel Newsom, with coordination from CDFA, Valley Vision, Woodland Community College, and other partners, toured Farm to School Programs in Yolo County and Career programs hosted at Woodland Community College. The purpose of the visit to Woodland Community College was intended to show the connection between eating locally grown healthy foods at school and the potential for opportunities in food and ag career pathways
Late last year, Mrs. Siebel Newsom toured Yolo County and other areas to learn more about the thriving Farm to School programs led by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and Secretary Karen Ross, and food and ag career education programs. Nick Anicich, Farm to School Program Lead, CDFA Office of Farm to Fork, Valley Vision’s Managing Director Trish Kelly, and Carrie Peterson, Regional Director, Agriculture, Water, and Environmental Technology, coordinated the First Partner’s visit to Woodland Community College. This was an opportunity to showcase how food and ag career education programs are providing pathways for local students in this important regional industry, building on Farm to School programs in K-2. Faculty, Students, and College District Leaders hosted the First Partner as she toured the Greenhouse and other facilities, discussing programs and topics like Ag-tech, regenerative agriculture, and growing healthy foods. Valley Vision supports these career pathway efforts as part of the Community College’s Strong Workforce Programs.
Photo top: Jennifer Siebel Newsom tours Greenhouse at Woodland Community College (WCC)
Photo above: Yuba Community College District Chancellor and Board of Trustees, Woodland Community College President, and Faculty, Valley Vision, and California Department of Food and Agriculture, with First Partner.
Technology for the Food and Ag Economy
“Farm-to-Fork Live! is broadening across the region… [it is an] opportunity to show the ag-tech and food-tech assets that we are growing in our community.” City of Woodland Mayor Xóchitl Rodríguez
part i: introductions to ag and food technology innovation in the region
On a balmy August afternoon, Valley Vision — together with Woodland Community College and AgStart — hosted “Farm-to-Fork LIVE! Technology for the Food and Ag Economy.” The event was the Season 1 finale of Valley Vision’s Farm-to-Fork LIVE! series, which features conversations on a range of topics, with leaders who are shaping the future of Farm-to-Fork in the Capital Region.
The event kicked off at Woodland Community College with welcome remarks from Woodland Community College President, Dr. Art Pimentel, and City of Woodland Mayor Xóchitl Rodríguez.President Pimentel highlighted Yolo County as a major agricultural area for the entire region, as well as the College’s role in preparing the region’s youth for the future and ensuring that there are opportunities for them to enter the workforce once they graduate. Mayor Rodríguez likewise emphasized food and agriculture as the base of the community, with food products being one of its top priorities.
Following these welcome remarks,
Gabe Youtsey, Chief Innovation Officer at the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, provided an overview of global trends in food and agriculture technology. Youtsey drew attention to the serious threats facing sustainability in agriculture — climate change, resource challenges, shrinking wilderness, a projected increase in food demand. One of the ways to address these threats, Youtsey asserted, is to pluck at the so-called “low-hanging fruit” in food and agriculture, such as making use of robotics or growing food indoors. In addition, there needs to be an agriculture innovation system in California that brings in and hosts new people; opens up the space for different disciplines to get together and understand each other; and considers how to develop the workforce and its entrepreneurs.
The focal point of Part I was a panel discussion with food and agriculture leaders Dr. Martin Ruebelt, Head of Global Consumer Research and Development at Bayer Crop Science andDr. Amit Vasavada, Chief Technology Officer of Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. Trish Kelly, Valley Vision’s Managing Director, rounded out the panel as its facilitator.
The panel began with self-introductions and overview of their respective companies – one a global life science company and one a home-grown company establishing a global presence. Bayer Crop Science harnesses cutting-edge agricultural and environmental innovations, in pursuit of “Science for a Better Life.” The company strives to deliver solutions that help maximize farm yields, secure harvests from devastating disease and pests, and keep living spaces healthy and vibrant. In the same respect, Marrone Bio Innovations creates products from microorganisms isolated from samples collected from unique niches and habitats such as flowers, insects, soil and composts. Their proprietary technology enables them to isolate and screen naturally occurring microorganisms and plant extracts to identify those that may have novel, effective and safe pest management or plant health-promoting characteristics.
Led by Kelly, Dr. Ruebelt and Dr. Vasavada discussed the most recent technological advancements in food and agriculture; the implications of these advancements on individuals and society as well as the industry; and the region’s role as one of the world’s hubs for food and agriculture innovation.
on the market rationale for operatilng in the region.
Dr. Vasavada explained that one of the reasons Maronne continues to expand its research and development operations in the region is the education pipeline available at the University of California Davis. UC Davis, one of the leading agricultural universities, provides Maronne with interns who are a perfect fit, many of whom return to work fulltime for the company after graduation. Dr. Ruebelt echoed this sentiment, describing the region as a powerhouse for academia, industry, and farmers to come together. He pointed out that people in the region have a passion and understanding of agriculture, having either grown up immersed in it, or gone to school for it, or perhaps both.
on emerging opportunities in the food and ag industry.
Dr. Vasavada submitted that artificial intelligence (AI) and sustainability are at the forefront of food and agriculture innovation. Additionally, he reflected on how to make use of data and information obtained in the field so that farmers can benefit. Dr. Ruebelt highlighted consumers’ desire for delicious, high-quality, organic food, and developing AI and robotics to address through the roof labor cost.
on current innovation relating to food and ag products.
According to Dr. Vasavada, the focus is likely to be on non-animal based products, such as almond milk and impossible meat. For Dr. Ruebelt, innovation in food will have a lot to do with the creation of new products enabling automation, in order to cut down labor and automize the process of growing and harvesting produce. Genetics can be controlled, but the real challenge in food growth is controlling the environment, especially because of the effects of climate change.
on regional support and the growth of the industry.
