by Michael Bisch
“When we’re talking about poverty, what we’re really talking about is hunger and malnutrition.” – Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor
To my surprise, one of the biggest challenges in my first year as Executive Director of the Yolo Food Bank (founded in 1970 in Davis as the Yolo County Coalition Against Hunger), is just how difficult it is to focus a public conversation on creating and fostering an equitable, sustainable, local food system. Inevitably, such conversations devolve into accounts of a myriad of very narrow interests such as backyard gleaning, food trucks, community gardens and the like. While each of these activities may be somewhat helpful, interesting and fulfilling, in totality their overall impact on the local food system is negligible. They really don’t do much for creating and fostering an equitable food system that meets the needs of all Davis residents.
“Any talk of food systems should start with the most vulnerable – people without the choices that most of the people in that room take for granted.” – Former Davis Mayor Robb Davis
Why is it so very challenging to focus a community conversation on something as relatively straightforward as a local, equitable, sustainable food system? I’m no all-seer with the ability to read the hearts and minds of those participating in this community conversation, so I’ll leave the speculation to others. What I will do is offer my own thoughts, flawed as they may well be, to kick-off a conversation about creating a local, equitable, sustainable food system and the needs such a system is meant to address.
For starters, hunger and malnutrition in Davis look nothing like the first photo in this article; rather, they look a lot more like the photo to the left.
The challenge here is malnutrition due to financial, physical, communication, cultural and other barriers to healthy foods access. In Davis, these barriers impact more than 30% of the population, i.e. 20,000 residents many of them children, seniors, disabled veterans, university and community college students, and hard-working families. The rate countywide is 20%, impacting approximately 42,000 residents. These are startling statistics given we live in one of the most agriculturally abundant regions on planet Earth.
Malnutrition is having an insidious impact on the lives of so many of our neighbors as well as on the common good of the community. Our vulnerable neighbors are experiencing lower health and wellness outcomes, lower educational outcomes, more homelessness, higher rates of mental illness among and other barriers to social mobility.
Poverty and the attendant food insecurity have long since evolved from the occasional crisis to a chronic condition in our community, and in many cases it is generational. Not only is this entirely unacceptable, it’s avoidable. This is a community conversation worth having and I invite you to join me.
A good first step is to listen to this 30-minute Indivisible Yolo podcast interview in which I recently participated, to learn about some of the challenges and successes in distributing fresh, nutritious food to those of our neighbors living in or near poverty: here.
The interview starts off a bit tedious, but becomes significantly more interesting within a matter of minutes. It’s worth your time.
But for those of you without the patience for a 30-minute podcast, here are a few excerpts:
Indivisible Yolo: You all move an incredible amount of food throughout the year – YFB feeds about 52,000 people in about 19,000 households per month, which amounts to something like 4 million pounds of food per year. How does the food bank acquire and distribute so much food?
Yolo Food Bank: It’s a real challenge collecting, sorting, storing and distributing food throughout a rural county…produce in particular. Ensuring every resident has access to fresh, nutritious food even in remote areas of the County is very expensive. It is capital intensive….trucks, warehouses, forklifts….these are multi-million dollar investments. Our work would not be possible without the partnership network we’ve developed over the decades. We currently have approximately 200 partners roughly half of whom are nonprofits. Food donors, distribution partners, wrap-around service providers, volunteer organizations, grant funders. Our $10 million impact on this community is only possible because of this network. The Food Pantry and Aggie Compass here on campus, STEAC in Davis, Woodland Volunteer Food Closet, Yolo County Children’s Alliance in West Sacramento, RISE in Winters, Meals on Wheels throughout the county are but a few of our network partners.
Indivisible Yolo: How are the 4 million pounds of food procured?
Yolo Food Bank: There are four food procurement programs that make Yolo Food Bank unique in Yolo County: 1) exclusive Feeding America member, 2) exclusive USDA surplus foods distributor aka Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), 3) exclusive distributor of California Association of Food Banks Farm to Family program, 4) exclusive distributor of Yolo Grown fruits and vegetables (funded by Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation).
Indivisible Yolo: How are the 4 million pounds of food distributed?
Yolo Food Bank: 1) Direct distributions, 2) partner distributions, 3) wraparound service provider distributions. EFAP, Eat Well Yolo and Kids Farmers Markets are direct distributions at sites all over the county. And nonprofit partners can access food in our nonprofit nutrition center in Woodland.
Indivisible Yolo: Yolo Food Bank is getting a new home! Why?
Yolo Food Bank: We are currently operating out of a collection of steel sheds. The need is growing exponentially, it’s not fully met, we are turning away food donations due to capacity constraints in particular cold storage for fresh produce. Dramatically lifting the nutritional paradigm county-wide is not possible in the current facility.
Indivisible Yolo: The campaign for a new building is scheduled to wrap up at the end of 2018 – how’s it looking so far?
Yolo Food Bank: The capital campaign is currently scheduled to wrap up in February as is construction. We will be moving into the new facility in March. We still have $1.6 million to raise to ensure construction is completed on time. Times is of the essence…our current facility has been sold…the new owner will be occupying the current facility in March. You can donate to the capital campaign at www.endhungeryolo.org
Many thanks to Sean Raycraft, Isabel Warner of Indivisible Yolo and KDVS for making this podcast interview possible.
Yolo Food Bank is a privately-funded nonprofit distributing four million pounds of nutritious food throughout Yolo County each year, reaching every community of every size. With an unparalleled capability and capacity to collect, store and distribute this food, Yolo Food Bank provides unique services and opportunities to the region. It has the potential to transform the nutritional paradigm of our communities, thereby reducing poverty, increasing health and education outcomes and enabling social mobility of all kinds. What better time than the holiday season to support our neighbors who struggle to feed their families? You can share your holiday spirit with them by making a gift at http://give.yolofoodbank.org/.