Guest Commentary: Feeding People, Not the Landfill

By Michael Bisch

The Yolo County Board of Supervisors a couple of weeks ago took a bold step toward increasing surplus edible food recovery in Yolo County, by adopting a new Sustainability Plan advancing this activity so critical to our mission at Yolo Food Bank.  We are deeply grateful, and applaud Yolo County’s emerging position as a statewide leader in food recovery, prioritizing the re-direction of this food to feed food insecure residents, rather than the landfill.

Adjusted for the cost-of-living, Yolo County has the third highest poverty rate in a state with the highest poverty rate in the nation.  According to readily available online living wage calculators, 48% of Yolo County families struggle to make ends meet, and, according to the County, 56% of area school children live in these struggling families. It is heartbreaking to think that this occurs in a county well-known for its bountiful agricultural output.

By prioritizing the recovery of this fresh, nutritious edible food for distribution to children, seniors, veterans, farm workers, undocumented residents, and hard-working families, the Supervisors have charted a path to a food secure county, thereby easing poverty. This same path also leads to increased housing security, and better health and wellness and mental health outcomes for chronically vulnerable populations countywide, by offering them dignified access to the healthy food that they need to survive and to thrive.

A 2018 study by CalRecycle estimates that 1.1 million tons of surplus edible food fit for human consumption is sent to California landfills every year.  Based upon Yolo County’s population size, it can be inferred that Yolo County may send as many as 12 million pounds of surplus edible food – worth approximately $25 million dollars – to the landfill each year, instead of re-directing it to neighbors in need.  The disposal costs for these landfill trips are borne by Yolo County residents, and this practice perpetuates barriers to food access for too many struggling residents that aren’t just, equitable, or inclusive.

Fortunately, current state law requires all jurisdictions statewide, including Yolo County and the cities of Davis, West Sacramento, Winters, and Woodland, to make plans no later than this January 1 to recover the maximum amount possible of this valuable surplus edible food on an ongoing basis, and ensure its distribution to food insecure residents.  This state mandate aligns well with the county’s new Sustainability Plan.

By dramatically escalating food recovery efforts, Yolo Food Bank has been able to respond to both the sharp increase in food security needs during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as to the pre-existing needs in the community revealed by the pandemic.  In partnership with the county and the cities, we look forward to sustaining and expanding this service thanks to this broadening commitment to surplus edible food recovery.  Together, we can “Nurture Yolo,” and develop an equitable, sustainable local food system for the health and wellness of ALL Yolo County residents.

Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link:

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Tia Will

    My thanks to Michael Bisch and everyone whose efforts make the Yolo Food Bank a major source of food for so many in the county. It is my hope that we will be able to extend this best use of resources to the areas of housing and provision of medical/mental health care with the same success.

  2. Ron Glick

    “Adjusted for the cost-of-living, Yolo County has the third highest poverty rate in a state with the highest poverty rate in the nation.  According to readily available online living wage calculators, 48% of Yolo County families struggle to make ends meet, and, according to the County, 56% of area school children live in these struggling families. It is heartbreaking to think that this occurs in a county well-known for its bountiful agricultural output.”

    Its unlikely that in a county with so much agriculture that the food component of the cost of living is what is driving the high poverty rate. Its much more likely that its the high cost of housing that is keeping so many people trapped in poverty.

    On the housing component of the cost of living the efforts of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors have been deficient for over thirty years since the Mace Ranch development controversy. The current policy of the Board of Supervisors is to defer to the cities on peripheral development. While politically popular, this policy has allowed the cost of housing to soar to levels that keep almost half of the people, and a majority of children, in Yolo County in poverty.

    A deeper dive into the causes of poverty in Yolo County are in order.


    1. Ron Oertel

      It’s far more likely that low wages (e.g., for farmworkers) ensure that they’re kept in poverty.

      Of course, if enough sprawl occurs – they won’t even have that job, let alone afford any housing.

      There is a vast discrepancy (across the entire country) between wages at the low-end of the scale, vs. the cost of housing. Including in the sprawl-loving areas of the country, AND those with virtually no restrictions on where or what to build. There’s your “deep dive” to explore.

    2. David Greenwald

      Ron Glick – correct.  Believe last year we did a story on a study that showed the average low income person in Yolo is paying more than half their monthly on rent – a recipe for disaster.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Really?  You think he’s “correct”?

        Well, glad to see that you’re finally acknowledging your push for sprawl. It’s tough to hide that, after awhile.

        How much do you think housing prices would lower, as a result?  Maybe use L.A. as an example? Let’s see some calculations.

        Strange, how some of those on the left never seem to focus on economic discrepancy (e.g., in wages), anymore. Taking cues directly from development interests, it seems.

        1. Ron Oertel

          And, you’re still wrong.

          Plenty of people *can* afford it, including all of the sprawl that’s occurring in places like Woodland.  Why do you suppose that is?

          And, plenty of people cannot afford the absolute cheapest places in the country. Eviction moratoriums have been one of the few protections in those places (e.g., even in the middle of the country).

          Why do you suppose that is? And, since those places have virtually no building restrictions (supposedly driving up housing prices), what is your solution?

          And given that places like Los Angeles (the home of sprawl) have some of the highest housing prices, how do you account for that?

          1. David Greenwald

            “Plenty of people *can* afford it” doesn’t address the impact on people who are paying more than half their take home on rent.

