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.
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