Dr. Vasavada emphasized regional partners need to help bridge the conversation between the people developing technology solutions for farmers and the farmers themselves. Additionally, they should fund students and give scholarships. For Dr. Ruebelt, regional partners need to continue the great effort of educating people on the advancements in agriculture, emphasizing how it is changing and evolving to address issues such as water quality, how to store energy, and how to feed people. This includes bringing science, technology, engineering, and math into schools early on.
part i: wrap-up
In their closing statements, Drs. Vasavada and Ruebelt reiterated the need to use technology in order to minimize inputs and maximize outputs, as well as the importance of sharing ideas, recognizing that one company cannot provide everything. The incredible ecosystem of food and agriculture players and partners in the region should be utilized to the fullest extent. The panel finished with an open forum, with questions and conversations that touched on information sharing; the accessibility of technology to small farmers; urban agriculture; and addressing ethical considerations related to new technology and processes.
Part I concluded with a brief presentation by John Hodgson on the proposed Woodland Research and Technology Park — a new technology hub going through the planning process in the City of Woodland, intended to serve an array of research and technology companies interested in locating and growing near U. C. Davis, and other research and technology institutions within the Sacramento region.
part ii: the entrepreneur spotlight and reception
“It’s not just an office; it’s a family.” Anat Bujanover, Saturas USA, Inc.
Part II of the event was an opportunity for attendees to tour AgStart in Woodland and hear from entrepreneurs about their respective technologies, and the ways that AgStart and other partners have helped them expand their capabilities and the reach of their companies.
AgStart, is a non-profit business incubator that is accelerating the growth of innovative food and agriculture technology companies, and strengthening the region’s innovation ecosystem. Its network-centric incubation model offers mentorship and connections, providing access to resources that new companies need to thrive. Through Economic Development Administration funding support, AgStart is a partner with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources in the Verde Innovation Network (The VINE), facilitating a statewide network of incubators and accelerators. AgStart Sponsors include Bayer Crop Science and HM. CLAUSE.
AgStart Program Director Leanna Sweha gave an overview of AgStart’s mission. Ken Hiatt, Assistant City Manager of the City of Woodland, communicated Woodland’s natural resources and culture of innovation have shaped the future of food and agriculture for over a century. He also highlighted The Food Front — a movement dedicated to keeping Woodland at the forefront of food and agricultural responsibility by cultivating existing relationships and warmly welcoming new ones. Supervisor Don Saylor, of District 2, Yolo County, elaborated on Woodland and UC Davis’ extensive network of collaborators, not just in the region, but in several other parts of the world as well. AgStart’s President John Selep introduced some of AgStart’s entrepreneurs and underscored the importance of their work in advancing food and agriculture technology in the region and around the world:
Anat Bujanover, General Manager of Saturas USA, Inc. Saturas, an Israeli irrigation company, is making its first USA home in Woodland at AgStart. Eighty percent of farmers irrigate their trees without any scientifically-based information. This causes water waste, affects the quality and quantity of the fruit, and reduces profitability. Although stem water potential (SWP) is scientifically recognized as the most accurate measurement of water status in plants, famers today can only use a manual, labor-intensive procedure for SWP measurement for optimal irrigation. Saturas’ SWP sensor-based precision irrigation system provides a solution that combines accuracy, ease of use, and affordability. It involves embedding sensors in the trunk, which provides direct contact with water tissues for accurate and continuous water status measurement.
Dr. Fatma Kaplan, Chief Executive Officer of Pheronym. Pheronym is a Davis-based ag biotech start-up that relocated to the region from Florida; it develops nontoxic solutions for plant protection. It is a tenant in the UC Davis-HM. CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center. Without pesticides, there would be 50-80% crop loss globally, representing billions of dollars of financial loss to producers. Farmers have to use pesticides, but toxic chemical pesticides are being removed from the market. Nemastim™, Pheronym’s patented beneficial nematode conditioner, provides a safe and effective way to direct beneficial nematodes to attack target insects in a “pack,” resulting in a 5X insect kill rate as compared untreated nematodes. Pherocoat™, its patented seed treatment, directs plant-parasitic nematodes away from healthy roots
Daniel Cathey,Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Inputs. Daniel is a UC Davis graduate and home-grown entrepreneur. Inputs is an online agricultural marketplace which helps farmers obtain the best prices for their inputs while providing broader market reach, shorter sales cycles, reduced costs, and increased sales for retailers. Inputs addresses key pains facing growers and retailers, while bringing added value to both sides of the marketplace.
All three entrepreneurs noted the value they receive from being part of the region’s innovation ecosystem – the access to rich resources through UC Davis, AgStart, HM.CLAUSE, farmers, other companies, local jurisdictions, network partners supporting the food and ag economy, and overall community support. Attendees then had the opportunity to converse with one another while enjoying a selection of locally-sourced wines and snacks.
Valley Vision is grateful to its partners for the opportunity to collaborate in bringing Farm-to-Fork to the forefront of community discussion and engagement. We look forward to continuing our work in this area, and we hope to see you at Season 2 of our series! If you’d like to receive updates about future events, we invite you to subscribe to our Food and Agriculture newsletter.
Look for information on next Season’s Farm-to-Fork Live Series!
Isa Avancena is Valley Vision Project Associate supporting our Innovation & Infrastructure impact area, as well as an Executive Assistant to Valley Vision CEO Bill Mueller, and Managing Director Trish Kelly.