        2. Keith Olsen

          How much do students who historically have low income, but at the same time live off of school grants and loans and money from their parents, skew the Yolo poverty numbers?

        3. Alan Miller

          KO:  Hugely.  You have to either adjust the numbers for that and put an asterisk, or not adjust the numbers for that and put an asterisk.  When that fact isn’t even acknowledged when anyone gives poverty numbers for Yolo, I don’t believe another word that comes out of their mouths (or keyboards).

        4. Ron Glick

          I don’t know what the impact of UC on the poverty rate is but its likely some of that poverty is deferred  through indebtedness to pay for housing while domiciled in Davis. A more informative statistic is the child poverty rate.

          Now how could the County help?

          The County should seek out available money to build subsidized housing. They should do an inventory of County owned land to evaluate potential areas for the subsidized housing.

          The County of Yolo should also rezone land in the County to build housing. It would be preferable if that land was peripheral to the cities. Still if resistance to the County building on the periphery of any city is too great the County should plan and build in other places.

        5. Ron Oertel

          The “build-it-to-affordability” people should include actual figures, regarding the projected sales cost of new housing.  That goes for both sprawl and infill.  (And in the case of infill, I assume that includes some kind of contract that they’re not going to park cars on the street, in the absence of minimal parking requirements.) 🙂

          And that figure should include the taxes on that housing that some of those same people advocate for, for expenses such as schools – which are “charged to” housing.

          And then, compare that to the income that the “targeted population” is bringing in.  Along with any kind of assurance whatsoever, that the housing would be purchased or rented by those other than the targeted population.

          Still if resistance to the County building on the periphery of any city is too great the County should plan and build in other places.

          Have you seen Spring Lake? Not to mention Nishi, WDAAC, the cancer spreading north of 505 from Vacaville, etc.? Along with the cancer supposedly-needed from the new PG&E training facility in Winters?

          We could also discuss developments such as that south of Highway 50 (Folsom area), requiring a NEW FREEWAY. Which as usual, is not fully-funded anyway.

        6. Ron Glick

          I agree with you too, Bill M. Individuals can also make a difference through supporting the anti-poverty infrastructure in place to help people. The Yolo Food Bank is certainly one of those community organizations worthy of support.

        7. Alan Miller

          Still if resistance to the County building on the periphery of any city is too great the County should plan and build in other places.

          Other places?  There’s a reason dense housing isn’t just built in ‘other places’.  You need utilities and infrastructure to connect to.  You can’t built dense housing and run it off of generators, wells and septic tanks

  3. Robb Davis

    In 2018 I wrote an article on poverty and food security measures for Davis and Yolo County (perhaps David can find an link to it).  There are different ways of looking at food insecurity and poverty and the concepts are, not surprisingly, linked.  There are direct measures of poverty and direct measures of food insecurity and sometimes one is used to approximate the other.  I just had a student help me update the numbers based on the most recent data (which is all pre-COVID-19)

    In Yolo County, including Davis 48% of kids are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.  In Davis it is about 20%.

    The official poverty measure (OPM, so-called Orshansky method) for Yolo County is 18.4% and for Davis 29.8%.  Obviously, the latter is impacted by students, some of whom are dependents.  So, one method we could use is to simply exclude all college students.  When you do that the official poverty measure (no university students) is: 11.6% in both Davis and Yolo County.  Of course SOME students are poor and food insecure so excluding all of them certainly under-represents poverty.

    In addition, most analysts agree that the official poverty measure is inadequate in California.  The Supplemental Poverty Measure (federal) and the California Poverty Measure, which account for housing and other costs that are nationally fixed in the OPM, but which also account for government transfers like food stamps, likely increases these numbers by 6-8 percentage points… So something more like 18-20% of people live in poverty “officially” excluding all students.

    Direct measures of food security are not available at the county level but UC Davis measured it directly for students in 2018 and found that fully 44% of students faced low or very low food security with 23% facing very low food security.  Food security for all of California was directly measured at nearly 20% as recently as March of this year (CPS). That measure hides serious pockets of food insecurity— including counties like Yolo.

    Finally, a Brookings study of the region using a very robust measure known as the self-sufficiency standard shows that in 2018 about one third of those living in the Sacramento region could not make ends meet on a monthly basis.  Google “Self Sufficiency Standard” from the University of Washington for more on this methodology.

    The bottom line in all of this is that anywhere from one to two in every five people living in this county face some level of poverty/food insecurity/lack of sufficient resources to live.  That is over 40,000 people if you use the lower estimate. I realize that these estimates have a wide margin but research has shown that even those at 120% of the official poverty line face serious vulnerabilities.  The fact that 1/3 of regional residents face uncertainty about covering bills month to month should give us all pause.

    The so-called child tax credit (not really a tax credit but rather a cash transfer for people with children) should really help this year but that measure is temporary.

    Insufficient wages and the relatively high cost of housing drive food insecurity in this county based on the self sufficiency standard analysis and adjustments needed to calculate the OPM and CPM.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Robb D…

      I question the numbers, and motivations, methodology behind them… but even if they are off by a factor of two, it is too many… (pun intended, in retrospect)… shelter, food, basic medical/dental care (and I’d add MH care) for all, if not a “right”, is strong goal for a ‘civilized’ society… and we should be (and some of us are) working towards that…

      Others may just ‘be looking out for #1’, or “moralizing”… been there, done that, need to reduce the # of T-shirts…

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